Show Up and Speak Out in Defense of Your Relationship to Stop Asian Hate
We have seen a disturbing rise in violence and harassment against members of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community throughout the United States.
Just in the last year as we battled a deadly pandemic that claimed the lives of over 500,000 people, there have been over 3,000 individual cases of hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans in this country. With reports of these attacks only continuing to climb, a recent Harris poll reported that over 75% of Asian Americans are now living in fear as they question this level of hatred towards their community.
Those who are not an AAPI American but happen to be in a relationship with someone who is may feel unsure about the best way to be a source of support at this time. What questions should you ask? What actions can you take? How can you be the best ally possible?
In speaking to a number of dating and relationship experts here, we help break down a few important pillars of support, offering advice on the best ways to show up in your relationship in order to properly support an AAPI partner.
It is likely your partner is experiencing feelings of trauma, fear, and mourning right now. clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. explains how “because a partner will not have direct experience and may never have that experience, the goal needs to be learning to understand the emotions associated with the experience.” While sympathy is having feelings of pity or sorrow for another person’s misfortune, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
When your partner is ready to share their experience as an AAPI in America with you, make sure you are fully present with them. “Don’t fidget, look at your phone, or try to distract yourself. If you get uncomfortable, that’s the beginning of empathy. Sit in your own discomfort as you listen to your partner’s,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.
As you’re tapping into your own previous pain in order to connect with your partners, empathy isn’t something that should feel easy or comfortable. This is a deeply vulnerable and compassionate act, and it’s important to not diminish the pain they’re feeling by trying to offer a silver lining.
“In situations like this, advice is not what is needed,” adds Klapow. This is a moment for you to sit in their pain with them, hold their hand, and make sure they know you’re not going anywhere.
While the media has shined a spotlight on the AAPI experience in recent weeks, the idea that Asian Americans haven’t previously faced persecution and hostility is undeniably wrong.
Without a greater understanding of the realities faced by your AAPI partner and their family over the last few generations, it can be difficult to try and fully comprehend the depth of their pain. Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couple’s therapist in Los Angeles, says that “one way to develop empathy is to become more informed about the particular challenges that the AAPI community has faced in its history.”
In 1882, President Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. From 1942 until 1945, at the direction of President Roosevelt, roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. And it was just last March that President Trump began referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” and “kung flu.”
There has been a long and dark history of oppression, racism, and hate directed at the AAPI community in this country with evidence to support it. The better we understand this history, the better equipped we can be to show up as sources of support today.
As important as it is to be a source of support and strength behind the scenes, you should also show up for your partner in public-facing spaces. The racist, hate-filled individuals committing these domestic acts of terror against the AAPI community are able to continue to perpetuate these vile attacks in large part due to a lack of collective outcry, and right now, silence is violence.
An easy way to show up as an ally? Share organizations to donate to, spread educational resources with data and information, and amplify stories and experiences from the AAPI community on your social media channels. In today’s world, everyone has their own platform, no matter the size or scale, and it can be used for way more than just selfies and dance trends.
Brown advises partners should “become an advocate [and] speak out against the injustice,” suggesting the “Stand Against Hatred platform of the Asian American Advancing Justice website” as an easy resource to get yourself more informed on what’s going on.
Use your own privilege to help others understand the realities faced by the AAPI community.
It’s important to not let your fear of not knowing how to show up stop you from being there at all.
Sometimes the right course of action might just start with the simplest steps. Brown explains the importance of communicating your availability and desire to be present: “Ask them how you can support them. Don’t assume that you know what they want or need. Ask.”
He goes on to “highly recommend… to ask your partner each and every day the following question: ‘What can I do to make your life a little easier today?’” Sure, you might not know the exact thing your partner needs at that very moment, but the reassurance that you’re ready to step up and meet their needs when they need you will make a huge difference.
Be mindful never to center yourself in conversations about your partner’s experience. It’s important to “always keep in mind that what you might need in a situation might not match exactly what your partner needs,” explains psychotherapist and author Dr. Lesliebeth Wish.
There will likely be moments of discomfort or guilt on your part for how you may have handled situations in the past, but you cannot let this get in the way of that open line of communication between you and your partner.
“Listen, reflect what you are hearing, don’t push, don’t offer advice unless asked for,” explains Klapow, “[And] convey your desire to do nothing more than to give them a safe place to process, to talk about, to share their experience.”
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