Sometimes I think I’m living in an alternate universe.
You know what I mean?
In this day and age, you’d think human beings would have evolved beyond the ignorance of racism, or the immaturity of taunting others for their differences. You’d think that, and then wonder why people are still doing it. That’s when you feel slightly crazy, like you’re in a world turned upside-down.
Here are the numbers:
- 1 in 5 students report being bullied during the school year. How many don’t report?
- 7 minutes. Bullying occurs once every 7 minutes.
- Bullied students were 5-6 times more likely to miss school than those who weren’t bullied.
- 50%, of Asian American students in NYC public schools reported biased based harassment. How high would this be, if the unreported ones were included?
There are kids everyday who suffer at the hands of bullies. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) kids, this problem is exacerbated by the varied cultural, religious and linguistic barriers that keep them, and often their parents from seeking help.
The White House, in partnership with the US Department of Justice, US Department of Education, and the US Department of Health and Human Services launched the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force (AAPI Task Force).
I’ve grown up with racism my entire life. I was born in Utah, my parents immigrated from Taiwan. I was a first generation girl in an elementary school where there were a total of three Asian kids in grades K-6. My brother and a Japanese boy my age, plus me were the three. I was taunted often. I have written some things about the issues I’ve had with racism. We forget that bullying doesn’t have to be just verbal or physical attacks, they can be nonverbal. Sometimes, it was so bad I couldn’t think of anything else but to shout back in Mandarin Chinese. When I saw how shocked it made the mean kids when I did that, it made my heart soar. They must’ve thought I was cursing them. But as we know, sometimes, no matter what a bullied victim does, the bullying doesn’t stop.
I used to think that was history. A page to be turned and never read again. I thought for sure the future would be better. Now that I have my own kids, it’s even more troubling to see it still in school. In third grade my oldest came home to tell me that a teacher in her grade, during her traded class time told the class she couldn’t tell five girls apart. So the teacher decided her solution was to, in front of the whole class, rename the girls, “the tall one, the small one, etc.” I was horrified, but knew I had to maintain my composure so my daughter could finish her story. She continued to tell me that she decided to be funny, and told that teacher that the teacher could call her a mix of her name and the volcano Haleakala. I was pretty impressed by my daughter’s wit. When she asked me why the teacher wanted to rename the kids she couldn’t tell apart, I asked her what ethnic background the girls were. Three were Chinese, my daughter is half Chinese, and one was a Peruvian girl. I had to explain to to my daughter, that I recognized and could tell apart all the kids from her K-3rd grade days. I taught my daughter about race that day, and about people who are racist, and how we should not be like them. I taught her the importance for standing up for herself, and to fight against that sort of injustice.
Fast forward to last week. Last week my daughter, in 6th grade now, came home to tell me that a white boy in her class said, “Chinese people are stupid.” That afternoon a different white boy sat in front of her and her friend; my daughter and her friend decided to find a better place to sit where they could see, and as they left, the boy said, “Move back to Chinatown,” in a bad mock Chinese accent. My daughter also mentioned a teacher, a week previous to this incident had said, “What? Am I speaking Chinese?” when some of the students didn’t listen to her as she was trying to get them to the carpet. Her comment made most of the kids laugh. My daughter remembered the moment.
I posed a question to my social media channels. I was genuinely curious about what other parents would or wouldn’t do, in this day and age when confronted with racism. I didn’t do anything but provide the facts, and ask “what would you do?”
The response was huge. By and large most parents, some parents who also taught school, or who have experienced situations like this, suggested I report it. Immediately. There was a clear no tolerance vibe, which I was surprised, and heartened by. There were a handful of those who preferred the old method to ignore it, act like it’s no big deal. There were some who went so far as to deride my daughter, and myself, for even posing the question.
The experience taught me many things. It showed me in great detail, how much this type of racism still exists. Even amongst adults. It demonstrated a deep need for discussion, and understanding. It showed me that many adults are still uneducated and ignorant to the understanding that it’s not just each individual incident on trial, it’s the entire ideology of racism. It’s our job as good citizens, parents, friends, teachers, to stand up and stop this erroneous ideology wherever it crops up.
If you’re wondering how our family resolved the issue, I’m willing to share that with you. I was out of town for three days after my daughter had come to me to share how her day was. She’s the type of girl who is always eager to learn, and works to do what is right. I’m very lucky. She came to me, because we talk about injustice in the world. She came to tell me, she had experienced injustice, and didn’t understand how people could be so ignorant. I didn’t tell her I shared the situation on my social media channels, nor did I show her the responses. My husband and I asked her what she wanted to do. So, my daughter, being the earnest, conscientious girl that she is, pondered it out.
While I was away on business, she called me and told me that she decided to write a note to her teacher expressing that it made her feel sad when people made fun of her culture, and placed it in the classroom bully box. She told me her teacher spoke to her privately, as a result of her note, and that she would speak to the principal. She told me that the principal did visit the classroom and spoke about not making comments about other people’s appearances.
I’m grateful that it was handled, and that by letting my daughter take the lead, she was able to see what one person with character and values, seeking justice, can do. I know not every situation can be handled like this. I know that every situation is different. I do know, that if just one of us is silent, many will be hurt. Likewise, I know that if we speak up, empower, and encourage we can save many who hurt in silence.
Let’s fight for those we love, those who are lonely, those who have no one. Let’s stand up for those who need a hand, a voice, a heart; let’s rise up and act to change.
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