Troubleshoot Tuesday: Side Punch

Image Description: The picture is divided into two parts. On the left side is a black and white photo of a person in a grey hoodie, with their back towards the viewer, as they stare out at the water. On the right side is a semi-transparent graphic of a stylized grey fist on a dark grey background, aimed towards the person in the hoodie. In red are the words: “SIDE PUNCH: SURVIVING LATERAL VIOLENCE”. In light grey is written “LUKAYO.COM”. There is a red rectangle at the bottom of the right side of the picture, with the words “PATREON.COM/LUKAYO” in black.

Every time it happens, the sense of betrayal is so vast, it feels more than just a psychological punch to the gut. I remember one of the first times, as a kid in the schoolyard, where I was being pushed around and laughed at by other Filipinos. My clothing wasn’t right, and I talked weird, and I wasn’t into the right things. I was too “white-washed”, I didn’t belong, but neither did they want me “too Filipino” either, like when I had first immigrated to Turtle Island/Canada. Other times I witnessed it among the Filipino adults who gossiped about each other and tried to shun each other at church or at parties. As I grew older, I noticed this phenomenon happened in queer communities, trans communities, and among other racialized groups.

When it occurs in a workshop, it’s probably because you’re doing a teaching targeted towards your own community, and they immediately want to fight it out while you’re explaining concepts or during discussion. Maybe it occurs before the workshop– folks contact you about a conflict that’s happening and certain folks can’t come or if they come then another set of folks won’t come, and so it goes.

We could just brush it off and call it “community drama”, but most likely what’s going on here is “lateral violence”, and it sucks. A lot. So how should you handle it, as a facilitator and as a community member? The short summary is that you should  remind yourself (and others) of the root cause, ensure the safety of yourself and your participants as much as possible, and try to reach out to folks from the same community who already support you and hopefully understand what lateral violence is.

Remind yourself and others of the root cause.

When I was a child, internalized racism ran deep, and I assumed that the nonsense that happened in my communities was because Filipinos innately are inferior in some way– I was ashamed of myself and ashamed of my community. I tried to run away from them and myself for a long time. It’s tempting to buy into all of that nonsense again, especially when you’re in the heat of the moment and it’s disrupting your educational environment and plans.

But lateral violence isn’t innate. It isn’t the essence of a person or a community. It’s a habit, a trauma response, and/or a soul wound inherited throughout the generations where the pain of a people explodes on each other because they feel powerless against or seduced by the institutions that devastated their communities in the first place.

Personally, when lateral violence happens in front of me, I look at the situation as if folks are being possessed by vengeful ghosts, so filled with anguish at the injustices done to them that they take the bodies of their descendants to release their rage. I am filled with compassion, even as I take safety precautions for myself and those around me, to figure out how to appease these ghosts and encourage the personality of the descendant to come through with their gifts and be more than their pain.

This isn’t to say that you can’t hold people responsible for their actions– it just means that it helps to combat the shame placed inside you by oppression, and the ignorant perspectives of those outside of your community that comment on inter-community violence. It also means that, if there’s a way to call folks in on what they’re doing, that you could ask them to direct their anger at the source of their pain and channel it into activism.

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