Safety in anti-racism
December 6, 2020 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I am a non-Black person of color and work in a public-facing role, and spend the majority of my days alone with a series of semi-strangers whom I am helping (indoors, 5x5 room, masked). Our organization has provided BLM badge holders for anyone who wants them. Last week, the person I was helping went on a rant about how he was offended by the BLM badges, including the use of the n-word. I told him that was unacceptable and asked leadership to ban him, which they have. But he knows who he saw that day, and I am starting to get worried for my personal safety. How can I not dread going to work any more than I usually do?

The guy did not make a violent threat against me during this incident, so my fear is probably irrational, but we also live in an era where white supremacists murder Black people after praying with them, so....

We are located in a red state with very lax gun laws. Guns are not allowed on any of our property, but people like this don't exactly read the handbook before they get angry. We do not have a security person/police on site, and honestly I don't think that would be the right response overall, so I am not going to request it.

This person is, as best I can tell, not online (our system lists no email for him and no mobile number). But future racists I come across likely will be. So I'm thinking about both the immediate issue as well as potential future things like doxxing, etc....

Things I've been doing already (before this incident):
- all my social media accounts are locked down
- work calls are screened; I don't pick up my cell phone unless I recognize the number.
- my cell phone number is not publicly listed anywhere (and the area code is from a place I lived 15 years ago, so it's unlikely that anyone around here would know to search for it)
- separate "spam me" email address for any online sign-ups

Things I plan to do:
- removing my name from county real estate records
- parking in a less convenient but better lit area at work
- a work friend offered to screen my work mail; told her I'd think about it
- other things?

(In case it's relevant, I live alone. Pandemic stress has been bad enough without this on top!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm very sorry you have to deal with this, you have my sympathy and this is not something that anyone should ever have to think about. I am not a person of color but I have thought about this before because I work in an industry where online death threats are very common and are sometimes escalated into violence. I think there are two ways to think about this that might help:

First, it is very unlikely that anything will happen to you in this specific instance. There are far more angry racists then there are incidents of violent hate crimes. Based on the 2018 statistics, of the approximately 9000 hate crimes that year, 60% were racially based and 35% were physical violence, so that gives around 2000 violent racist hate crimes that year. In contrast, there were around 300,000 robberies and 300,000 deaths from Covid in 2020. It is hard to know how much hate crimes may increase this year, but it is not going to increase 100x, and many other people are experiencing the same racist tirades about BLM. So in general you need to worry about this much less than you do about general robberies and Covid.

But that ignores the situation you described. Based on what I have read, angry tirades rarely turn to violence or further action unless something happens to escalate it. You are probably not the only person this racist went off on, and things like this have probably happened before to them. But unless they feel some specific reason to focus on you in particular, nothing more is going to happen. They said their fill and they get their angry racism out at you, and they've moved on to hurting someone else with their racist bile. They're probably more mad at your company for allowing BLM support than at you specifically.

The second question is what to do, and the answer is anything that makes you feel empowered and in control of the situation. I live in the south, and talking to my friends this is actually why many of them own guns: it provides them a very strong sense of personal security (I absolutely do not feel this way, having guns around makes me feel very unsafe). Your list sounds good as practical prevention steps and is similar to the list I was building for myself. You can also consider not using your proper legal name while working, using a variant will make it harder for people to search for you later.

You may also want to consider something like personal defense or martial art classes that would give you more confidence if something like this were to turn violent (or you get robbed in general). Or because those classes might be shut down right now, finding some self learning courses online. By gaining experience dealing with simulations of high-risk situations, you are more likely to better handle a real situation. It can also increase the amount of control you feel over the possible situation, which is very helpful for anxiety.

But in general it sounds like you are already taking good steps to deal with this, and should continue to take reasonable ones that help you be safer.
posted by JZig at 11:20 AM on December 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

First off, I'm sorry this happened. It wasn't your fault, and there's nothing you could have done to prevent it from happening.

I think the measures you have taken seem reasonable, but I don't think there's anything additional you can do.

I work in a job with a public facing role that kind of ends up in similar situations.I'm white.

My primary safety is that there is established workplace safety . There are panic buttons. People know who I am with and when I am with them . I work in an area with multiple exits incase of confrontation. The privacy set up in a way that most of my encounters are alone, if there is any reason I do not want to be alone somebody will be there in less than a minute, and if there something going on in which it's questionable from the get go, I have the option of working in pairs. I'm allowed to end an engagement at any time with any reason, and that will not be questioned. If these aren't a part of your workplace, I recommend it.

But ultimately, honestly safety is a thing in which there is some things not in your control. Safety is about not being with the wrong person at the exact time some other variable happens to move them from a person doing a regular thing to someone committing a crime (most of the time. this isn't as applicable for some things like domestic violence, and stalking or harassment or even online harassment which seems to be a concern, which build and have patterns of escalation. In terms of online, the instigating event towards being harassed online could be anything, absolutely anything at all, and you will be unable to predict what that thing will be for any individual who engage in those types of behaviors).

Most (not all) people are committing crimes on impulse, it's not actually planned, so the person is not even aware that they are about to commit a crime.

In sum, being a victim of a crime is never the victims fault.

What this means is common sense measures like what you are doing are helpful, but ultimately you have to live your life and try not to drown in anxiety. What JZig said above is helpful advice.

I understand that there are variables in your life that make you more at risk than other people, especially white people. But your risk from yesterday to today has likely not changed at all.

I'm not sure this comment is helpful, and is definately not reassuring in the one quick trick to make your life safer kind of way. I think focusing on ways to take care of your emotional well being is likely the best next pace to focus as your seem to have the basics about personal safety covered.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:07 PM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you talked to leadership about how you're feeling, how do you think they'd respond?

They did ban the guy, which is encouraging enough that I thought I'd ask. If you think they'll be helpful or at least empathetic, it seems worth a go.

I'm very sorry. You should not have to worry about this. I wish you peace and safety.
posted by humbug at 12:28 PM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

With the understanding that there may be a lot of baggage and history in your area that makes this suggestion a non-starter, you might consider reaching out to your local police department. There may be an officer assigned to community engagement/relations. Developing a relationship with some officers and your local precinct captain before there is an emergency or otherwise threatening situation might mean that come more quickly, take you more seriously when/if the time comes.

You might see if an officer might come to advise on how to improve safety and security. They may have some suggestions for lighting and other measures your leadership or the property owner could take to help everyone feel more safe.
posted by brookeb at 1:07 PM on December 6, 2020

Do customers know your full name? Can you change that? If they don't know your name, it seems like the probably that they would track you down (home, personal phone etc) is vanishingly small. So I would assume if something was going to happen, it would happen at work.

I would focus on how to get support if something starts to go down when you are with a customer at work. Since this would apply to all employees who work alone in that space, the company would want to be involved. One possibility might be a panic alarm that sets off an alarm in the office (as well as possibly signally the police). Another might be pepper spray (with training) to be kept within reach.
posted by metahawk at 4:05 PM on December 6, 2020

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