You don’t have to be a bystander

I’ve been introspecting a lot lately about actions I can take to interrupt everyday -isms. As a woman and an Asian American*, I encounter -isms in every space I exist. It’s particularly prevalent in public spaces but to be honest, private spaces with friends or coworkers are not always exceptions. In the spirit of self-accountability, I sometimes catch myself using harmful language even though harm wasn’t my intention. But intention only counts for 25%, in my opinion. Impact is the other 75%. Some of these phrases are in the air we breath. Some of our impulses like brushing things off as “a joke in bad taste” or thinking “why do I need to say anything?” feel as natural as breathing — or at least more comfortable than trying to engage with why I’m feeling uncomfortable. But rather than continuing to accept the smoke, I’m committing to do more.

I’m by no means an expert on this but if you, like me, are interested in being more effective interrupting -isms, particularly in a way that calls in, rather than calls out, here are a few resources:

If you learn more from practical trainings than reading, I highly recommend the Bystander Intervention training from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Hollaback!. It’s one-hour long and I thought it was excellent, connecting how to identify harassment with a set of techniques you can employ depending on the situation, context, and your personal sense of safety.

I’ll also share that acknowledgment is a meaningful first step. Just knowing other people witnessed what happen and realized it wasn’t right is helpful. In spaces with people I want to keep engaging with, I’ve found apologies where you hold yourself self-accountable and commitments to do better (with follow-through!) are also meaningful ways to move forward and rebuild lost trust.

If you chose to read this, thank you. ♥️

*Some of you may be aware that especially since COVID, there’s been a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the US including several instances of straight-up murder. I’ve personally experienced anti-Asian sentiment and have been struggling with the sense of 吃苦, or “swallowing my bitterness” (h/t S for sharing this related article with me). I also want to acknowledge that this phenomenon is not unique to Asian Americans. Actions and speech rooted in hate sadly affects anyone who identifies with a marginalized group in today’s society and in particular Black and Indigenous women. But I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. Committing to interrupting -isms productively is one action I’m taking to realize a society where someone like me, my mentees, and my parents can simply *exist* in public safely.

First written and shared with Basecamp in March 2021. Republished with updated links and an expanded definition of a meaningful apology on my personal website on May 16, 2021.