“Don’t Be A Bystander”: An Interview With Aaryn Lang On Responding to Racist Attacks [VIDEO]
The current political moment requires that young, socially-savvy people lead on issues of gendered oppression, racism, education inequality, and many other issues facing marginalized groups.
In this way, communication and movement building tie together tightly spreading information that can’t as easily be hidden, white washed, or ignored and creating a digital tool box for justice. Project NIA and The Barnard Center for Research on Women have added a resource to this toolbox, aimed at helping you respond to situations of violence on individual and systemic levels.
“Don’t Be A Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks” has a straightforward yet comforting message, offering a tone of support that describes ways in which the viewer can be a force against violence.
Aaryn Lang is the narrator and face of the video, guiding viewers through each tip. Lang is currently an HIV/STI prevention counselor in a New York neighborhood community health center, whose activism has been expanding since 2010 ultimately keeping in mind the conditions we live in and the importance of uplifting and preserving our stories. Black Youth Project interviewed Lang and talked violence, policing, roles in movements for justice.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
BLACK YOUTH PROJECT: I like the progression of the steps from addressing individual acts of violence to addressing white supremacy and anti-Blackness on a bigger scale. Can you give some background on the video, such as how it came about and why you and the other creators you worked with felt this was necessary?
Aaryn Lang: Initially Lewis [Wallace] reached out to me and was like ‘Hey would you be interested in narrating a video?’ I’ve been practicing saying yes things so I said yes. I read the script and told Lewis I would absolutely love to be a part if I could revise the script to make it more natural.
I didn’t get to revise the script until the day we were filming and as I read a few things came up for me. What I really wanted to focus on is consent. I’ve seen situations when people have filmed or intervened when people didn’t want that support people and I wanted this to be a unified conversation starter. I don’t consider this to be ‘hard hitting’ as much as I feel like it’s a great tool to start having anything that can get people talking.
BYP: Tip #4, avoid the police could be seen as a more controversial tip or a harder one to get behind, but it’s a step in the direction of imagining a world without them. Can you speak on the importance of this step specifically?
AL: The importance of not calling the police. I saw someone post something on Facebook that challenged the concept about not calling the police. We can’t just tell people don’t call the police if they don’t have someone for them to call. We haven’t built a community structure or community accountability model and it was a challenge for me. In most situations we have seen often times [the police] don’t listen to why people are calling. People of color, and Black people specifically, more often than not, calling the police creates more danger to our bodies and situations of distress so we don’t call but can figure out ways to hold ourselves and each other accountable.
We’re afraid of the police, rightfully so, we’ve seen the police exist as more of a threat to justice. They don’t actually symbolize safety in the way we’ve been taught. I’m still not certain as to what our alternative is, but with this project being a true conversation starter… people in neighborhoods and communities can create our own policing or accountability.
BYP: What is the end goal, how will you know this was a successful effort in interrupting violence?
AL: I think for me an end goal of this project is to continue to push us beyond whatever place we’re standing at, whatever place we’re stuck at in the ways we’re approaching the movement and in the ways we’re approaching being human. Oftentimes we look at the movement as separate. We all have a dedication to the betterment of the world we live in whether we think so or not.
I hope this video causes [people] to have conversations with each other. But ultimately I want it to be a tool. I think, oftentimes we think we’re on the right path but I’m under the impression we can always push ourselves further and also that we can talk to people we’ve never talked to before. A goal that would be cute would be less violence in the streets, stepping up to injustice. I hope this gets people talking with the purpose of leading to action. I think we do a lot of talking but I want it to be a conversation starter, I want it to be something and then leads people to researching and learning more, reflecting more.
Things are feeling more hectic than they felt in a little while and in moments of distress our minds work differently. I want it to be a time where we act but where we’re in deep reflection about the work already done and about work we can do together moving forward. People have said ‘We don’t want this kumbaya moment to happen’, which I agree with, but I also understand how important it is to get as many willing, capable hands on deck as possible.
BYP: Is there anything else you’d like to add or make sure is highlighted?
AL: I think one thing I’ve been thinking about. I think oftentimes we all want to be the coach in moments like this but I’ve been thinking about sports and teams are able to manage because each person perfects their space and they understand their role in relation to many roles. We all need to figure out what it is that we are able to bring to the table and perfect that piece.
Photo via Project NIA/BCRW (Vimeo screenshot)