The Portland murders and the threat to bystander intervention 

When the Portland murders hit the news this week, they were rightly shared as an example of brave defence of the rights and dignity of our fellow humans.  Too often we walk by when we are offered the chance to act on the principles we claim because those targeted are strangers, not like us, because we are busy, or scared, or unsure. 

Over the last few months I’ve been examining bystander intervention in the data we collect from, a civil society racist incident reporting system. We see again and again examples of people intervening when they witness racism. There are multiple ways in which people offer help, talking to perpetrators, mobilising other witnesses to help, reporting incidents to police or relevant persons of authority, and reassuring those targeted.  In these cases, there are examples of positive outcomes. These include perpetrator apologies, compensation for the discrimination, firmed resolve against racism in organisations and neighbourhoods, and police and other authorities held to account for the outcomes. 

The data also includes cases where the outcome was not so positive. These fall into two categories: (1) where offers of help have resulted in negative outcomes for an intervening witness, and (2) where no help was offered at all. In the first category, there are some cases of violence against bystanders who offer help and confront the perpetrator. But it is worth saying that the data shows that these are the minority of cases, and in these cases, the person confronting the perpetrator did so knowing the risk of violence, because the incident was already violent. Those people are truly brave, knowing and taking risks to their own safety to help another experiencing violence. But across all cases of violence, injuries to bystanders are few, and most cases demonstrate that perpetrators do not feel so sure about assaulting someone from their own ethnic group or who appears not to be part of the out-group. 

Far more cases fall in to the category of ‘no help offered’. Bystanders who walk by, witnesses who say nothing, sometimes paralysed by uncertainty, shopkeepers who throw out people seeking shelter from street harassment, people in authority who turn away and deny witnessing racism – all of these appear in accounts submitted to in these cases, the impact on targeted people is evident. They report feelings of isolation which result in depression and suicide attempts, fear of using public places, anxiety in everyday activities at school, work, shopping and in leisure spaces. The impact of the event, which can be minimised by individualising the perpetrator and his/her actions, is worsened significantly by the sense that the perpetrators beliefs and disposition is shared by others in the immediate environment. Cases where the targeted person reports that no one offered help are significantly more da,aging than others. In other words, it is not just racism that hurts. It’s the idea that the attitudes and behaviours might be shared and repeated by others at any time in the same context. It’s the sense that feelings of safety and inclusion are false, since friends, colleagues and neighbours cannot be trusted to stand up to racism. These are the things that truly hurt. 

There are multiple reasons why people do not intervene when they see racism. People often overestimate risk, afraid of violence. But more often we fear the disapproval of our peers, of other witnesses, even when they too are strangers. 

What we really need to emphasise is the immense positive impact of offered help, even if this is only reassurance after the event. 

Why is intervention so important? 

1. Reduction of severity and length of incidents 

2. Expression of disapproval to the perpetrator and other witnesses 

3. Reinforcement of social norms which disavow racist behaviour 

4. Express inclusion of the targeted person(s) in the group, organisation, place, society. 

5. Reduced psychological impact of the event on the targeted person(s) 

6. Reduced impact on members of the targeted group who hear about the incident later 

7. Demonstrating to other witnesses that immediate responses are possible 

8. Deterrence of future actions by perpetrator(s)

If Portland teaches us anything, it should not be that intervention can involve risks. We already know that, and it holds us back. What it must teach us is that intervention is crucial to express our disapproval, and that it matters in the current environment to resist the further emboldening of perpetrators of racism. It matters in reducing the real impact of racism on those targeted. And it matters in reminding us all that our principles mean nothing if we do not act, within our capabilities, to defend them.

#portland #endhate #stopracism #hopenothate 


Yorkshire African Studies Network conference, 18-19 May


Yorkshire African Studies Network conference, 18-19 May 2017, University of Hull

Migration and Transition – Roots and Routes

2-day interdisciplinary interactive conference to provide a platform of critical thinking, exchange of ideas, networking and promotion of inter-relationships between academics, researchers, the community and non-academics. The conference provides an opportunity for academics and professionals from various fields to share their theoretical knowledge, research findings and practices with colleagues, participants and community members


18th May Thursday

10.15 Keynote: Dr Lucy Michael – Afrophobia and anti-blackness in the International Decade for People of African Descent: a hate crime perspective’.

11. 00 Frowynke Siegers: Community Development & Volunteer Coordinator Gateway Protection Programme – Refugee Council – talk of work with refugees and case studies

1.30 Lilly Okech-Appiah: The Human Trafficking of young girls and women from Eastern Africa to Europe

1.45 Giselle Lowe: A qualitative exploration of abortion narratives in South Africa

2.15 Keynote: Dr Athina Karatogianni, Africa and social media

3.15 Samuel North: Museums as a form of restorative justice: reality or rhetoric in South Africa?

3.30 Dr Michele Olivier: Forced Marriages: A modern form of slavery?

4.00 Nkiruka U Maduekwe: Enforcing Environmental Rights in Nigeria: Is there an African Solution to this Nigerian Problem?

