Bullying by definition means intimidation or mistreatment of someone who is weaker or in a more vulnerable situation. Racism is an irrational belief that one race is superior to another, and Darwinism is a theory describing survival of the fittest through evolution. Our world and societies are still evolving, and yet the intimidation and mistreatment of weaker individuals continues. We talk of tolerance and acceptance, and yet some of us fear the changes we have to make within ourselves for the betterment of society. No race is superior to another, but how often do we get to know people who are different than ourselves? After all, fear is essential for survival--and so we do not leave our comfort zones. Yet it is fear that feeds ugly situations like bullying, hazing, racism and even war.
I was born in a military hospital in the Philippines, and with a dual citizenship. My father was a Navy Seal during the Vietnam era, and he met and married my mother while stationed at Subic Bay. My father was also an African-American. He identified himself as a mixed race person because he had other races in his blood-Portuguese and white. It is difficult to find descendants of slaves that do not have some white kin, and many black Americans have discovered that they had white ancestors.
While growing up in the Philippines, my brothers and I were called, "them people." We were not totally Filipino, and yet we were not Americans either. Considering the era of the 60's and 70's, we were fortunate as young men of mixed race. We were not in the USA for the race riots, and we were not influenced by the hate-filled organizations that existed here in the US. There was no peer-pressure to hate people that were different than us--we were the ones that were different! I attended the military school on base, and one day--in the second grade--I came home to ask what a nigger was. I'd been called one by another kid at school, and I did not understand the term. I will never forget my father's reaction to the word! He wanted to know where I had heard such a derogatory word, and I was severely disciplined for using it. He did explain that this was a word we should not use, and also that it was a hateful word.
It was not until I grew older and we moved to the USA that I understood my father's anger. You could say that my father was old-school, but I personally still cringe inwardly at times when I hear younger people in my family use the other term: "nigga". I clearly understand that the African-American community is trying to turn a negative into a positive by changing the undertones involved with racial language, but are we? Or are we further segregating ourselves and others with different ethnicities? My father wanted a better life for all of us-there are eight boys in my family. Yes, that means that I have seven brothers-most younger than myself, and the youngest two were born in the United States. My two youngest brothers identify themselves as black, and yet they are as Filipino as the rest of us. They have no memories of what life in a third-world country is like, and I feel that is a real shame. If more of our citizens really knew what it is like to grow up without the human rights of American society, perhaps incidents of bullying would go by the wayside.
When I was a child growing up in the Philippines, I learned Tagalog, Illocano, Spanish and English. My father was quite strict on the use of proper English, and I feel it was because he wanted all of us to take our education and futures seriously. He also knew that one day, we would be moving to the USA as a family, and he very much wanted all of us to get along well in school. My father was well liked by his own peers, and that group included people of different ethnic backgrounds than himself.
While growing up, I experienced all sorts of racism/bullying and such. In the Philippines, we were taught to show respect to our elders, and they were either called Mr., Mrs., Uncle or Auntie! We had a lot of uncles-all military buddies of my father, and some were white, black, Mexican; however, coming to the USA was a real culture shock for my brothers and me.
My very first experience with a public school left me wondering what was wrong with me. I was picked on and bullied because I did not talk "black enough". I was accused of trying to be white by people close to my own race; and as a preteen, I felt very alienated by my own people. The other African-American children in the public school system knew that we were not from the States, and we were treated differently. We obviously talked differently. My own reaction to this bullying was to try to become more like my peers, and I can speak 'black' now--some 30 years later. I never forgot the experience of being ostracized because of my differences. The overall consensus of the school system was that I should be placed backwards three grades because my speech was too fast and often slipped from English into other languages that I knew, and so the bullying from other students would have gotten worse for me, I think; hoever, my oldest brother and mother stood up to the school system for me. The two of them proved that I was not stupid, did not need to be held back and helped me by basically making the school system allow me to stay in the same grade as my peers. As it turned out, I was ahead of my class academically, and I was often bored in school. My entire life might have been different if not for the support of my family, and I am forever grateful to them. Peer pressure can be counteracted by a tight-knit family situation, and we feel it is essential for every parent to know their child. Your belief in your child can be the biggest overall boost of their self-esteem.
