#NotOnOurWatch and the need to insert yourself

On Thursday night, I witnessed a verbally abusive situation between an old white biker man and a young Congolese car guard. I stepped in and put a stop to it. You can read the full story on my blog over here. 

I was chatting to my best mate on the weekend about it and he was arguing that it might not have necessarily been a race thing as I had suggested. I still completely think it was, but at the same time it very much could have been just a social class or wealth thing (although in South Africa these tend to be so tied to race at the moment).

But whatever the specific reasoning, it doesn’t change my motivation for inserting myself into the situation, holding to the #NotOnOurWatch commitment I have been holding to for months, and letting this abusive man know, “This is not okay!”

The ants and crickets

The incident with me and Biker Guy happened in a parking lot early evening. There were other people around, but no-one in the specific area and apart from a second car guard who came to give his friend support, no-one else stepped in.

In this particular case, that was okay as I definitely brought a certain amount of power into the situation in terms of my age, strength, and decisiveness. There wasn’t a moment where I was worried about myself once I stepped in. Immediately the power shifted and it became about me letting this guy know, gently but firmly, that his actions and manner were unacceptable.

But I have had friends step into similar situations where that was not the case. Where the person being racist or abusive was the one with the power. And it was an intimidating and debilitating experience for that person. What that person needed in that moment was backup.

Which is where this analogy comes in. Courtesy of the movie A Bug’s Life (and I tend to use this analogy a lot because it is so great!) the ants are being threatened by the scary crickets, until the moment they realise that when they all stand together, they completely outnumber the crickets.

This is what is needed in South Africa. Those who are hungrily in pursuit of the Rainbow Nation image we were given, but which was never realised, banding together to bring about the change we want to see in our country.

Time to get loud

I firmly believe that there are more people who have faced and are dealing with their racism or racist tendencies than those who are overtly racist and continue to live in it. We just tend to have softer voices. I long for the day when an incident happens like in the parking lot the other day or to my friend in the supermarket (where she was belittled for stepping in) and not one person, but eight people jump in and declare #NotOnOurWatch. The ants outnumber the crickets.

It can be super scary intervening in this kind of situation, especially when you’ve tried it before and it’s not gone so well, and expecting to stand alone. We need to back each other up. We need to be proactive in inserting ourselves in moments where people are being abusive and we need to be doing it en masse.

Do you have any stories about an incident like this where you or someone else stepped in? How did it play out? Would it have gone any differently if more people had stepped in and said, “This is not okay!” Is there something stopping you from being one of the people to step in?

Questions or comments? We’d love to hear what you think.


Image Credits: adobe stock