Fighting Racism is about disempowering it
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Who are you expecting to appear when I say "Please reserve the table under Mrs Audrey Sanderson"? Yes, I qualified under my maiden name so I retain it professionally; BUT ALSO YES, I don't need to bring extra ID when I book under "Audrey Tang". Saving your blushes in turn protects against my exasperation. Should I have to do this? No, but sometimes it's about knowing how and where to throw my punches. (And I should add that I do recognise the restaurants I visit aren't a problem...little wins :) )
I appreciate this is a contentious subject and one where you may not agree with me. So I would like to qualify that in this particular article I am speaking from an individual viewpoint and talking about what works for me - I hope it works for you, I get that it might not.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
If this is to be a fight, I feel best quipped knowing what Racism is – and how I myself may be best equipped to deal with it.
1. "KNOW THE ENEMY"
When I talk about understanding, I don’t mean accepting, ignoring or forgiving necessarily, BUT when I can appreciate where it comes from I can dilute the intensity of the feelings we might have which makes it easier for me to process how to respond:
RACISM is fear and ignorance.
- It is not “personal” personal…the very act of racism is against a group – or people perceived to be part of a group. Of course it is directed – but it is on a very superficial level.
o Racism can occur due to upbringing
o Racism can be careless in that they person knows no better
o Racism can be due to be peer pressure
o Racism can be symptomatic of a mindset that is quick to judge and slow to think – along with a need to blame one’s own problems on others
Whatever the cause, it speaks to the person’s own challenges, rather than yours…and that person is afraid of what they don’t know…and often too ignorant to bother to learn.
BUT when someone is fearful they are in “survival mode”. This is important to recognise because when one is in survival mode on the positive side it can enable us to lift cars to save friends, to swim rapids to rescue drowning children to do things we never thought we had the strength to do.
But racism is aggressive fear – and when that happens, fighting in return is more likely to cause injury to ourselves.
2. "KNOW YOURSELF"
Why Racism affects us so deeply
TRY THIS NOW: Reflect on your feelings when someone has said something racist (or if not applicable, try ageist, sexist, homophobic...and so on)
- AND have you reacted even when actually it wasn’t a slur?
When you pick at a wound that is healing it’s more painful than if the skin wasn’t broken in the first place, and racism IS painful - it is often a wound that has been picked at regularly for a very long time.
- Racism often stirs up feelings about our own identity and sense of belonging.
- It can feel especially hurtful when we have struggled to fit in – perhaps not even related to race but with regards to interests or personality traits…it feels like “another” thing to feel insecure about.
- It may also be, especially for second generation children that our parents worked so hard to “fit in”, that we have been brought up to not cause a fuss. As I always say to clients and students – sometimes rules set down in childhood are NOT LONGER applicable today – we have to test them again to see
1. While racism can be like picking at a wound, sometimes we also dare NOT touch something in case it hasn’t healed…so also be aware that in some cases, racism, for you personally as an individual may NOT be as bad as you have believed…and it’s OK to accept that.
In my own reflections I have more supportive networks than challenging ones, and my race (nor my weight, gender or age) are NOT the things people criticise if they are going to – they DO talk about my work.
SO – do a reality check now and then and embrace the positives if things have changed.
Otherwise, we risk holding ourselves back.
2. Some people DO want to learn, and although you may need to keep explaining it, keep explaining it because people don’t always learn fast!
As an example of this, "Asian" in the US and the UK have different meanings. When we say "Asian" here in the UK, we generally mean Indian (ie SOUTH Asian), but in America "Asian" refers to East and South East - China, Korea, Singapore, Philippines etc etc... and this in itself can be part of the issue of East/SE Asians in the UK not feeling "accepted" because (oh the irony!) we are not correctly "labelled"!! I will CALL IN friends who get this wrong because they don’t mean it maliciously
- Ways to call in “What did you mean by that?”/ “Why did you say that?”/ “What is your understanding of my ethnicity?” …and at worst – link it to a more established metaphor – I call out amateur dramatic groups who will put on all white “King & I” or use racist tropes in Aladdin – and ask them “Would you black face? – what’s the difference in your head???"
Let’s return to The Art of War – and Racism is a War we need to fight – BUT we cannot always fight with power, and we certainly cannot fight with more hatred.
“Bravery without forethought, causes a man to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an opponent, must not be encountered with brute force, but may be lured into an ambush and slain.” – Sun Tzu
- Remember also that it is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO EXPLAIN RACISM!! So it might be that you decide to walk away from some conversations because unfortunately some people will not learn.
