Editorial: 'What would you do?' not just a TV query

RIPON COLLEGE PSYCHOLOGY professor Joe Hatcher asks students “What Would You Do?” when confronting injustice in a public place. Tim Lyke photo

What would you do if, while shopping at a downtown Ripon store, you overheard a clerk tell an African-American customer that we don’t want “your kind” in our store?

Would you overlook the situation and continue shopping as if nothing had happened?

Comfort the customer?

Chastise the clerk?

Or take the passive-aggressive approach: Silently protest the situation by exiting the store as soon as possible?

About 30 Ripon College students recently had to consider that scenario, with a backdrop of New York’s SoHo neighborhood rather than Ripon, as psychology professor Joe Hatcher had them watch a segment of the ABC News program, “What Would You Do?”

Students gathered in East Hall’s large classroom as part of the college’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week activities watched the film clip and listened as Hatcher teed off what turned out to be a lively, thoughtful discussion about when and how to intervene, if at all, when witnessing a slight against another.

Hatcher, a self-described “social psychologist,” said he sympathized with those reluctant to become involved when observing an injustice. Yet, he said, that can come at a steep price.

“Some say that if you don’t follow your principles when it’s hard to do so, then you don’t have any,” Hatcher said. ...

Ripon College education professor Herve Some noted everyone harbors some prejudice. That doesn’t make them bad, Hatcher added, it just means each is at different points on the same journey.

Given that observation, do we who are prejudiced ourselves have a right to call others on their own ignorance?

What is our moral obligation? Is it to comfort the afflicted by assuring the customer that the clerk has no right to judge her based on her skin color? Or should we afflict the comfortable by reminding the clerk that she has no right to rely on race to question another’s character?

No easy answers, here. We each must decide when to be our brother’s keeper and/or stand in judgement of another. But a failure to ever step in when we see injustice means that we then share the blame for its perpetuation.

Hatcher’s final observations to the students were spot on: “This is work. This is not simple. It takes courage.”

— Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the Feb. 10, 2011 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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