What to do if you encounter open racism

Open racism can be encountered anywhere and often unexpectedly, such as in public transport, during a coffee break at the workplace, on the sidelines of a ball game or at children’s end-of-school celebration. 

If there is no time to react, you may feel bad afterwards. Thinking in advance about what you will do if you find yourself in these types of situations can give you an advantage. We put together some guidelines that may be helpful. Remember to always respect the wishes of the person encountering racism.

1. Stay calm. It is easy to become emotional when encountering injustice. First, calm yourself down so you are not as easily provoked. 

2. In case of a threatening situation, call help. You don’t need to play superhero: call 112 for help. 

3. If you are nervous about intervening in a situation alone, seek support from other witnesses. When someone takes the initiative, usually others are also encouraged to intervene. 

4. Correct any misinformation you may notice in racist speech. You can also raise the issue later: ‘Do you remember what you said about social benefits for immigrants yesterday on our coffee break? I looked into the matter, and in fact...’ Having a calm attitude and the ability to consider things objectively can go a long way. 

5. Stay by their side. Talking back to others may be frightening at times, so just going to stay by the side of the person encountering racism is a strong sign that you are on their side, and the person that committed these racist actions is now alone. 

6. Intervene by saying ‘no’. If the situation is not too threatening, talking back sharply, but calmly, is both effective and surprising. An objection sends a message: racist actions are not acceptable and do not need to be tolerated. Repeating the racist message out loud right back at the person may also be an effective method. 

7. Do not accept offensive insults. Insults can be considered a defamation, which is punishable as decreed in the Criminal Code. In case law, the use of certain insults has, in some contexts, been considered to fulfil the criteria of a defamation offence. If necessary, you can file a police report.

8. Doing something is the important part, so don’t be afraid to fail. Even a small gesture can save the day of the person encountering racism. And you'll learn how to do even better the next time.   

9. Show compassion and tell the person facing racism that you are sorry for the incident. If you don’t dare to act during the situation itself, stay behind to talk about it. Being heard will make the person feel better and calms them down after a potentially very shocking situation, and you listening to them proves that you do not agree with the person that insulted them. 

10. If you become the target of a racist attack via the internet or email, keep the message but don’t respond to it. If the message has a threatening tone, inform the police. 

Thank you for your help in creating a safer, racism-free society!