- ALSO – your safety is the key concern.
- ACKNOWLEDGE it when it happens, but you might not be able to do so directly.
FIND A WAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Writing articles, or creating pictures, or developing training sessions – there are many ways you can raise awareness of racism, it’s effects, and what we can do AS WELL is to celebrate diversity and educate others about our culture. We don’t always need to look at trying to stop the negative, we can also think about how we can accentuate the positive! I have started a blog exploring my own heritage separate to my professional writing.
- Channel what you’re feeling into a positive outlet and consider joining an anti-racism organisation. Being a part of a movement that’s campaigning against racism can help you feel empowered. If you do become involved in activism, do still keep checking in on your mental wellbeing and self care, as the work can be very emotionally demanding.
Here are some UK based ESEA-led organisations:
- Kanlungan: Empowering Filipino Migrants
With children – it is about helping them understand. Children do not reason in the same way as adults as the pre-frontal cortex which handles consequence and reasoning isn’t fully formed…and may not be until around the age of 25!! BUT we can shape their learning.
“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” – Sun Tzu
While racism is a hate crime and it is against the law, in some cases it might be preferable NOT to get involved directly – especially if name calling could turn to violence. However that does NOT mean it is acceptable.
o Encourage children to talk about it
o Raise awareness about it in schools – as a parent you might even request that you run an assembly on racism and how people can feel; AND/OR also encourage cultural days where others are encouraged to learn about different cultures.
o If the child is unable to talk about it – write down the incident (ideally as close to it happening as possible so that the facts remain clear) – then that can be used when they find a trusted adult to speak to. If applicable – and this is more relevant to if you see it – video it (again, as long as you do not risk harm to yourself).
o Encourage children to look out for each other and again to speak up to a trusted adult if they SEE racism.
o Explain to children how the news can be biased and how this can make people think things that are not true.
o Be aware of “casual racism” within friendships and “call in” anyone who is using racist gestures (for example “slanty eyes”) as a joke – watch your own feelings here though. When calling in, it is giving the person the benefit of the doubt and reminding them that the behaviour, even as a joke is not appropriate. Help them understand (such a lesson might even serve them well as they grow up!) Remember, racism is like toilet humour – it’s functioning at the very lowest form of intelligence.
o Hackney Chinese Community Centre are holding free counselling in Cantonese and Mandarin, ESAS offer free group sessions for people experiencing racism trauma, and Vietnamese Mental Health Services offer culturally sensitive counselling services. If you’re looking for something mindful, Kind Red Packet has put together a database of ESEA led yoga and meditation classes.
In the United Kingdom:
In the United States:
And then protect your own mental wellbeing.
“Rewards for good service should not be deferred a single day.” – Sun Tzu
Recognise your little wins, and build your resilience every day!
- Acknowledge how you feel – without judging yourself/the feelings as good or bad – Consider journaling as a form of self expression.
- Focus on who you are – that is your VALUES and what is important to you – as they will often outweigh the superficial visual ie. you are more than appearance.
- Especially growing up within two cultures, you may be trying to “hide” your ethnic background to be as inconspicuous as possible in the new community in which you are placed…but you might find that your life is enriched by learning more about your heritage – and perhaps you will be able to form connections with others through talking about it and educating them, as well as being a role model so that they can feel more comfortable exploring theirs.
- Make sure the people you surround yourself with those who share your values, AND also understand your sensitivities – again without judgment. It helps if we are not feeling we have to defend our feelings in front of our own friends!!
- OBSERVE YOUR OWN behaviours too – maybe YOU are also judging others. What are you quick to accuse others of yet slow to accept? This is something that restores my emotional balance helping me realise that a mistake can just be a mistake.
- Find A WAY of speaking up – even if it is reporting it outside the event – and then check in with the person you observed it happening to, if appropriate. I will call out “yellow face” in theatre, and don’t get me started on the pronunciation of Sepang (actual pronunciation "se-pung") in Formula 1…and before I’m told that’s petty – I call them Re-al Madrid! A name is a name – and the same spelling – like Sepang and Tang – my surname – CAN have different pronunciations!!
What applies for one race applies to all right!?
FINALLY – what WOULD you want someone to say or do?
I’d want them to call out, to check in on me, to remind me that it’s OK to feel as I do, and to LISTEN…BE THAT PERSON!!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt