HomeAsian AmericansTrainees learn how to respond to anti-Asian harassment during the Coronavirus pandemic

Trainees learn how to respond to anti-Asian harassment during the Coronavirus pandemic

Jia Liang Sun-Wang holds a sign in response to coronavirus-based discrimination on Twitter

By Amy-Xiaoshi Depaola, AsAmNews Intern

Bessie Chan-Smitham was at school when her Chinese American friend began to cough.

Immediately, a fellow classmate accused them both of being diseased.

Sound familiar? Although similar incidents are currently on the rise, this particular event occurred during the 2003 SARS outbreak, when Chan-Smitham was in middle school.

“Stories like mine are not unique,” she said during a webinar attended by this reporter. “They’re happening all the time, especially now.”

A recent Ipsos survey reported that over 30% of Americans have witnessed someone being harassed or blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. With incidents such as harassment, hate speech, and even physical violence against Asians on the rise, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJA) and grassroots organization Hollaback! teamed up to try to educate people on how to de-escalate and help victims of harassment.

Chan-Smitham, AAAJA’s assistant director of community engagement, told her story as a co-host during a bystander intervention training webinar , where over 400 people attended.

79% of people say they wish someone had stepped in while they were being harassed, according to a poll shown during the webinar.

“But only 25% say someone helped,” said co-host Emily May, Hollback’s co-founder and director.

Using “the five D’s” of intervening, bystanders can help the victim without confronting the harasser or escalating the situation, she said. These techniques have been used in “over 15 countries in 20 cities.”

But stepping in is something many people are afraid to do. Oftentimes, one’s comfort with reacting is dependent on holding privileged identities, such as being White or male.

In addition, “being the hero” and directly confronting the harasser can sometimes escalate the situation and make it worse for the victim.

That’s why May suggests giving any photo or video documentation to the person being harassed before contacting the police for them or uploading the incident online.

“Give power back to the person being harassed,” May said. “Let them be the hero and the narrator of their own story in this situation.”

“Sometimes,” she added, “they don’t want to be on the news” or have their life upended by unwanted publicity.

More solutions, especially for those alone or who fear retaliation, involve quietly checking in with the person afterwards or creating a distraction so the person can “take a moment to breathe” or escape, if necessary.

The webinar went over the historical discrimination and scapegoating of Asian Americans in the U.S., including the Chinese Exclusion Act, incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War 2 and attacks against Muslim Americans after 9/11.

Chan-Smitham also noted common stereotypes, such as Asian Americans being seen as “perpetual foreigners.” She referenced Andrew Yang’s Washington Post column about the need to demonstrate “our Americanness” during the pandemic.

“It’s a sign of disrespect towards Asians,” she said.

The rest of the webinar focused on different techniques and had workshop practice, based on real life incidents in the news, such as a man spitting on a woman in a grocery store.

One, where passing teens shouted racial slurs at two families in a park, happened to Chan-Smitham’s family.

AAJA and Hollaback! announced dates for their webinar training in early May, after an “overwhelming response” to their proposals in April.

Attendees on the call were from all over the U.S., including Virginia, Washington, Texas, and South Carolina, as well as Vancouver, Canada. Many were activists, educators, or local business owners that wanted tools to help them better serve their communities. Some, however, were allies of the Asian community, including a mother of an Asian adoptee.

As of now, the organization has set six individual sessions for May. People can sign up through AAAJA‘s or Hollaback!’s websites.

The times for the remaining sessions are as follows:

  • Thursday, May 7th at 7pm ET / 6pm CT / 5pm MT / 4pm PT / 1pm HT
  • Wednesday, May 13th at 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT / 8am HT
  • Thursday, May 21st at 7pm ET / 6pm CT / 5pm MT / 4pm PT / 1pm HT
  • Saturday, May 30th at 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT / 8am HT

In addition, the two organizations are planning to hold two trainings that focus on impacted communities that are facing harassment, as well as “conflict de-escalation for frontline workers.”

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story. 


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