In a society that disproportionately favours some while disadvantaging others, most of us fall into the category of bystanders. To be a bystander doesn’t mean we’re actively involved in this exclusion or disadvantage, or that we don’t recognise it exists, it just means we’re not actively doing anything about it.
It’s a lot easier to be a bystander. It doesn’t involve facing up to our own biases or going out of our way to listen and internalise the experience of others. It certainly doesn’t involve quitting your job. But that doesn’t make it right.
Turning from a bystander to an advocate doesn’t have to involve an act of courage, like Alan and Alex showed. It can just begin with a little reflection and a willingness to act when you witness something that goes against your morals.
Indeed, that willingness to act is one of the key distinguishers between people who call themselves “anti-racist” and those who say they are merely “not racist”, according to Ibram Kendi, professor in Boston University’s Department of History and author of the bestselling book How to Be an Anti-Racist.
The great thing is that once you start acting and speaking up – even in small ways – it gets easier and easier to do, and you feel better for it. The alternative – the deafening silence of complicity – ultimately ends up far less comfortable.