When do you stand up, and how?

Who is taking the brunt of verbal and physical assault since the current President’s election? Immigrant women.

According to the New York Police Department, bias incidents in New York have spiked 400 percent in the two weeks that followed the election of Donald J. Trump, compared to the same period last year. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy organization that tracks hate incidents and provides tolerance training in schools, has released a report that stated that bias incidents have surpassed the 1,000 mark since the election. [dated January 1, 2017] The vast majority of these incidents were directed towards immigrant women.

In her blog, Sabine Heinlein speaks as an immigrant woman. She’s German. Within her family, one set of grandparents were behind Hitler; the others were against him, but ineffective to stop the genocide. She explains  her education in Germany. She learned about World War II history in terms of how personal choice allowed the Hitler fascist government to commit genocide against 13 million people.

The Germans have a very-German word for it: Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “the process of coming to terms with your past.”

Ms Heinlein admires what she learned as a German: be direct and support the common good for all people. She postulates that Americans care too much about being liked. We need to talk to people who are not just like us. She urges us to be more like the “good Germans” who opposed the fascist German government.  She honors those who are stepping up early, as hate incidents increase in number across the country.

Americans are fond enough of multi-ethnic, culinary mashups, and I think it’s time for all of us to try out a little German-American fusion. If you dare to bite into a Cronut or kimchi taco, you might want to try out my little German lesson. Hateful graffiti at the bus stop? Be like my Queens council man Jimmy Van Bramer: Get a sponge and detergent, and scrub it away. Hear abuse on the subway? Talk to the victim and lead her to safety. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” wrote the philosopher Edmund Burke. Exactly. So don’t just be good. Be a good German.

Standing Up

As a Jewish woman, raised in New York, bluntness comes naturally to me. Support for the common good is in my Jewish DNA; we call it “Tikkun Olam” (repairing what is broken in the world.) Can I be a “good German?” Can you?

Here’s my first attempt at it. I am running bystander intervention classes.  I launched last week in Arlington. As I get the curriculum perfected, I will expand my venues and offerings for the duration of the time needed. Stay tuned!


What is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander Intervention is a strategy to prevent or lessen the impact of social violence, including bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.

A bystander is a witness.

  • If you see someone drop their garbage on the sidewalk, you are a bystander to littering (Sabine Heinlein’s example.)
  • If a friend in your car is starts yelling profanity at someone, you are a bystander to verbal assault.
  • If you see someone in the room speaking abusively to someone else, you are a bystander to verbal abuse.

It is awkward to be the “trash police” or the “civility police” with people we know. It is intimidating to contemplate doing so with strangers. But it can be done, and it must be done. By being silent, you communicate that you accept this behavior.

The aim of training is to prepare people of good intention for situations like this. With preparation, you are less likely to freeze when you see someone being targeted. There are better and worse interventions; practice can arm you with better ones.

Do you have what it takes to be a “Good German”? Are you willing to try?


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