This post is not one I had originally planned to write. In fact, it isn’t even one I assumed I would ever have to. However, this week I was travelling on a Sheffield bus and experienced some truly appalling verbal abuse from a fellow passenger. So, here we have The Adventures of Not Being Presumptuous About The Lives Of Strangers.
I won’t go into details about exactly what happened, because that was merely the fuel for this piece rather than the point of it. However, they did say one word, repeatedly, that can only be described as derogatory towards neuroatypical individuals, like myself. As upsetting as this obviously was, it did remind me why Safe Cinemas is so important: because, hopefully, we can – together – make it so people don’t think it is acceptable to say words like that, nor to not act in the face of it. Not a single person on that bus spoke up. I am capable of handling ignorant people myself, but this was a grown man talking to me, and I wouldn’t have refused help. I didn’t need it, but it would have been greatly appreciated.
So here are a few things that you can do if you ever (and I hope you never do) witness someone being targeted, whether that be for their race, sexual orientation, gender, health, or otherwise.
- Ask if the person is okay. You don’t need to draw attention. You can mouth it to them. You can make it casual, ask how they are. Anything to check they’re alright is good.
- Start a conversation unrelated to whatever the person who is targeting them is saying. Perhaps tell them what you’ve done today and ask them the same. Chat about the weather (come on, we’re British. It’s in our nature).
- Be physically with them. If they’re alone or isolated with this unpleasant human being, go and be there with them. If it’s possible for you to be there, they will know they have someone who is making sure they’re safe. But make sure you ask whether they’re comfortable with this.
- If you can continue this conversation until the person leaves, that is marvellous. Obviously, this is not always possible.
- Most importantly: ASSESS THE SITUATION. Make sure it is safe for you to step in, that your intervention will not bring further discomfort to the person, and that you have not misunderstood the situation. You don’t want to aggravate a tense scenario that you’ve misinterpreted. But follow your gut; if you’re concerned, approach calmly and keep an eye out for them.
We tell children to stand up when someone is being bullied, but as adults it is often so much harder. We don’t have teachers standing watch to go and tell, and many situations can feel not our responsibility or out of our hands. However, when we refuse to act in the face of difficult situations, we might as well be saying that it doesn’t matter, and what message does that send to the children we drum it into that we need to protect one another?
Here’s a marvellous comic the Parisian illustrator Maeril made on how to intervene when you see Islamophobia, and it is definitely worth a look. It’s so informative, and the art style is adorable.
Stay safe, friends. And make sure you keep one another safe too. x