Why being an active bystander is much easier said than done.
Before Alteristic trainers get into the three D’s, they focus on why people don’t speak out in the first place. Training starts by examining what human social behavior and thought patterns also conspire against us.
“A lot of us are taught how to mind our business, or that if it does not involve us then we shouldn’t interject,” Dr. Vance said. “We have to unlearn that particular method and relearn strategies to challenge our biases that we have developed over time.”
For people with privilege, losing that privilege can be a strong demotivator, Dr. Sue said. Many white Americans learn from an early age not to talk about race, which makes it harder for them to speak out.
“When a young child makes an obvious, naïve observation of skin tone, eyes and physical differences, what do parents do? They hush them up,” he said, adding that this can feed into adults’ claims of “color blindness,” which he explores in his book “Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence.”
“If you are colorblind, you are color mute,” he said.
The socialization of women, too, can also prevent them from being active bystanders, Dr. Edwards said.
Women learn “certain messages of what it means to be feminine and a woman,” she said, adding that the privilege of being white makes it “even easier for me to not make waves,” especially if not doing so helps retain that privilege.
And for people who hold marginalized identities, making waves can mean facing consequences, according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review. If you’re the only Black person at your company, for instance, calling out your boss’s inappropriate jokes may reduce opportunities for you.