In response to a frightening spike in hate crimes after Trump’s election, New Yorkers are now taking classes that teach them how to actively support and defend Muslims in their community.
The Accompany Project, a program recently launched by the Arab Association of New York, has held 20 bystander intervention trainings for over 500 New Yorkers since December.
“Solidarity is a verb. It’s one thing to say you’re an ally, and it’s another to show it,” Linda Sarsour, executive director of AAANY told The Huffington Post. “If you’re going to be horrified at visible Muslims being attacked in public spaces, you have to be prepared to step in.”
People may be hesitant to step forward for fear of making a situation worse — and the classes arm participants with tools and strategies that can help them effectively intervene.
“The point is not to make anyone feel like a hero,” Kayla Santosuosso, leader of the Accompany Project, said. “It’s to reduce harm.”
One tactic allies can employ is referred to as “the broken record.”
In situations where emotions are running high, a bystander can step in and repeatedly tell the aggressor “Give her space” until the message computes. We can also prevent a situation from escalating by addressing behaviors rather than labeling the aggressor. If you say “You need to lower your voice” instead of “you’re racist,” the person is less likely to become defensive and aggressive.
We can also shift the attention from the victim to ourselves by telling the aggressor that they’re making us uncomfortable — although Santosuosso notes that this can potentially put you at risk.
Another other option is to use the word “we” to connect with the aggressor.
Saying “Why don’t we come over here?” or “We don’t talk to people that way,” helps an ally create a false team with the aggressor, which can make it easier to diffuse the situation.
Santosuosso reports that about 80% of the people who have attended the trainings are white — and many are new to activism.
“Our training has people recognize that you are not intervening to become a hero,” Santosuosso said. “Particularly if you are not directly affected by Trump’s policies.”