Fariha Nizam, a 19-year-old college student from Bellerose, Queens, was taking the Q43 bus en route to her Manhattan internship on Thursday morning when she says a white, middle-aged couple approached her, yelling that she must take off her hijab.
“The woman was doing most of the talking and she was basically telling me that I wasn’t allowed to wear it,” Nizam told us on Friday, three days after Donald Trump, a candidate who has stoked Islamophobia and called for a ban on Muslims, was elected President. “She was telling me to take that disgusting piece of cloth off of my head, telling me it’s not allowed anymore.”
But Debjani Roy, deputy director at the anti-harassment nonprofit Hollaback!, said Friday that many women don’t feel comfortable contacting the police. Taking this into account, she said, there’s plenty that New Yorkers can do if they witness a hate incident unfolding. “What we have always pushed for as an organization, and is more important now than ever, is bystander intervention,” she said. “We have a role to play as community members to support and help provide some sense of safety for people who are directly targeted.”
Hollaback! has developed what they refer to has the “Four D’s Of Bystander Intervention”: directly intervene, distract, delegate, and delay.
If stepping between victim and harasser “isn’t the safest thing to do,” Roy said, distraction is a good alternative. “That could be pretending you are lost and asking for directions, or sitting next to the person and pretending you know them,” she said. “Then the person who is doing the harassing is disrupted.” Delegating might involve getting up and speaking to the bus driver. The fourth response, “delay,” might involve stepping up to the victim and talking to him or her after the incident.
In Nizam’s case, she said, fellow bus riders could have done more. “As much as I appreciate that people were asking [the couple] to stop, I wish there was more of an active effort. There wasn’t someone literally getting between me and this woman,” she said. “I didn’t see anyone telling the bus driver he needed to stop, or calling the police.”
With open bigotry and racism now presidentially approved, intervention is more important than ever, on all fronts. If you aren’t aware of the Bystander Effect, now is a good time to learn. We all need to gather our courage, and work together to get a very firm message across to all the bigots: this will not be tolerated. There’s good information and advice: Hollaback!, Guide for Bystanders, and The Gothamist. These techniques are applicable no matter where in the world you are. It is time for us all to stand up, and stand against those who are intent on harm.