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How to Stop Discrimination When You See It

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Almost all of us have seen it, heard it, or, in some cases, been the perpetrators of it: discrimination of a person on the basis of their beliefs, appearance or origin. It’s the worst thing to make someone feel bad about because it’s what also gives people the most pride. These things are a big part of people’s identities.

People of color and immigrants experience this type of discrimination at a higher rate than those around them. In fact, although “most Americans (65 percent) have a positive view of the contributions of immigrants to the country,” according to a Pew Research Center study conducted among U.S. adults last summer, when 65 percent of respondents said immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. The same organization reported in 2016 that more than half of Hispanic U.S. residents said they’ve experienced discrimination.

Whether you’re likely to experience it or not, we should all take part in fighting discrimination. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Here are some tips for stopping discrimination, compiled from VOX teens and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit civil rights organization.

“Kill them with kindness. Proving their beliefs about an ethnicity wrong by being the opposite kills them. People like to believe that I’m this loud black girl when in actuality I’m only like that with my friends. Because I work in corporate offices and have been since ninth grade, I know how to be proper and appropriate. I just throw that in their faces.” — Alia Holt, 16

“Instead of responding directly with anger, ask them directly if they understand how hurtful or harmful what they’re saying is. Explain how it makes you feel and how disappointing it is to hear them saying that.” — Dylan Henderson, 17

“I think we can stop discrimination and hate speech through courageous acts of journalism, calling it out for what it is. Also, I’m learning that when someone in my family says immigrants are taking advantage of us or someone in my religious community makes fun of [their] pride, it’s not enough to just speak up in places where everyone agrees with me; I have to speak up in those places, too, because injustice is injustice no matter how small it is. These comments are perpetuating a culture that has a real effect on people’s physical and emotional safety. You risk starting an argument or getting kicked out of a group, but that’s not worth giving up what you believe in. And one other thing — you have to be really intentional about whether you’re saying it to offload hurt or to really change someone’s opinion.” — Maya Martin, 17

“I usually try to challenge said person on why they believe/say those things. Most times they back down because they realize that I’m not gonna let them get off with saying stuff like that, but more often than not I have to intimidate them with the knowledge that I have.” — Kenneth Franklin, 17

“The most important thing is to recognize and identify what discrimination can look like, especially with people of color. A big aspect has been converting discrimination, which is frowned upon, and resorting to microaggressions. Microaggressions are minor things that happens in your day-to-day life, and they occur so often that they become normalized until you realize it happening. For example, an instance where a microaggression is evident would be when a person shifts away from someone of color upon their entrance. It is something that occurs subconsciously as a reaction toward a person with a different skin color.

It is important to acknowledge when racism is occurring, whether it is through microaggressions or imposing stereotypes. If a stereotype is true for you it does not mean that it can be generalized for an entire group of people. For example, people may stereotype East Asians by saying that all they do is eat rice and study hard. However, just because that is true for me does not mean it can be generalized for the entire East Asian population.

I have noticed that people are really afraid to step in during situations of discrimination, so an interesting way of activism would be to call in instead of calling out. Instead of exposing people in public by calling them out, something that would be more effective would be to talk to them in private and express your disapproval that way.” — Stephanie Zhang, 17

“The most important way to stop discrimination from occurring is to speak up against it and make your disapproval clear. As the future generation it is important that we teach the people around us.” — Aryana Gupta, 16

The ADL offers six tangible ways to speak up against stereotypes and discrimination:

“I know you mean well, but that hurts.” (Use this to assume good intent and explain impact.)

“What do you mean?” (Use a question to interrupt or inspire critical thought.)

“Let’s not go there.” (Use this to interrupt and redirect.)

“I think that applies to everyone.” (Use this to broaden to universal human behavior.)

“Are you speaking of someone in particular?” (Use this to make it individual.)

“Ouch, that hurt.” (Use this to show a statement is hurtful.)

The ADL also suggests people can “agree to disagree.” While this may not feel like the best way to win an argument, try to remember to have a discussion, not an argument. If you share your views and can’t convince the other person, know that you are solid in your beliefs and there is someone in the world who greatly appreciates your willingness to stand up for their right to self-expression without prejudice.

Kaylynn, 17, is a senior at Atlanta International School and the VOX Investigates editor for Fall 2017. She also took the photo for this article. 

We hope you’ll share your own tips for interrupting and stopping discrimination. Email us anytime at And join us to speak up in person at our event Saturday. Details below. 



Teens: Please join the VOX Investigates team and our community partners for a teen-led dialogue on Immigration on Dec. 9 at the Loudermilk Center. RSVP at


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