By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
With the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, a lot of people have been wondering what they can do to help. Many are afraid to speak up when something happens, or just unsure how to go about it.
“Bystander Intervention,” a training aimed at stopping “anti-Asian American and xenophobic harassment” offers advice, positing that there is always “at least one thing” we all can do.
The training is currently offered online until May 17. Sponsored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, CAIR-Chicago, and Hollaback!, the sessions last approximately one hour and provide five possible responses to harassment, which the presenters call the “5 D’s”: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.
This mindful, culturally competent training is facilitated by any of several individuals, including Tamer Y. Abouzeid, staff attorney for CAIR-Chicago, a Muslim civil rights organization whose mission is to “fight bigotry and promote tolerance.” Abouzeid starts his session by establishing his ally-hood with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). A victim of suspicion himself after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, he is aware of the impact on AAPIs of the uptick in harassment due to the coronavirus and the approbation that hate groups feel they have been given from people in powerful positions.
To a packed house of up to 500 attendees, Abouzeid explains that there is a spectrum of racism, and while some forms might seem less traumatic than others, “all forms still…bleed into one another and lead into one another. This is like a swimming pool with different depths. Even though it’s three feet here, six feet here, and 12 feet here, we’re all swimming in the same water.
So even though some [types of harassment] may feel less or more serious…any of these things can cause trauma. People evolve from staring, to using the words ‘kung flu,’ to bullying someone at school or work.” An example of a “lesser” form of disrespect might be assuming that an Asian American was not born here, while a more “serious” form could be graffiti, spitting, or outright assault—something we all have seen too much of lately.
So what do we do when we witness this? According to a poll, one of the common reasons people don’t act is that they just don’t know what to do. People of color, in particular, might be afraid the perpetrator will turn on them, too, while white people might worry that the person they want to help will view them negatively as a “white savior.” There is also the “bystander effect”—if no one else is stepping forward, neither will I. All of these are addressed by the 5 D’s—each offering at least one thing we can do.
The training explains the “D’s” in detail and gives use-case scenarios, drawn from real incidents of racism and harassment, to help attendees decipher which response each person might choose in different types of situations. Here are the “5 D’s” in a nutshell.
“Distract” means to come up with a way to disturb the harasser’s train of thought.
“Use a distraction to act like a pair of scissors,” Abouzeid explains. “Cut the string and it doesn’t reconnect. De-escalate by sucking the attention away.” For instance, you might ask for directions or drop something.
“Delegate” means to look for help. If you are not comfortable stepping forward yourself, which would be the fifth “D,” “Direct”—then find a manager or someone who might take the initiative. In this case, it is important to be careful when seeking out help from the police, Abouzeid warns, as some victims of harassment do not want the attention of the police or might fear even more trouble from the police than what they are already experiencing.
The third “D,” “Document,” prevalent in this digital era, is to record what is going on.
Documentation comes in handy later when everyone is questioning what really happened.
And the fourth “D,” “Delay,” means follow up with the person who experienced the harassment.
Talk to them. Ask how they are. Show your support. A little can mean a lot. According to Abouzeid, research shows that “even things as little as a knowing glance can reduce trauma when it comes to harassment or disrespect—letting them know “I saw that” or “I’m sorry about what happened”—just that can reduce the trauma someone experiences and deals with.”
Key to this conversation are three things. One, always be aware of the needs of the victim of the harassment. You might think you are helping by posting on your Facebook page what happened, when in fact it is hurting them more every time they see the incident shared.
Two, be safe. Don’t act outside of your own comfort zone or do something that you feel might be dangerous. Acting “directly,” for instance, is the most likely to cause escalation instead of de-escalation, so be sure you are assessing the situation and choose the “D” that best works for you in that moment. This decision will become easier with practice and awareness.
Which leads to the third big takeaway: It’s okay to respond in whatever way you are able. Your response might be just one of the “D’s” or a combination.
“We want to always give each other, and ourselves, some slack when it comes to seeing something and maybe not feeling comfortable doing one thing or feeling more comfortable doing something directly, versus indirectly, or vice versa,” Abouzeid emphasizes. “It’s important to give grace and space to other people who, we hope, are also listening to themselves…and not judge people who have not been intervening.”
The end result of this training might be, though, for those who might have hesitated to act before, or didn’t know how to, an increase in confidence that yes, there is something you can do.
To sign up for one of the trainings, go to advancingjustice-chicago.org/what-we-do/bystander-intervention-trainings.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.