AAPI folks are having “the talk” with the elders about safety, resistance, and getting home alive.
News of Asian and Pacific Islander American elders being attacked in the streets has brought our communities front and center in the latest chapter of the long history of racial violence and white supremacy in America.
Concern about making it home safely may feel new to some Asian Americans, but Black parents in America have been having “the talk” with their kids for generations, offering a range of advice for not getting killed by the hand of racism. Their list of not-to-dos has grown and evolved: be polite, don’t resist, don't wear a hoodie...
Many Asian Americans are now having “the talk” with our elderly parents and grandparents and scrambling for safety and resistance strategies: don't go out alone, don't ride the bus, carry a taser, call the police…
I can't help but notice the privilege of our proximity to whiteness here, how our list carries the entitlement to self-protection and expectation of police protection that other BIPOC communities do not have.
I wish I could relieve all the Black kids and Asian elders of the burden of victim-blaming and racism, that I could say to them: Violence is always the fault of the perpetrator. You didn’t do anything wrong. And that could be the end of the conversation.
But that’s not where we are right now. And many in my community are bucking up to the difficult task of initiating unfamiliar, challenging, touchy feely conversations with our elders. For some of us, this requires some acrobatics around our well worn habits of never sharing any information that might make each other worry about our well-being. And for you, I say, “YOU CAN DO IT! I believe in you!”
I generally avoid offering “tips” for self-defense because real-life violence is complex and can not be addressed with a simple list of “tips”. Practicing your skills (ideally under in similarly stressful practice scenarios) is the most effective self-defense and resistance training*.
That said, here are some concepts to share for those bold enough to “have the talk” with your parents:
Listen and Leave Listen to your intuition. If you’re having a bad feeling about a place, a person, or a situation, leave. Groceries can be delivered, errands can be delayed, nothing is more important than your safety. If you’re having a gut feeling that something is wrong, it probably is!
Be Loud This one is complicated, because some of us have survived on invisibility and silence, and others of us are self-conscious about our English. But using your voice (loudly) in a self-defense situation is important both to managing your adrenaline and getting help or attention from bystanders. If you want help, you can also try to make specific asks to specific people. “You in the red shirt, please get security” is much more effective than “Somebody help!”
Keep Talking A great deal of suffering comes after the violence is over. Staying silent about being attacked or harassed can create more shame and self-blame, and exacerbate trauma and mental health impacts. Find someone you can tell about your experience in whatever level of detail you feel comfortable. If you are worried about how they might respond, you can tell them in advance what you need. “I am going to share what happened to me and I would like you just to listen and not blame me or tell me what to do.” If you don’t want to worry a friend or family member, here is a list of resources that includes places to report the incident or get mental health services.
By now you may be thinking, OMG this is too much for me to take on by myself. We can help - sign up for a self-defense class and take it together. After class, you can practice the skills together. My organization, IMPACT Bay Area, offers classes just for Asians and Pacific Islanders concerned about anti-Asian hate. Here is a guide to finding a class that is right for you.
*I have heard many people are rushing to buy pepper spray and other protective devices. If you choose to do this, please make sure you practice using these tools in advance. It is very difficult to execute the fine motor skills involved in using some of these devices while you are in the middle of a scary situation.