Active witnessing: Delta folks learn to stand up to racism
April 30, 2021
Huddled over the screen were Megan Simpson and her 9-year-old son. Together, they go over cue cards to choose the best response to a hate incident. It’s their first training on taking action against discrimination, and from time to time, her son would turn to her for questions like, “Mom, why do these things keep happening?”
Megan’s family lives in Delta, one of the largest cities in the Metro Vancouver Region with a fast-growing immigrant population. Her son has seen how his IBPOC peers are often subjects of bullying. In joining the “Active Witnessing Workshop” by Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant Angela Brown, both of them learned about how to respond to an incident of racism and hate.
Throughout the summer, two Active Witnessing Workshops were offered online by Delta’s Organizing Against Racism and Hate committee, through the support of the Deltassist Family and Community Services Society, member of the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network. Working to eliminate racism in Delta communities for years, the committee believes in building safe communities through bystander trainings.
“The workshop teaches you how to engage safely with the victim, another witness or even the perpetrator. We learned about how to assess the power imbalances in a situation and how to choose the right course of action,” said Lee Kosa, a Delta committee member and the lead organizer of the trainings. A total of 130 participants joined the two events.
A Vancouver teacher implementing anti-racism and anti-oppression education in K-12 classrooms, trainer Angela Brown uses the “Anti-discrimination Response Training Program (A.R.T.)”, developed by University of British Columbia professor Dr. Ishu Ishiyama.
At the core of Ishiyama’s model is learning through a wide range of verbal or behavioral responses so a person can transition from being a passive bystander to an active witness to being an ethical witness. The framework encourages participants to go take broader social action by encouraging change in their workplaces, their neighborhoods, their playgrounds.
The experiential approach involves watching and discussing videos of people sharing their experiences of discrimination, reviewing responses presented on cue cards, role-playing racist situations, debriefing and sharing of reflections.
“The strength of the workshop is mixing theory and practice. We need to rehearse anti-racist action because it does not come naturally. We need to practice so that when we witness an incident we are not flooded with emotion and we can act,” Lee said. ”
He recommends more bystander trainings be offered to the public for free, especially in areas like Delta where, according to the police, incidents of racism and hate have increased this year.
For Megan, creating safe spaces for parents and children to discuss these difficult topics is important. “I want my son to feel confident taking action when an incident occurs and to be a lifelong ally,” she said. “We need to do better by our kids and help future generations by opening their eyes at an early age.”
With the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network, Lee hopes that the Delta committee will be a stronger hub connecting organizations and community leaders. “We want people to trust us enough to come to us and to hold people in power and decision-makers accountable.”