According to Wikipedia, "Some sociologists have defined racism as a system of group privilege." No where in the world is group privilege more prevalent than in the school systems. Athletics and academics create some of this privilege. Couple this fact with teenagers--who are not yet finished growing and can be hormonally unstable--and you have an instant recipe for degradation. There always seem to be rights and praises for certain students, and even teachers bully students. Often times, school systems turn a blind eye to these practices. We cannot afford to allow unfair practices to continue in our school systems. Every student is created equal--just like every human being. The best advice to parents of children being bullied is to exercise your rights as free individuals; get involved with the school system. And, if the school system that your child attends is not willing to help with racial or bullying problems, put your child in another school. After all, the problem is key to your child's future. It is true that we need only survive high school, and that "real" life begins afterwards; yet convincing a 12 year old that they just need to suck it up is not the answer. Young adults are often more mentally traumatized than what they allow us to see. Do you remember being a teenager? Did you tell your parents everything? It is true that for many of us, life gets better the more mature we become. That's the way it's supposed to be. However, it is during the teenage years that children naturally tend to move away from their parents, and teens form their own peer groups. It is healthy and essential that this occurs, and it is part of growing up. It is also everyone's job to help with the transition from childhood to adulthood in family situations. This is especially true of adults who work with these teenaged kids. Teachers, coaches and school administrators must never encourage or condone bullying or racism in any form, and these adults need to be held accountable if they do ignore serious situations.
Here in West Michigan, bullying has a new name: hazing. According to yesterday's front page, The Grand Rapids Press is suing Coopersville Public Schools to find out how much their hazing incidents from the 2007-08 school year cost the tax payers. Search out the whole incident at www.mlive.com. The school system maintains its right to keep the settlement quiet because of the minors involved. Yet we would agree with the paper that the monies have to be disclosed under the FOIA, which can be done without exposing students/minors to the public view.
The real freedom of information would benefit the public--how and why is such an incident permitted on school property? This was a serious incident of bullying gone out of control, and apparently, the coach turned a blind eye, and then resigned. Anyone--coach, teacher or parent--that would allow such humiliation to be perpetuated on a minor child should resign, but the adult individual should also have been held accountable for the actions that occurred under their supervision! Will this coach move on to another district? Hopefully the students that were harassed/bullied have found a better niche and some counseling, as well as receiving a monetary settlement. My oldest brother's children attended Coopersville, and I am fairly sure that he would never have tolerated his children being treated like the Junior Varsity Baseball students were treated during their so-called hazing incident. Yet I am also equally sure that my brother would not have allowed his own children to treat other human beings the way the two students were treated. Parents really are still the main influencers when it comes to incidents of bullying, and kids that bully very likely have parents that bully. However, parents that tolerate differences in others have children that tolerate differences as well!
I’m sure that once the amount of money paid out over this incident is out in the open, there will be anger that tax-paying citizens have to foot the bill for the incompetence of the staff at Coopersville Public Schools. Money is a real trigger for public anger--especially in this area of the world that seems to have been economically devastated by changes in the global economy. However, we will continue to maintain a voice in the public; it helps to remind parents that the real crime here was not just against the paying public, but against the teenage students! By filing a lawsuit, the kids' parents were standing up for them and for what is right. That does not mean that we--as the public--do not have a right to know how much money the incident of bullying cost the school system, but it is our hope that this disclosure will lead to a greater public awareness of the issue of bullying/hazing/or group privilege (racism) that exists in the school systems to this day. It would be healing to know if the coach did indeed perpetrate or encourage the actions of the bullies, and also to know that the coach has to pay a price for this incident. Is it enough that he resigned, or should the legal system have dealt with him? Protecting the minors is good, but protecting an adult that allows bullying or hazing to occur is very wrong indeed!