4.45 -5.45 Roundtable YASN discussion

6 .00 Film: Talk by Tom Glinski – Community Development Worker Centre 88 & Film made by refugees Centre 88 – Refugee Council

19th May Friday

10.30 Claire Chambers: ‘Like a New Titanic’: Muslim Refugee Fiction

11.00 Shriya Thakkar: Labour Migration and Gender Roles: A South Asian Perspective

11.30 Dr Shola: Boko Haram

12.00 Allison Drew: Conflict patterns in Africa

12.30 Dr Bev Orton: Decriminalising Sex Workers in South Africa

1.00 Discussion/ plenary

2.30 Film on Rwanda

PM Visit to local exhibitions

Racism, xenophobia and integration in Northern Ireland

Prior to the 2016 EU referendum, there was an observable increase in racist and anti-immigrant sentiment in many media outlets, and expressed publicly by politicians and community leaders across the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey has asked questions on attitudes to minority ethnic communities since 2005, examining self-reported prejudice, perceptions of prejudice, acceptance of minority ethnic groups in intimate relationships and levels of interaction. The data therefore provides a valuable indicator of the vulnerability of Northern Ireland to xenophobic discourses which understate the value of diversity and migration, and emphasises self-segregation and exclusion.

I’m pleased to have just completed a report for ARK on the 2015 ILT survey data on attitudes to ethnic minorities, and look forward to its release soon! I’ll be posting a link to it here, along with additional commentary on the data.

You can see previous reports on the NILT webpage on attitudes to ethnic minorities.


Councils leading on Traveller ethnicity

Sligo County Council just voted to recognise Traveller ethnicity,  something the state has failed to do despite recognition of their ethnicity in Great Britain and Northern Ireland 

Its not the first. 

South Dublin County Council voted in December 2014

Cork City Council voted in July 2013
But the results are greeted with mixed feeling. Why vote on an established fact unless it can achieve something more tangible?

Are these useful attempts to embarrass the state into action,  raise local standards of administration and inclusion,  or signalling? I’m inclined to think the first 2, but since the Government  has shown little resolve in speeding this matter to conclusion,  I would hope the second has been useful in the meantime. 

Has anyone done a study of the impact of the Cork vote on council policy and practice? 

If they are signalling,  are they helpful in addressing the kinds of racism we saw from council candidates and members after Carrickmines? 

Comments welcome.  

Letter to the Editor: Failing Europe by fearmongering

Letter to the Editor

The Irish Times 
Failing Europe by fearmongering


A Chara,

As a Europhile and a career-oriented woman, I am delighted that Professor William Reville (‘Why is Europe losing the will to breed?, 19 January) has raised the issues that face me in making my reproductive choices. He is right that we have not yet worked out how to support women in the workplace while facilitating family life, and that we have failed to commit the necessary political and economic resources to resolving this problem.
I am dismayed, however, that he chooses to wrap this important issue in fearmongering of cultural loss and immigration, echoing the scientific racism of Europe’s darker past. I know that I am not alone when I question who he means by ‘indigenous Europeans’ given the genetic diversity of Europe over the last centuries. His nostalgic view of Europe denies the cultural assemblage and appropriation that have constituted European development, and his dismissal of the contributions of immigrants to Europe over many centuries denies the cultural, political, economic and social developments in other continents from which Europe has gained much. This multiculturalism has been part of the success of the European project, and continues to regenerate and reproduce European cultures. 
In calling for an end to multiculturalism, political correctness, and attacks on ‘our values’, Reville speaks to a notion of Europe that is monoracial and monocultural, to an imagined Europe that has not had to face the horrors of political regimes that have effaced the rights of their citizens, sought genetic purity, committed cultural genocide on European minorities over centuries, and a Europe that would never have had seen the need to instil human rights protections to make us more aware of the value of diversity, and more united in our determination to value the contributions of all of our citizens regardless of identity.
That Europe does not exist, so he need not fear that it is dying.
Europeans, of all ethnic, racialised and national backgrounds, are reproducing less because of the influence of higher education levels (including student debt), later marriage, two-income economies, precarious employment and poor childcare support across the continent. Migrants to Europe, both by cultural assimilation and structural constraint, experience the same pressures. We will be much better served by attending to these issues, considering the fullest contribution of women to the economy and society in our work as well as our reproductive capacity, than by fearmongering about immigration and cultural loss. 
Is mise le meas, 
Dr Lucy Michael

Ulster University