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Identity-based attacks happen all too often, causing suffering for countless people. Although this article focuses on examples for Asian Americans, these ideas and skills can also apply to advocacy and safety for people of all identities facing prejudice.
In addition to being part of the Kidpower community and President of the Board, I’m a member of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard an increasing number of upsetting stories about Asian Americans being insulted, shunned, and physically threatened and assaulted because of misplaced fear and anger connecting Asian Americans directly to the spread of the coronavirus. Sadly, the problem persists.
Asian Americans have a long history of being discriminated against in the U.S., being seen as “perpetual foreigners” and lumped together as a monolithic group despite immense diversity within Asian American communities. Anti-Asian incidents surrounding COVID-19 are another example of such discrimination.
Even though a vast majority of Asian Americans have no ties to China nor its government, people target some of us as scapegoats simply because of our physical appearance. These verbal and physical attacks stem from the same system of structural inequality that devalues Black lives and normalizes violence against communities of color and of low income. These incidents highlight the need for all communities to stand in solidarity with each other when identity-based attacks happen.
In these challenging times, I’m grateful for and inspired by the organizations and individuals standing up boldly for themselves and for our communities under attack. I’m sharing some resources and skills from Kidpower that can help us take effective action for ourselves and others.
Actions and Interventions for Ourselves and Others
Here are some recommendations from Kidpower on how to apply our 10 Core ‘People Safety Skills and our Services and Resources for Protecting People From Prejudice to this difficult situation as well as some additional resources that I have found also to be very useful.
Read and listen to the words and stories of people who have been targets of identity-based attacks. Be aware of the thoughts that come up for you. This is a resource for reporting anti-Asian incidents if something happens to you.
Stay aware. This is even more challenging when people are wearing masks, since we cannot see facial expressions. Avoid getting so distracted in conversations or looking at your phone that you stop noticing action, movement, and voices going on around you. Avoid wearing earbuds and listening to music, podcasts, etc. when out in public.
Act calm and confident. No matter what action you take in a situation, when you act calm and confident, people will be more likely to listen to you and less likely to bother you or escalate the situation.
Act assertively rather than aggressively. As justified as these feelings are, getting angry and acting upset with someone can escalate the situation or conversations in a way that makes things less safe for everyone involved. Even if the other person is being rude or offensive, acting aggressively is only likely to make the situation worse. Acting aggressively might include trying to win, trying to prove a point, or using demeaning or dehumanizing language and gestures. If someone other than you is the target of the attack, challenging someone in a hostile way could make things even more dangerous for them.
Acting assertively means speaking up in a way that communicates respect to all. Even if you are not feeling respect for someone, acting respectfully can support safety. Assertive behavior is focused on resolving, ending, or disengaging peacefully. See Assertive Advocacy Communication Skills.
Practice Strategies for Calming when You Are Triggered. When we are full of intense feelings like anger, fear, or sadness, it can be hard to think clearly. We are safer if we can respond from a calm place rather than reacting from a triggered place. See Triggers, Emotional Attacks, and Emotional Safety Techniques.
Make safety plans together. If you are concerned about being the target of identity-based attack and are going out with others, make safety plans together. Be as clear as you can about what you would like and would not like them to do out in public in order to support safety. Notice how they respond. If your companions do not respond well, such as by saying that you are wrong or that you are making a big deal out of nothing, consider whether going out with them is your safest choice. Maybe you can get together privately rather than going out in public.
Practice ways to get help in public. Accept that nothing works all the time, and different situations will call for different responses. Practice many ways of getting help so you have more choices in the moment. Practice yelling calmly and confidently so that many people around could hear, “I don’t feel safe. If you have a phone, please start recording what’s happening.” Practice saying to a person in a position of power, “Excuse me, I need help. Please call security.”
Take Bystander Intervention Training. You can find resources and learn skills for leaving, de-escalating, distracting, and disengaging through this Bystander Intervention training provided by www.ihollaback.org. I have personally taken their training and learned practical actions for situations that may occur online or out in the world.
Build awareness and understanding of how implicit bias affects people, including ourselves. Our own biases affect how we perceive and respond. While we can’t eliminate bias, understanding that it plays a role in how we live, relate, and parent can help us make wiser choices. Possible resources include books and videos by Jennifer Eberhardt, author of Unconscious Bias; Ibram X Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction Stamped from the Beginning; and resources like Teaching Tolerance.
Avoid assuming everyone feels fine. Be proactive. Ask others what they would experience as support before problems come up. Ask companions if they have any concerns about identity-based attacks. Plan for the fact that their honest answer might make you feel uncomfortable or even defensive. Be prepared with your calming strategies so that you can get centered, listen, and learn from your companion’s response rather than arguing with it.
Plan to answer with acceptance along the lines of, “Thank you for telling me. Are there things you would like me to do, say, or keep in mind that you would experience as support?” Most importantly, believe them without arguing. They are telling you their experience. Believing they are telling you the truth about their experience is a way of being respectful.
Speak up about what you can and cannot commit to doing. If someone tells you what would be supportive for them, and what they are asking for is something you CAN do, then tell them you will plan to do that to the best of your ability.
For example, your companion might tell you, “If I say, ‘I’m ready to go. Let’s leave,’ I would like you to calmly and cheerfully say, ‘OK, let’s go!’ and then leave with me without arguing, even if we didn’t get our food yet.”
If you believe you can do what they are asking, tell them you will do that. Then, follow up. Recognize that if, in the moment, you do NOT do what they asked – such as by arguing with the person being rude rather than leaving as you agreed you would – then you are likely to cause damage to your relationship without making anyone safer, and possibly putting others at risk.
If you CANNOT do what your friend asked, say so. This gives them the information they need to assess whether they feel comfortable going out in the world with you. Avoid trying to convince them you are right or asking them to forgive or take care of your feelings. Take responsibility for getting help from others. It is not the job of this person to take care of your feelings.
While this situation can be extremely difficult and painful, it can also be a pathway to a more honest, healthy, and strong relationship.
Plan for the fact that these situations will be uncomfortable. Talking about these kinds of situations, being in them, and planning for them can be uncomfortable. If you are outside the target group, accept that people who are targets of identity-based attacks often feel not just uncomfortable but also anxious and scared simply leaving homes, neighborhoods, or other spaces they experience as safe. Taking an active role in addressing this problem will mean experiencing discomfort without letting discomfort stop you from taking actions that support safety.
Get help for your feelings about these issues by talking with people you trust without putting additional pressure for time or support on members of the target group. If you are within a target group, talking with peers and elders can be an excellent way to get support and strategies. Seek help from agencies and organizations you trust that you are confident will have information and expertise about what you are experiencing.
If you are outside the target group, get help from others who you believe will be honest with you and not simply say what you want to hear – and who are not within the targeted group for support addressing your feelings. For example, if your Asian American friend is anxious about going out because of the risk of identity-based attacks and you are feeling upset about this, turn to other people other than that friend to get help with your feelings.
Although this article focuses on examples for Asian Americans, these ideas and skills can also apply to advocacy and safety for people of all identities facing prejudice. At Kidpower, we help people of all ages, abilities, and identities to prepare to have difficult conversations, set boundaries, de-escalate conflict, get out of unsafe situations, and get help. We are providing extensive online workshops, so please take a look at our Online Learning Services and COVID-19 Resources to learn more. Contact us at email@example.com with any questions or suggestions.
Published: February 11, 2021 | Last Updated: February 11, 2021