The dust does settle as we all reluctantly become more accustomed to the COVID19 pandemic with its shocks and aftershocks. Some are handling it better than others, true. No matter what, we are all doing our best. And yet, the specter of racism and scapegoating casts a looming shadow over everyone’s attempts to manage current events. As you may have heard, anti-Chinese and Asian sentiment is increasing and ugly incidents in the United States and abroad are becoming more and more commonplace. So what can you, or anyone else, for that matter, do? Especially if you are not Asian or Asian American, this might seem like it’s someone else’s problem, and besides, you already have enough to deal with now. But ignoring the issue is not going to make it go away. And how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of racism and hatred? Surely you would hope that others would support you, defend you if needed, and be a steadfast ally…right?
You do want to learn what you can do, as a non-Asian person, to be a steadfast and respectful ally to Asian and Asian American people at this time.
The purpose of this essay, consequently, is to outline some things that you can do, from cultivating a practice of intercultural competency to intervening in the event that you are witness to a racist attack on an Asian person or group. Herein, you will also learn what I discovered from my contact with the good people at the Austin Police Department, plus you will find links to further resources for all readers, not just for those of us who are in Austin, Texas. My focus is mainly on preparing yourself to respond appropriately to racist harassment in public and, in response to an incident, to be clear and safe with whatever may be your level of intervention. However, what you will read here may also encourage you to be more aware of how social media and other venues contribute to this growing problem. And that’s important too. What people produce and/or consume on social media does bear fruit and does merit critical thought.
Wherever you are and however this subject touches you, one thing remains constant. To wit: now more than ever, knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better you are able to contribute in a respectful and meaningful way.
~~~~~~ Be aware of racism & be prepared ~~~~~~
It is absolutely crucial to plan ahead and to have an understanding not only of what people in general might do in the face of racism and violence but also of what you, yourself, are capable of and willing to do. If you witnessed racial harassment or a violent attack, would you know what to do? Would you feel comfortable intervening? Do you have other strategies to employ if you are not comfortable with a more active role? (And there is no shame whatsoever in not taking a more active role).
It is in the nature of humans to not know what to do in situations of this gravity and, if there is a crowd, to remain silent in the face of abuse. This is known as the bystander effect. (If you’d like to read a couple very good articles on the subject, do take a look at the essays from the Association for Psychological Science, here.) Your own personality, the given context, and how many people are involved most certainly will influence the dynamics of a racist incident. It genuinely helps to think ahead, because all of these factors will contribute and, ultimately, determine whether you help or if you remain silent.
Speaking for myself, I am, as my readers know, a former Spanish professor. I’m used to being in charge and, though I might be frightened, I know I’d intervene if I were witness to a racist attack. I also have a personal stake in this matter, as a practitioner of Chinese medicine who loves her mentor and other TCM teachers and colleagues from China. There’s no way I’d walk on by or sit there like a turnip if I were witness to a racist incident against an Asian person (or anyone else, for that matter). In addition, I spent my eighteen years in academia teaching critical thinking and intercultural competency along with the literature and the language that was on the syllabus. Consequently, it’s a given that I like to think and I that am accustomed to planning ahead and to researching. It made me feel better to find resources for safe response tactics such as the bystander intervention graphic you can find here. That’s me. I am who I am.
What about you? What makes you care about this subject, and what can you do to prepare yourself for any eventuality?
As part of my research, I had a phone conversation with Senior Police Officer and District Representative John Gabrielson of the Austin Police Department. Officer Gabrielson suggested that people who want to learn more about their communities can call 311 (and that’s not just for Austin, although you can read more about ours here). And, if you would like to undertake free online bystander intervention training specifically because you are concerned about your local Asian and Asian American community, take a look here.
It was an interesting exchange, and two points really stayed with me. First, and very gratifying, was that Officer Gabrielson and I were in complete agreement regarding the need to plan ahead and to know yourself. Secondly, and news to me, was the information he shared regarding the dynamics of the law and an officer’s purview. To wit: if you witness racial harassment and call the police, the officer can only do something if the victim chooses to press charges. If there is a felony level of violence, things change, but in terms of general harassment, the victim needs to be willing to sign the line to make the complaint official. According to Officer Gabrielson, not all victims are willing to do so, either because of fear or due to shame or other reasons. This brought home to me the importance of intercultural competency, local support, and the necessity for trust between citizens and law enforcement.
(Granted, not everyone has a robust local police department and not everyone has confidence in their local law enforcement. I have an answer to that one, too. If you do not trust your local police department, it may be possible to enroll in your local Citizen Police Academy and become an actively engaged member of your community as a result. For more on that, please read my blog post on the topic, here).
