“What to do in those moments of rage” Series by Terry Howard

RAGE SERIES – PART 1

So here we are, and not in some far-flung foreign country either. We’re in America 2016, and hate is popping up across the nation. And as incidents of racist, sexist and Islamophobia harassment continue in the wake of the election, many are asking, ‘what should I do when (not “if”) acts of hate are directed at me or others?’

“God Bless You,” was her seemingly choreographed response to this question I asked my friend and her young black son “Mark”:

“Given the documented cases of hate crimes since the election, how would you respond if haters drove by you and yelled ‘Hey N—-r”, go back to Africa. We’re taking our country back!”

“Uh, uh! If that happens to me, I’m ready to rumble!” said “Mark,” at hearing mom’s response.

Let’s look at a few recent incidents that have happened over the last month and consider those responses:

  • “My neighbor in San Francisco had a bottle filled with vomit thrown through her front window. The window had anti-hate signs on it.”
  • “A woman got a text from a friend asking what she’d be wearing “to the slave auction in January.”
  • “My brother saw a pickup truck with the Confederate battle flag in L.A. A few days later a white lady screamed “N—-r!” at him — just that word, no other commentary — because she didn’t like his driving.”
  • “A black woman in a Walmart parking lot was called “n—-r b—h” and told to go “back to Africa” by a truck full of white men who yelled “Make America white again!” before throwing cups full of chewing tobacco saliva on her.”

Now the core question is what’s the best response in those inevitable “moments of rage,” that brief danger period when one has an urge to return the epithet, or offer the middle finger salute, either one of which could wind up putting you or the hater(s) six feet under, or behind bars for years. Inarguably, how people respond to these acts of hate depends on the situation, where the act occurs and the target’s skills and comfort level in responding to them.

While deep in thought about all this, my phone rang and my good friend John, a Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart recipient, was on the other end. Right away I posed the how would he respond to “drive by” and individual acts of ignorance and outright hate.

“Expediency” was his answer based on the time he spent in the jungles of Vietnam and his steep knowledge of the non-violence training offered decades ago during the Civil Rights movement that swept through the South.

“In preparation for demonstrations and sit-ins, we were trained to keeping walking while under assault and avoid direct eye contact. The strategy was one of expediency.”

Thus the expediency strategy is just to ignore them if you’re not in physical danger and not give them what they want; knowledge that what they said hurt, or other reasons to inflict more harm.

The expediency response brought back memories for John and me of the famous picture of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine, and how she walked in dignity down the street in front of Central High School while enduring hateful glares and venomous shouts from an angry white crowd.

Was she terrified? Absolutely. She told a small group of us that in a hotel conference room in Little Rock back in 2007. Her famous dark sunglasses hid her fear, she said, while shielding the spit from flowing into her eyes.

So, are we saying to remain non-violent in courageous stoicism in the face of hate? Is that the answer?

Whoa, not so fast, retorts ready-to-rumble “Mark” and others of the younger generation.
“That may have worked for members of your and John’s generation Terry but not necessarily for mine,” said “Raheem,” an African- American in his late thirties. Later that day he sent me a picture of a hot-selling tee shirt with these words emblazoned across the front:
Dear Racist.
I am not my grandparents!
Sincerely,
These hands

Point taken!
Which takes us to basic question, how else do we respond? We’ll examine how to recognize the warning signs, responses that may escalate the situation, how allies can help and more in Part Two.
During the meantime, I urge you – strike that, I beg you – to share and discuss this narrative with close family and friends and, above all else, employ the expediency strategy… to get home safely!

RAGE SERIES – PART 2

In Part one of this  series, “What to do in those moments of rage,” we called out the increases in acts of hate after the recent election. We follow up here with some tips for getting home safely.

But here’s the reality that threatens that goal – “drive by hate” can spring up unexpectedly, anytime and anywhere. And it’s on the rise across the country. Such acts can puncture your comfort zone while crossing a parking lot, walking on campus, sitting in an athletic stand, in cyberspace – anywhere.

Whether the hateful language is a pejorative term relating to African-Americans, women, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, the disabled, the aim of the dagger is the same – to hurt, to strike fear.

Inarguably, what sets off these cowardly acts are the usual suspects – alcohol coupled with a need to be one of, or to impress, “the boys.” Groupthink is how we define the latter. Donning ethnic clothing, doing something annoying, just being different; any one or combination of these factors can instigate the hate.

Now to put this narrative into perspective, at last report the Southern Poverty Law Center, a tracker of hate crimes in the U.S., reports acts since the election nearing 1000. And what’s worrisome is that a reversal of this trend does not seem to be on the horizon.

So what do we do? I decided to sit down and interview myself in search for answers:

Q: What are some warning signs that you could be the target of a hate crime?

SELF: Unfortunately warning signs are hard to pin point since acts of hate are situational, can be activated in the heat of the moment or just driven by opportunity. Stereotypical attitudes about “others” fed in part by the media can result in people saying hateful things. In the end, the presence of alcohol and peer pressure, the existence of pent up frustrations for other reasons, all can lead to outbursts of hate.

Is it smart to avoid places that may be fertile grounds for hate-based physical or verbal abuse?

Self: Off the bat I’d say take caution if you go to places where they are roving bands of profanity-using knuckleheads, especially when you suspect that alcohol is involved? Rightly or wrongly, I’m immediately put on guard when I encounter confederate flags or “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers.

Other than skin color, are there other factors that may incite drive by hate?

SELF: One’s appearance can make one vulnerable. For example, donning a “Black Lives Matter” tee shirt or wearing “foreign looking” clothing and headwear could make one susceptible. Other than that, open displays of affection between same-sex couples, or uncivil behaviors by potential targets – cutting someone off while driving, for example – could set off a human ticking time bomb.

How best do you respond in the “heat of the moment,” when you’re the target of a hate?

Self: As I wrote in Part One, unless you’re under a physical threat, exercising expediency is by far the best approach, meaning simply ignoring what happened and walking or driving away. That’s tough to do, I admit that. Wisdom is knowing what to ignore. So again I urge one to resist responding in kind. And if you’re in your automobile when someone yells out hate, roll up your window and look straight ahead. You cannot be hurt by what you don’t hear, can you? I also advise that you keep a full tank of gasoline when you’re out since some drive by haters may not stop at hurling epithets at you and may even follow you for a physical confrontation. So the last thing you want is to run out of gas. Under these circumstances it is best to head to the nearest police station or busy, well-lighted parking lot which will likely result in the haters veering off in some other direction.

That strategy may work for folks in your generation Terry, but what about this new generation not willing to suffer in silence?

SELF: I completely understand. However I would ask them to ask themselves this before responding in kind: “If I strike back, do I have medical and burial insurance? Could I or one of them end up in jail if this gets out of hand?” If not, there’s a fat chance that their grieving parents will foot the bill for the burial or the bail. My point is that what starts as responding in kind to harassment can quickly escalate into some worse, something much worse. I’m personally knowledgeable of both those outcomes. Sure, we have a right to choose how we respond, but not the right to choose the consequences of our choices.

I repeat: the goal is to get home safely.

RAGE SERIES – PART 3: Grandma, get him (Trump) off the TV screen!

The plan was to finish the series on how to deal with acts of hate in the aftermath of the recent election. In fact, I had moved on to other stuff, praying that my severe bout of “Trump Fatigue” had gone into remission. But suddenly an email sent me back into my doldrums, a message by a black grandmother whose granddaughter’s friends are India, Asian and white:

“Terry, it was our family dinner on a peaceful Sunday afternoon when the face of Donald Trump appeared on the TV. Suddenly I detected a visual change, one of fear on my granddaughter’s face. She grimaced, cowered and shook her little shoulders. When I asked what was wrong she replied, ‘Grandma, get him off the TV. He’s evil and I’m scared.’ Her reaction concerned me greatly,” said grandma. “When I asked why she replied, ‘He is hurting my friends. He is going to send them away. If this group is fearful of Trump, it is hard to imagine what Hispanic children are feeling.”

Now the truth is that I put that exchange off as isolated until two days later when another black parent, whose daughter’s friends are South Asian and, like her, Muslim, shared this eerily similar experience:

“During a sleepover, my six year old daughter and her friends stopped playing games and got up and ran out of the room terrified when Trump’s picture popped up on the TV.”

Wow, talk about a punch in the gut, a slap in the face, those stories left me reeling and disheartened by the long term impact on those and other kids.

So, what can I do, we do? That’s basically the question many of us are grappling with.

First, there’s satisfaction knowing that as parents of news-traumatized kids, we’re not alone. (In fact, Google gives 5 million results for ‘my kids are being traumatized by the news about Trump.’)

Second, we must also realize that although pre-teens probably cannot figure out on their own what the consequences of the election might be, they do pick up on things, and what they pick up can be much more terrifying than the facts actually support. That’s what I learned from Rick Brenner, a Cambridge-based writer and consultant who also shared this:

“Terry, there are two sources of these messages to pre-teens that we can control to some extent. One is our own adult-adult and adult-children communication. We must take care not to engage in these exchanges in ways that a pre-teen can misinterpret. Second, since there is communication between teens and pre-teens, we should try to mentor teens to take care not to convey disproportionate concerns to pre-teens. This second one is a tall order but these are tough times and we must find a way.”

I put forth to Rick for feedback the idea of parents providing personal circles – safety nets – in which news-traumatized young people can safely share their fears about what’s said or shown in the media:

“As for personal circles, if you cannot find them, make them. Bring people together to share ideas and to comfort each other. Have an expert come talk to the group one evening. Maybe one could work it through a church or community group. Sure, it is work but the alternative is ongoing kid trauma.”

In the end just being completely honest once you get them into the circle.

“Kids can amaze,” said Brenner. “They can be tough if they understand the real truth. So be honest and trust their judgment. Re-read The Diary of Anne Frank to remind yourself of their toughness.”

Of course, what’s in the circle must be right.

We need to be vigilant about how we as adults behave and the unintended messages we send since kids at any age will pick up on what we do, say, read, associate with and even what we watch on TV. The problem with how we behave when we think that “nobody’s looking,” is that kids are looking!

Like second-hand smoke, an innocent comment can infiltrate the vulnerable mind and induce fear, or even hate. For example, staying silent when others (Mexicans, Muslims, women, gays, blacks, Christians, Jews, “working class” whites, etc.) are being disparaged won’t go unnoticed.

So in the end grandma, getting “him” off the screen is one thing; getting the news-traumatized into the circle – the right circle – is a much better strategy.

Off now to the drugstore. My medication for Trump Fatigue is ready for pickup.

CLICK for PART 2

CLICK for PART 3

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