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Blocking, deflecting and disarming hurtful words

Posted March 1st, 2012 by UHDS News

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward situation where someone said something about race, relative ability, gender, sexual orientation etc. that you didn’t agree with but you didn’t know how to address the person or situation?

I personally have been in many situations where someone said something I didn’t agree with. I didn’t know to deal with these situations. I never liked stirring things up or being a “buzz kill” so I would change the subject or if it was a joke I would give them a fake chuckle. There were times when I left the situation feeling uneasy or resentful, feeling that I should have addressed the situation differently. A common place for this is when I go home and I hear my cousins, and even nephews, using homophobic slurs and racist jokes. It was always hard for me to say anything in those situations. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I learned skills and became confident enough to properly address these situations. I am still a work in progress but I think I am much more prepared.

A few weeks ago, I was nominated to attend a 2.5-day retreat titled “Racial Aikido”. The retreat, originally founded at the University of Vermont, addressed how many students of color may be ill-prepared to deal with issues of race and racism, the lack of necessary tools to maintain a positive image, and the skill to respond to racially charged situations. This idea dismantles the stereotype that assumes students of color are experts on the concept of race simply because they are students of color. What is Racial Aikido? I offer the following information taken from materials at our retreat:

Aikido is called “the way of peace.” One would never seek to attack some one with Aikido; instead one will seek peaceful resolution of the conflict while continuously working toward self-improvement. A key principle of aikido is to not fight force with force. Racial Aikido is meant to help combat and defend against the many forms of racism by directing negative energy away from the core while maintaining a maximum of positive energy for ones self. There is absolutely no physical aspect to racial aikido; it is meant to help people of color to mentally prepare and verbally respond.

Although the skills discussed during the retreat pertain to racially charged situations, many of the skills and tools can also be used to address other identities and topics like religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender, class, ability, etc. The core of the retreat focuses on three techniques used in aikido: blocking, deflecting, and disarming.

Blocking is a technique used to defend one’s self by blocking an attack either verbally, emotionally, or cognitively. This technique is exactly what it sounds like; you can ignore a comment that is hurtful or simply cut off the conversation to indicate that you do not agree with the content. This technique is a good option when you are caught off guard by a comment and do not have a lot of time to respond. Sometimes a hurtful comment takes a lot of energy to respond to, blocking allows you to preserve some of that energy to heal after the comment is said. If I were using blocking to react to a situation, like the example of my cousin’s homophobic slur I mentioned earlier, I would walk away from the conversation until I composed a better response.

Deflecting is a technique used to redirect the person’s energy back onto them by asking questions and making it their issue to work on. Using this technique encourages the person to clarify their statement or comment. An example of deflecting is saying something like, “hey, what do you mean by that?” or “do you really think all people of Latino community are like that?” If I were to respond to my cousin by deflecting I would say, “What do you mean when you say “that’s gay”?

Disarming is a technique coming from an educational angle; it asks the person why they made their comment and then follows up with more accurate information. Using this technique disarms people of their ignorance and possibly provides them with alternative way to think about a specific issue. An example of disarming is saying something like, “why do you think that’s funny?” or “do you understand the meaning of that word and how people can be affected by it?” If I were to disarm my cousin and his homophobic slur I would say “So what’s wrong with being gay?” or if I have some knowledge and I wanted to disarm him of his ignorance I would say something like “Do you understand how hurtful that word is, and did you know people from the LGBT community have the highest attempted suicide rate which is linked to heterocentric cultures and institutionalized homophobia?” or “Do you understand you are using someone’s identity to say something is negative? How would you feel if others used one of your identities to describe something as bad?”

When responding to a situation, there is not a technique that is better than the other. The key is that you feel like you addressed the situation the best way you could at that moment. However, the more you practice reacting to these situations the better you will become at addressing hurtful and prejudice comments. By using these techniques, hopefully the situation is not at the back of your mind, affecting you throughout your day and sucking your energy.

I challenge you to think about how you can help make your community a more inclusive environment by using these techniques yourself! Hopefully these techniques can be useful tools for when you feel the need to address a situation that you encounter. Remember the key principle of aikido is to not fight force with force, rather redirect negative energy.

Miguel Arellano, Community Relations Facilitators

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