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Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks

By Aaryn Lang

“Don’t Be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks”— a 4 minute video created by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Project NIA— offers an abolitionist approach to bystander intervention in response to racist and transphobic attacks that does not rely on the police. In the seven days following the 2016 Presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 437 incidents of hateful intimidation and harassment around the country with the majority taking place at K-12 schools. This video is part of a broader collaboration with Micah Bazant, Mariame Kaba, the American Friends Service Committee, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter and many teachers and librarians around the country to create and distribute cultural responses to white supremacy and rising racist violence. 

Praxis Center talks to Aaryn Lang, “Don’t Be a Bystander’s” narrator, who guides viewers through each of the six tips about responding to racist attacks. Lang is a transgender activist and an HIV/STI prevention counselor in a New York neighborhood community health center. 

Can you talk about the urgency of this moment and what this video offers to folks who are concerned about individual violence? Why is it important to have discussions about white supremacy and rising racist violence with young people?

When we think of individual violence, there has always been an urgent need for us to support each other in reducing harm in our everyday lives and within the communities and spaces that we frequent. My hope is that this video not only provides an affirmation for all of us who worry about being the victim of, or a witness to, an identity based attack, but also offers hope – and tangible strategies – so that we can actually stop or ease the trauma of that moment for ourselves or someone else. This video gives some simple tips on how to respond, which I hope people will follow as well as build upon.

The [accompanying] curriculum, which is created for grades K-12, can be used as a way to introduce themes of community, identity, and difference to children of all stages.

Painting of three women of color embracing with the text "We All Belong Here, We Will Defend Each Other

Can you say more about why it might not be a good idea to call the police if you witness a racist or transphobic attack? 

We have to accept that the police are a violent force in communities of color, especially in Black, Afro-Latinx and Native communities. I think for most POC, calling the police only makes sense when operating from the myth that they are here to serve and protect all of us. In reality, the police serve and protect the interests of the state. Unfortunately, the state is not interested in preserving the lives of marginalized folks. In most cases, I feel like it would be wiser or more beneficial to call someone’s close friend or family than to involve the police. We are the only ones who are going to save us.

How can we build more loving communities that stand up to racist and transphobic violence? 

We have to get honest with each other. Love does not exist without honesty. We need to be more dedicated to the practice of building actual community instead of theorizing about it and faking it for the sake of seeming like you are engaged in this work. We have already been standing up to racist and transphobic violence, and that will continue. We build loving community by actually being in community with each other.

Educators are encouraged to show the video in their classrooms. A curriculum and visual art posters are available on the American Friends Service Committee Website.


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