~~~~~~ Learn more & know where to go for help ~~~~~~
Different cities have different resources. One place to start is by checking if your city has any resources specifically for Asian persons. Universities and police departments are fruitful places to begin. In Austin, we have a robust Asian Outreach Program as part of the Austin Police Department’s commitment to community policing. The University of Texas here has a student organization (here) and a faculty group (here). There are also resources online, such as Columbia University’s online community dialogue, here, which includes a good list of online resources for readers not here in town. But do look around. If you are not Asian, you might not know where to turn if you have questions; meantime, if you are Asian, you might not realize that there are more places to go for support for you than you had realized. Even so, it’s important to know of these resources before you actually need them. After the horse is out of the barn, it’s too late to shut the door and lament, right? Look around now, and see what you have around you to help you to become a steadfast and respectful ally to Asian and Asian American persons.
In that vein, I spoke with and later had a wonderful emailed correspondence with Gui Mei Fung, our Asian Community Liaison, about APD’s program. My first question of our emailed interview was: Can you please give a brief outline of the Asian Outreach Program’s normal purpose and activity and then give a brief answer as to what is changing in response to the current situation?
Her response, and I quote:
“In many Asian countries, citizens and the police departments are not [connected] due to the negative incidents that they have with police officers. Therefore, the purpose of our Asian outreach program is to help educate the Asian communities about Austin Police Department. We want to let them know that there are other informal ways to interact with APD police officers other than calling 911 when urgent incidents happen. Before the current Stay Home Order, we would attend events such as Lunar New Year celebrations and community resource fairs to reach community members. We would bring in a police officer who is the District Representative of the area to the event. The community members would then have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss any concerns with the District Representative. Also, as many Asian community members do not know about our office, attending these activities is a great way to let them know that we care about them, and that we have a specific liaison who originates from their culture that works for their communities.
The other common activity that we do is to facilitate discussions [and/or] presentations for the Asian communities. Occasionally, there are community leaders reach out to our office and request to have some public safety related discussions. We then bring in the District Representative of the area and facilitate discussions at a place where the community is designated to meet. In many Asian countries, citizens are not offered opportunities to interact with police officers through informal discussions. Therefore, they are usually really active and show appreciation during these discussions. Aside from these common activities, we also work on creating some culturally specific programs for the communities.
Regarding to the current issues of COVID19 that the Asian communities are facing, I look into attending relevant community meetings or any virtual events. Also, I am involved with a new task force that an Asian organization created. Additionally, I have collaborated with some District Representatives and am planning to gather some helpful resources for the communities.”
As you can see, our Asian and Asian American friends and neighbors are doing everything that they can do to make their communities safer. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a robust Asian Outreach Program in their locale but, if you are concerned and want to learn more, why not take a look at your local government web pages and see what’s there? Use this opportunity to learn more about your community. Find out if where you live is populated by immigrants or mostly by Asian Americans. You may be in an area with a vibrant Pacific Islander community. See if you can learn who these neighbors are, and if they are Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese, just to name a few major Asian American and immigrant populations in this country.
Consider, too, the power of your pocketbook. Look around to see if there are any Asian grocery stores or restaurants near you that you might like to try, either for takeout or dine-in once things start to settle. Personally, although I must confess that I am biased, I think that everyone would benefit if they chose to try acupuncture or the traditional Chinese bodywork therapy known as tui na. And is there a cultural center where you might be able to take a virtual tour? It’s so interesting to learn about cultures different than your own, isn’t it? Just by committing yourself to looking around and learning, you have an opportunity to enrich your own life too. (For more on intercultural competency and not seeing Asian persons as only needing help, refer to my first blog post on this topic, here).
It’s especially important for those of us who are not Asian or Asian American to remember that our role is to support, not supplant. If you like twitter, you can follow the account Racism is a Virus, which is an Asian American-led campaign to contest xenophobia. An excellent resource for learning that also hosts online conversations is Act To Change, here. Remember to look for accomplishments and strengths if you are learning about Asian and Asian American communities. You and I are not saviors. We are friends, colleagues, and respectful and steadfast allies.
We are all in this together, are we not? And the best way to head off a crisis incident is to build healthy connections before something bad happens.
~~~~~~ If you are a witness ~~~~~~
I know from spending four and a half years of my life in school for my Chinese medical study that Chinese people are private and somewhat conservative and also, that they are very, very dear and extremely kind. I also learned, after many times eating lunch at the Korean restaurant next to the student clinic where I underwent over a thousand supervised internship hours, that the Korean owners and staff are sweet, shy people who noticed when I was tired and who fed me well. I can only imagine how terribly humiliated and frightened my Chinese teachers or my Korean acquaintances would be if they were attacked, either verbally or otherwise, in public.
Another question I asked of Ms. Fung, then, pertains to intercultural competency. In our emailed conversation, I wrote: We talked about intercultural competence and planning ahead for if there is an incident. I’ve read about people getting mean notes left on their car or door, I’ve read reports about a Korean student at Angelo State being attacked and threatened with a gun, and I know of the horrible stabbing of [the father and] small children in Midland. What kind and encouraging message can non-Asian people give if we see something or if there is an incident? I think that Asian Americans are one thing, maybe less in need of that level of intercultural skill. But older Asian persons, especially if they were not born here, might feel better if there is even a small sign that the person has some sense of what politeness and comfort means to them. Can you share any anecdotes or suggestions for intercultural competence?
