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Training bystanders to intervene against bigotry, sexism

  • Strong Oak Lefebvre trains people to stand up to racism when bystanders at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield on Saturday, March 3, 2018. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Strong Oak Lefebvre, seated right, speaks about the importance of standing up to bigotry when witnessing it at a Racial Justice Rising workshop at the Greenfield First Congregational Church on March 3, 2018. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • People act out what they would do if they were to witness an act of racism at a Racial Justice Rising workshop at the Greenfield First Congregational Church on March 3, 2018. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan



Recorder Staff
Sunday, March 04, 2018

GREENFIELD — After witnessing bigotry or discrimination, many have said they wish they had intervened, but did not know how.

So, Racial Justice Rising and the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition are offering free monthly workshops to teach people how to stand up to such abuse when they witness it.

Saturday, approximately 55 people attended the interactive discussion led by Strong Oak Lefebvre, co-founder of Visioning B.E.A.R., a Native American anti-violence group.

At the First Congregational Church at 43 Silver St., Lefebvre spoke about the necessity to challenge racism and sexism.

She also gave the attendees a chance to act out their potential responses to different situations.

“We have to look at what we do, and do better than what we’ve done,” said Lefebvre.

She started by saying people should educate themselves more about racism and its ubiquity, and speak out against government policies that disproportionately affect minorities.

Lefebvre said people should fight bigotry in their everyday lives, too, not just through politics, but to be an “engaged bystander” rather than a passive one.

Lefebvre acknowledged that witnessing bigotry can make people uncomfortable, but that confronting someone — especially when you are a bystander, not a victim — can be more uncomfortable.

Dividing the crowd into seven groups, Lefebvre gave people a chance to practice for those encounters. Each group was given a scenario to act out in front of the room, choosing their own ways to stand up for someone facing discrimination.

The first group depicted two white people driving a vehicle, while a black man walks down the sidewalk. The vehicle passed the black man several times with screeching tires and surly glares from its two occupants.

Sensing something about to happen, the bystanders of the group, also walking along the sidewalk, decided to quickly approach the black man and offer to walk with him. This caused the car to drive off.

“The fact that they intervened early was a really great thing,” Lefebvre said.

In the real-life event the scenario was based on, Lefebvre said the two occupants pulled up to the black man, got out of the vehicle and assaulted him.

Many of the groups used similar approaches — by physically standing or sitting with someone who is being harassed, a bystander can help make the victim less vulnerable and show the offender power in numbers.

A Muslim woman on a bus wearing a burqa, with three men verbally abusing her was another scenario.

The group employed three strategies: one bystander offered to sit with the woman, another asked the bus driver to stop the bus and a third — a very tall man — put himself between the woman and those accosting her, saying he would not leave until she was left alone.

“Educating yourself and being able to intervene is very important because we don’t want to escalate,” Lefebvre said. “We want to de-escalate.”

To learn about the next monthly gathering, visit: facebook.com/massslav

David McLellan can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.