Bystander intervention training focuses on anti-Asian discrimination
To help people challenge anti-Asian bullying arising because COVID-19 was first identified in China, Pui-Yan Lam, co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) Spokane Chapter, and Liz Moore, co-director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), facilitated Bystander Intervention Training April 14 on Zoom.
While there have not been any specific anti-Asian hate crimes reported in Spokane, APIC wants to keep it that way. The lessons will teach people how to speak up when they hear racist bullying.
"We hope to change minds and hearts," Pui-Yan said.
As a PJALS member, she knew PJALS offered Bystander Training for compassionate people to learn strategies to speak out against discrimination and hate in safe, effective ways so they, along with people targeted and those expressing hate, will not be hurt.
"Often well-meaning people disapprove, but heated arguments are not effective. They may put a person on the defensive and strengthen their hate," she said. "We want people to engage in ways that bring inner change of beliefs and behavior."
Pui-Yan, who grew up in Hong Kong, came to the United States in the early 1990s to study sociology, earning a bachelor's at San Jose State, where an Asian-American studies class introduced her to Asian-American discrimination and experiences.
After earning master's and doctoral degrees in sociology in 2001 at Washington State University in Pullman, she moved to Spokane and began as professor of sociology at Eastern Washington University.
A column in a Hong Kong newspaper, written by someone who studied sociology in the United States, had inspired her interest in sociology.
"I was curious about why people behave as they do, not from a psychological level, but as human beings in societal contexts," she said. "I wanted to understand how societal structures influence what people do.
"For me, it's easy to look at human behavior on social and structural levels, because there are so many invisible forces that shape ways people think and behave," she said. "There are dynamics both within a society and across societies."
That's the perspective Pui-Yan starts with for looking at current anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe.
"To look at discrimination, we need to know how fear works, how racism feeds fear and how groups are targeted out of fear," she said.
She said there are historical similarities in how the U.S. and Canada treated Asian immigrants with contempt and discrimination. Both had policies to exclude Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s. In 1871, there was a massacre of Chinese in Los Angeles. There were also riots in Seattle and Tacoma, she said.
"It's unfortunate for history to repeat," Pui-Yan said.
Discrimination often includes rhetorical strategies considering Asian Americans as disease carriers or dirty, she said.
Strong anti-Asian sentiments led to mass incarceration of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.
"Asian-American organizations are paying close attention to discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic because of what we have learned from history," she said. "We recognize the danger of the President calling it the Chinese virus and the Surgeon General likening the pandemic to 'a Pearl Harbor moment.'"
Such comments make it seem Asians as a group are a collective threat, she said.
"Some use words intentionally, aware of the impact and others may repeat the words, unaware of the damage they cause," Pui-Yan said.
"These words fuel the already rising hate crimes, so it does not matter if those who say them are cognizant of the potential damage," she said. "Those with good intentions need to understand why language matters and how it can cause harm."
Those unaware of Asian-American history may not know why the surgeon general's words were problematic.
Pearl Harbor triggered the mass incarceration of Japanese citizens who were uprooted from homes, jobs and possessions. Most Japanese Americans who were in internment camps were U.S. born.
Referring to the April 14 training, Pui-Yan said that, of more than 100 who signed up, 73 participated in the online workshop she facilitated with Liz.
It offered ways people can respond in different situations. Often bystanders are in shock and don't know how to act or what to say. A white person can more effectively challenge a white person, but may remain silent if unsure how to react.
"What happens if we don't disrupt discrimination?" Pui-Yan asked, answering that disconnection, normalizing racism, communicating approval and putting lives at risk may result.
Words and action can set the tone, diffuse a situation, and set up a buffer to limit conflict and harm.
At EWU, Pui-Yan teaches a course covering the history of racism, policies and segregation. It also looks at the criminal justice system. She has added the topic of Asian-American racism in the pandemic.
She also teaches a class on social stratification and inequalities, dealing with class and gender, and a class on social problems.
"I talk about solutions and strategies people and groups can use to combat discrimination and racism, encouraging students to brainstorm how to be part of solutions," she said.
Pui-Yan finds that many students never knew of the issues before, so she knows it is important for them to be informed and aware.
"I want them to think about how to change behaviors related to race, to think about what they can do in their personal lives," she said.
First, students usually think about how they can educate others. Then they learn they can be involved in advocacy. There are also student organizations they can join to address issues. Students who are parents think about how they can raise their children to have different attitudes. So they want to expose their children to diverse people and educate them before they go to school.
"It's important to prevent or break the cycle of hate early," she said.
At EWU, there are groups like the Black Student Union, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Astlan for Chicano/a, Latino/a, Hispanic and Mexican students) and the Native American Student Association to educate peers.
In Spokane, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) is part of the Spokane Coalition of Color with the Spokane NAACP and the Hispanic Business and Professional Association, working to build solidarity among communities of color.
APIC encompasses ethnic groups from a wide geographic area with diverse people, languages, cultures and skin color, diverse social and economic backgrounds, and diverse views, such as on affirmative action, response to hate and other issues.
Two years ago, Pui-Yan became co-chair of APIC-Spokane with Rowana Pineda.
"We are aware of the importance of solidarity," Pui-Yan said. "APIC advocates for equity and respect for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders."
It formed in the mid 1990s concerned with how welfare reform would impact Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. People came together to strategize how to mobilize and advocate to mitigate its impact. Spokane was part of the early conversations. It then formed a state network—with chapters in Yakima, King County, Pierce County, Snohomish and South Puget Sound—to address other issues.
"We now look for gaps in the federal economic relief packages, knowing some cannot access relief because of their immigrant status. We will monitor that and advocate," she said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2020