Her response, and I quote, was to say that: “For non-Asian community members, providing support to Asian community members regardless which generation of immigrants [is] essential and means a lot to them. From this kind of support, the Asian immigrants would get a sense that they are not being isolated and not all non-Asians are hostile to them, and would not tolerate any hate crimes/incidents. Especially for those first generation Asian immigrants who carry the burden of language barrier, it is more challenging for them to face the current issues. I can imagine that if any hate incidents happen to them, they may not even know how to respond or react. Also, as most of them are new to the country, they are not familiar with many resources that they could utilize. They always look to find out how they could receive help. Therefore, when non-Asian community members witness hate incidents happen to Asian community members, they should let the Asian community members know that these behaviors are not acceptable. I would suggest that non-Asians could provide and explain any helpful resources that the Asian community members could utilize if any hate incidents happen to them. For instance, any links or forms where they could report the incident; explain the purpose of reporting these incidents.
Also, from my experiences as a Chinese American, I found that first generation Asian immigrants enjoy talking to people who could relate to their culture. Thus, you could involve any topic that is related to their culture during the conversation even as simple as asking how to say “hello” in their native languages.”
This last made me smile, because really all I can say is “ni hao ma” (Chinese for “how are you?”), xie-xie (“thank you”) and–my crowning glory–I can recite Chinese herbs with a mangled accent that makes these beautiful sounds resemble poorly-spoken Spanish. But what counts is that I would try. If I were witness to a racist incident, I would not necessarily assume that the person spoke an Asian language, but I’d introduce myself and say that I am an acupuncturist. I’d ask where they were from, and I’d show interest in their answer. I would put myself in their shoes, and I would show empathy and respect.
What would you like to learn to say in order to be friendly to a stranger who could use a kind word? What would you need, if the tables were turned, and another person, someone not-like-you, was the one helping you? Is there anything in particular that would make you feel less lonely, shocked, and hurt in that moment? And what would you want them to know about your strengths, or about you at a time when you weren’t in need of help?
~~~~~~ Love thy neighbor ~~~~~~
Consequently, the last question I had for Ms. Fung was: What would you like concerned non-Asian persons to know? If you have a message for anyone who is caring and concerned, what is that message?
Her response was to say, “Your concern and caring mean a lot to the Asian communities. Providing support to Asian community members is a great way to help spread the message that not all non-Asians are being hostile. At the same time, education is a great way to help prevent hate incidents [from] happening in the future.
Also, Item 76 is coming to Council on Thursday [April 9th]:
“Approve a resolution condemning violence, hate speech, racism, and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and expressing solidarity with Chinese and Asian Americans.”
Sponsors: Council Member Alison Alter, Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Gregorio Casar, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, Council Member Kathie Tovo.”
As you can see, there are resources. If your local government and/or law enforcement don’t seem to have much to offer, then you can reach out to other sources, such as a local university. If there really is nothing near you, go online. Just like anyone else, a besieged group is going to circle the wagons and turn inward. As you can see from Ms. Fung’s commentary, Asian communities don’t always know that they are cared for, wanted, and supported. Before anything ugly happens in your online circles or out in your local community, why not see about reaching out a hand in friendship so that your neighbors know that you in fact do care?
~~~~~~ In conclusion ~~~~~~
We are in a tough place right now, no doubt about it. But there are calls, and they come from many different corners, to use this time of alteration as an opportunity. It is our chance, now, to bring about good change and meaningful healing to our communities and to our world. One way we can do that is by learning more about our own bodies and how they work so that we can all become and remain healthier (and you know I’ll be writing blog posts on this topic). Another way is by practicing intercultural competency, and by making a commitment to kindness. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to one another. And surely, if you see something, do say something. We are all in this together. May we all be healthier, and may we all be kinder. May we support and care for one another.
I hope that Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander readers of this essay are encouraged by its words, and that readers who are not Asian persons are inspired to answer the call to become steadfast and respectful allies to Asians, Asian American, and Pacific Islander peoples. It is a call, from my heart to yours.
What say thou, dear reader? And what, if need be, will you do?
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Two Hearts Wellness is an Austin, TX local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for health coaching services. If you are interested in acupuncture, herbs, and/or Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.
Acupuncture is great for you but if you’re nervous about needles there are certainly other options. Have you ever thought to try traditional Chinese bodywork? In addition to acupuncture, I offer tui na (similar to massage) and other ancient Chinese therapies, including cupping, gua sha, moxa, and more. If you are looking for a holistic wellness consultant and coach, my services can entail short or longer term programs. You are your own best investment, and when you take charge of your wellbeing you invest in yourself now and for the benefit of your future.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.