Jonah Naghi

Do not be a bystander

Diffusion of responsibility suggests that an individual will stand by and do nothing if others are around in an event where help is needed. Now that Donald J. Trump is President of the United States — it’s going to take time getting used to saying that – this psychological phenomenon is applicable to our situation now in America. Realizing how the post-election results could lead to a rise in hate crimes against minorities and rise in White Supremacy, we must understand not to be bystanders.

Some have argued that we should not worry for a couple of reasons. One, many of Trump’s voters do not believe in his xenophobic ideology; they voted for other reasons, such as a protest to Washington and healthcare reform. For example, Asra Nomani writes a piece explaining why she, a liberal female Muslim immigrant voted for Donald Trump. Secondly, analysts might say that Trump does not actually mean what he says; he is simply just saying that Muslims should be banned or monitored to win certain votes.

Regardless, even if Trump does not mean what he says and many of his voters do not have those beliefs, Trump’s rhetoric, tone and the symbol of his victory brings rise to a White Supremacist ideology because it inspires and brings rise to those who do have those beliefs.

Earlier this year, the KKK endorsed Trump for president. This came in addition to former KKK leader David Duke endorsing Trump earlier in his campaign. Trump may have not commented, nor even liked the endorsement, but the point is that he is inciting these groups of people to now take action. It is not a coincidence that only days after Donald Trump won the presidency we began to see pro-Nazi graffiti on walls and hate crime incidents.

This is also what happened in the UK after Brexit. In July after the Brexit vote, hate crimes increased by 41% from the same month the year before. There is no reason not to believe that the same could happen to Trump’s America when we have seen the highest rate in hate crimes against Muslims in the US since 9/11. So just like the post-Brexit elections led to a rise in hate crimes, Trump’s victory could lead to a rise in hate crimes and White nationalist ideology on the ground in the months, maybe even years to come in his presidency.

But the election is over. Donald Trump is and will be president for at least the next four years beginning January, but we can still take action. Again, thought it is probably true that many, if not most people in America are not genuinely xenophobic, we cannot be bystanders; we cannot fall into the trap of diffusion of responsibility. There are two ways we, the people of America, can still stand up and protect our values of inclusivity and diversity.

The first way is to act when you see a hate crime. Artist Marie-Shirine Yener drew up a comic strip on how to peacefully take action when you see a hateful incident. It instructs that if you see someone being harassed for their identity, walk up to the person being harassed and begin an off topic conversation with that person, while ignoring the perpetrator until he or she walks away.

A second way is to become more aware of other people’s cultures and spreading cultural diversity by going outside your bubble. An personal example of this is when I learned what the swastika means in Hinduism. Growing up in American Jewish day school, I only saw the swastika as a symbol of anti-Semitism. However, going to more cultural events at Clark University, such as Eid-Diwali dinners showed me that the swastika is also a symbol of good fortune in Hinduism. Had I not gone out of my cultural bubble and learned from my Hindi friends, I would have remained to be ignorant in that regard.

This is how we can counter hate. When you see a hate crime, act. When you have the time, go out there and learn about other people’s cultures and share them with your friends and family. Do not be a bystander.

About the Author
Jonah Naghi is a Boston-based writer and the Partnership Chair of Israel Policy Forum's IPF Atid Steering Committee in the city of Boston. A frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, Jonah has spent extensive time in the region and received his Masters in Social Work at Boston College (2020) and LICSW (2023). All the views expressed are his own.
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