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My Country: Rules of Engagement

By February 10, 2015March 2nd, 2015No Comments

RhiannaTaniguchiHeadshotBuild culturally competent networks by speaking up

By Rhianna Taniguchi

‘NO MOTHER SHOULD HAVE TO FEAR FOR HER SON’S LIFE EVERY TIME HE ROBS A STORE,” read a sign being held up by a young African American male during the recent Ferguson protests in a photo that quickly gained attention online. This picture, however, was a fake.

The Photoshopped image emerged online and quickly received attention on social media websites and online forums.

The first time I saw the image was when a close family friend posted it along with his frustration as a police officer. Confused, I quickly researched the origin of the image. The original sign read, “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he leaves home.” And although I informed him that this was an altered image, he remained stuck on a stereotype of African Americans and continued to express his frustration.

Online interactions have become more and more confusing. Facebook allows us to share ideas quickly, but online etiquette is unclear and difficult to navigate. Especially when dealing with people you care about, it is difficult to defend your stance or challenge another’s online. Online arguments can become public battles and have lasting consequences.

When volunteering for Planned Parenthood’s advocacy team or sharing information about controversial women’s health topics, I am constantly aware of how people are perceiving me. I know that not everyone in my social circles will agree with my beliefs, but I feel that I should be able to share my thoughts regardless.

This year, I have had many debates via social media. These conflicts usually arise from political stances that myself or friends and family in my network have taken publicly through Facebook.

I posted an article about immigration reform in November and was quickly informed by a close family friend that the “illegals” did not belong. This quickly escalated to a heated and public discussion. With empathy and aloha, I expressed why I believed that no human is “illegal” and addressed other misconceptions that were brought up. Using the method below, I was able to continue an important relationship with someone I care about.


How to Respond to Conflict on Social Media:

  1. Remain poised — Never use curse words, say things you’ll regret or damage your own reputation. You are a reflection of your cause, and words are hard to retract.
  2. Be gracious — If someone does not understand your point of view, that means you may also be seeing only 50 percent of the picture. Recognize that your view is not absolute or perfect, just different.
  3. Be personal — It’s O.K. to use what you know about a person or your relationship with him or her to make a point. Using the other person’s religion, culture or even his or her relationship with you is fair game if it helps that person understand where you’re coming from in a respectful way.
  4. Do your research — You don’t want to be caught without the right facts to back up your claims.
  5. Don’t believe everything you see — Photoshop and negligent reporting practices have become a part of the Internet; even mainstream news has bias and errors.
  6. Know and use your experiences — Knowing and sharing the story of incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII has helped me convince a close friend that the easy way out of a bad situation isn’t always just or fair.
  7. Articulate why you support the position in a way that resonates with your audience — When trying to inform or influence someone, start by approaching the problem from a new angle. Identify what your audience cares about and then tell tailor your message to what the issue has to offer them.
  8. End on a good note — A Facebook quarrel isn’t worth a relationship. Although your ideas differ, people are what bring the world together. You can’t continue trying to share your perspective if you’re on bad terms.


As a member of the U.S. Army, I have many friends who have a distorted image of America in their minds. It is no secret that the military has a history of racism and cultural intolerance. Because of the work of champions before me, I have not had to endure direct prejudice in my workplace. However, the war within our ranks is not won yet; racism and discrimination persists throughout the military.

In 2014, the Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF) made great progress with military leaders on uniform rules for religious accommodation. Having had the opportunity to work with the staff of SALDEF as the Norman Y. Mineta Fellow, I knew firsthand the vital work that they do.

I was shocked that my friends and comrades from the Army were posting the article about SALDEF’s efforts along with ignorant comments. These were good friends expressing their hate and bigotry for Sikh Americans, and I didn’t quite know how to respond.

I was compelled to act, and by doing so, I put a stop to their words and hopefully broadened their views. By saying, “This is not O.K.,” and explaining why, I believe we can change conversations and, more importantly, the hearts of others.

By no means am I saying that this is your duty, but rather a choice of what you want to contribute to the world around you. I will respond to racist, sexist or ignorant comments made by friends and family, not because it’s my obligation, but rather because it’s my choice.

Rhianna Taniguchi is an aspiring social engineer from Hawaii. She currently works for Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C., and was the 2014 JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow.