8 Things You (As An Ally) Can Do To Combat Racism And Xenophobia
The National Police Chiefs Council reported that hate crime across the UK rose 46% in the two weeks either side of the Brexit vote, and post-Brexit, migrant support organisations across the country have documented an alarming escalation in incidents of racism and xenophobia.
Many people, especially those who are less likely to be the targets of these incidents have been asking: “what can I do to help?”.
1. Listen and believe.
If a person from a migrant community, or Black/Asian/minority ethnic (BAME) person tells you about an experience of xenophobia or racism- believe them.
Try not to be incredulous, or ask whether it is possible that they misinterpreted their experience. For many people, racism is a grinding part of everyday life, and incidents of racism are not ‘one off’ events. Racism is systemic (which means ‘built into’ processes such as employment, housing, and policing and legal systems, etc) and it happens all the time.
It is often not helpful or comforting when people talk about how they ‘don’t see colour’ or difference (even if you think that you don’t- the structures that society is built upon absolutely does). Listening to someone and believing them is a powerful act.
2. Know your rights (so you can help others know theirs).
Alongside street harassment and systemic racism, BAME people, and increasingly people from EU migrant communities are more likely to be stopped and searched by police (in fact, up to 28 times more likely), and BAME owned and staffed business are more likely to be raided; a recent study by Migrants Rights Network shows that 70% of raids take place in ‘ethnic minority’ neighbourhoods.
Being informed about your rights in a police stop and search or an immigration raid, especially if you have secure immigration status and are of a demographic that is statistically unlikely to be stopped by police or raided, can be really helpful. Lots of advice about what to do if you see a raid or a police ‘stop and search’ is available, in many languages, here.
As a quick checklist, if you see someone being stopped by police, you can:
1. Ask the person being stopped/searched if they are ok. Be friendly- shake their hand and smile. Say that they have the right to say 'no comment' and that they do not have to answer any questions.
2. Ask the police officer if the person is free to go.
3. Offer to stay with the person until they are released.
If you see a raid happening on a house, shop or business (info about what a raid looks like is here) you can:
1. Tell the people being raided that they do not have to answer questions and can walk away (more info on what to do here). If the person being raided doubts you, advise them to ask the officer if it’s true – immigration officers are obligated to tell people this themselves before stopping them.
2. Tweet the Anti-Raids Network (@AntiRaids) and let them know the location of the raid. The Anti-Raids Network can then encourage people in their network to go to the location and support the workers in the business that is being raided, and help people know their rights
3. Offer support when you witness a racist or xenophobic attack.
If you witness someone experiencing a verbal or physical xenophobic or racist attack, talk to the person being attacked (not the attacker), and ask if they are ok. Stay near them, and- if they want to- have a conversation with them about the weather/their day/anything banal. It is easier for two people who are engaged in a conversation to ignore verbal abuse.
If the incident is or becomes physically dangerous, try and help the person leave the situation safely, or it may be necessary to call the police by dialling 999.
If the person wants to report the attack after it has happened, you can help them contact organisations such as TellMAMA and StopHate, who will only pass details on to a third party with the caller's consent. As well as recording the incident, these organisations can signpost the person who has experienced the attack to organisations that can support them. Reporting incidents can help organisations better understand and tackle the occurrence of racist and xenophobic incidents.
Alternatively, if the person has secure immigration status, they may wish to report the attack via the non-emergency police line by dialling 101, or by contacting their local police, or a police affiliate such as TrueVision.
4. Use your privilege and contacts.
Do you have contact with MPs or local councils? You could lobby them to make a commitment to recognising and proactively combating racism and xenophobia in their constituency. Do you have secure immigration status, or less chance of having a negative interaction with police due to your race, age, sexual orientation or gender identity? You could attend a protest or demonstration to show support for migrant and BAME communities.
Use your platforms (including social media spaces) and contacts to make noise about racist and xenophobic incidents, including initiating conversations about anti-racism in your friendship groups, community groups, and workplaces. Connect any journalists, radio-producers, film-makers, pro bono (offering services without charge, for people with low incomes) lawyers, doctors, housing advisors, benefits advisors, etc, that you may know to grassroots groups doing anti-racism and migrant support work.
5. Proactively challenge structural racism.
Challenging racism in the workplace needs to go beyond reactively dealing with incidents of racism. Does your workplace have an 'equality and diversity' policy, and critically if so, do actions match up to the rhetoric? If you work in an industry that white people are typically over-indexed in, does your workplace advertise for jobs in places that a wide range of people are likely to see the advert (ie not just Guardian Jobs?). Do job adverts particularly welcome BAME candidates, and stipulate ‘casual dress code’ interview policies, so that people from low-income backgrounds are not disadvantaged? More information on challenging racism in your workplace can be found here.
People from BAME and migrant backgrounds are also more likely to experience discrimination when renting housing. As of 1st February 2016, landlords and letting agencies are now legally required to check renters’ immigration status (the ‘Right to Rent’ check) and face fines and jail time for renting to people without the ‘right to abode'. A report published by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) confirms that: “42% of landlords said that the Right to Rent requirements have made them less likely to consider someone who does not have a British passport. 27% are reluctant to engage with those with foreign accents or names”.
If you know someone who is struggling to rent a property, inform yourselves about what landlords can legally request under Right to Rent, and offer to accompany them to the letting agent, to act as a witness to the process. If you experience or witness discrimination, you can report it to the JCWI who are collecting evidence on this issue, and can provide advice.
You can also support campaigns such as Docs not Cops and Education not Surveillance, which are tackling racism and other barriers that migrant and BAME communities experience when accessing health services and education.
6. Inform yourself.
It is not the job of migrant and BAME communities to educate others about what xenophobia and racism feels and looks like. In the age of the Internet is fairly easy to seek out, support, and promote platforms and media created by migrant communities and BAME people, such as websites, newspapers, academic studies and research, social media sites, podcasts, documentaries, books, etc. This is the best way to learn about other peoples’ experiences and to find direction about what you can do to support struggles.
7. Make a donation that counts.
If you are able to, make a donation to a movement, project or organisation that is fighting to end racism and xenophobia, and ideally is created and lead by BAME and migrant people.
Many grassroots groups opt not to have charitable status, as this would limit the radical nature of the work they can get funding for. This also limits the funding they can apply for, and consequently, groups such as (to name but a few) Movement for Justice, Anti-Raids Network, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Women for Refugee Women, Imkaan, Southall Black Sisters, Latin American Womens’ Rights Service, Roma Support Group, Haringey Migrant Support Centre, and many more often struggle to secure funding for their hugely impactful work.
8. Be kind.
Living in a society where people experience, and also witness acts of racism can be upsetting and exhausting. There is no such thing as ‘not having the right’ to be upset by witnessing an incident of racism; make sure to take time away to care for yourself.
Remember to be kind to people whose well-being needs may differ from yours.
When we feel healthy and strong we become well-equipped to support other people and fight oppressive structures. Radical feminist Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
By Leah Cowan