PJALS training offers responses bystanders can use
The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) has offered the program it used in recent Anti-Asian Racism: Bystander Intervention Training in various formats for several years.
Before Liz Moore came as co-director of PJALS 11 years ago, she was using elements of the training to challenge or interrupt oppressive or racist comments and statements.
Pui-Yan Lam of Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition asked Liz to offer the training.
"With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an alarming increase in biased incidents and hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the United States and across the world," said Liz.
"Since the President and others in positions of power tied the virus to Chinese people, some people are blaming Asian Americans for the outbreak. Asian Americans face racist attacks as anti-Asian stereotypes and myths re-emerge. In response, allies to Asian Americans need to speak out against bigotry and racism to challenge learned prejudices," she said.
In this interactive workshop, participants learned to respond to and interrupt oppressive statements rather than be passive bystanders.
Leading the intervention training from her family room, Liz asked participants to think about what holds them back.
"Bystanders can have impact on a situation, but need to learn how to do it effectively. It involves a learnable set of skills," Liz said.
"Bystanders may be unsure what is the right thing to say, as if there is a magical, right response," she said. "We fear stirring rage, damaging a relationship or think it's not our place. We fear making it worse.
"If white allies hold back, we need to figure what is holding us back," Liz said, noting that part of the reticence comes from white privilege.
"What will happen if we don't disrupt discrimination?" she asked.
Participants said: "Disconnection grows." "It normalizes racism." "It communicates approval." "It ignores that lives are at risk."
They suggested some responses: "All neighbors matter." "No one is disposable or of less value."
Liz said that communicating with words and action can set a tone for what is okay, can diffuse tension, and can establish a buffer between the harasser and target. If conflict builds, one can call for emergency assistance.
If the comments are online, prevention is the best tactic, which means setting social media privacy settings to only friends, not posting pictures and knowing that anything posted may be public.
Liz suggested some do's and don'ts.
• Bystanders do need to make their presence as a witness known to the person being harassed.
• They do need to take cues from the person being harassed, asking if the person wants their assistance.
• They do need to keep both parties safe.
• Don't call the police without permission of the person being harassed because police presence may escalate the situation.
• Don't do nothing.
Beyond those suggestions, Liz listed five D's of bystander intervention:
1) Direct intervention means confronting the situation so it does not escalate. The goal is to transform the systemic violence or oppression without shaming but shifting the power structure by calling it out. It's not about a good white person pointing at a bad white person
2) Distracting can indirectly de-escalate the situation by starting a conversation with the person being harassed.
3) Delegating may mean seeking help of a third party, another bystander who can help keep the space safe.
4) Documenting is to record at a safe distance, narrating what is happening, but never sharing the video without permission.
5) Delaying may give time to check with the person being harassed.
"These techniques can be used one at a time or combined," she said.
"First, breathe, to put oxygen in your brain so you can think and listen. For direct intervention, describe the problem or behavior. Tell why it is wrong: "What you are doing is harassment." "That's disrespectful." Give directions: "Stop it. Back off."
"The World Health Organization says naming a disease after a country is inappropriate." "Spread facts not fear."
Pui-Yan suggested a grocery store scenario.
Sarah Hegde of the Young Activist Leaders Program with PJALS suggested an online scenario.
Liz suggested the scenario of a family Zoom get together.
"Often white people do not challenge racism expressed in their families because they don't want to hurt relationships or challenge elders," Liz said, "but too much is at stake, so we need to choose action.
For information, see pjals.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2020