Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bullying is Not Just an LGBT Problem

In the last month there have bee approximately seven suicides due to homophobic bullying.  This has drawn the attention of the media, with high profile stars like Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris speaking out to say that this must stop.  Gay advocate and writer Dan Savage started a program on youtube called It Gets Better, to inform gay youth that as hard as things are in high school, that if they just hang in, they will find happiness in their lives.  These stories are very important because they provide hope and support.  What saddens me is that it took a crises situation like multiple suicides, for the media to pay attention to what is going on.  A child need not even be gay to be subject to this sort of treatment.  The issue is that they have been identified as a member of group that society has chosen very specifically to marginalize and "other".

Bullying is about children learning to practice the coercive form of power that we have taught them from birth. Before babies can identify that they are individuals and separate from their mothers, we teach them how to conform.  Pink and blue baby clothing and names according to sex, teach them about gender and their place in this world.  The overriding message that children are taught is conformity to normalized standards.  The penalties for an unwillingness or an inability to conform, are made evident daily; oppress or be oppressed.  It is hardly any surprise that children exhibit a gang like mentality towards others, when they perceive difference, when this is what we model for them.

Though the bullying that arises from homophobia has gotten a lot of media attention recently, it seems that Keli Geoff of Loop21 has learned nothing from it. In The bullies can't be blamed for the recent string of LGBT suicides ze had the following to say.
Let me ask you a question. If a young student was called the N-word every day for weeks or months on end, and after repeated cries for help finally took his own life, how quickly do you think citizens of all races would take to the streets to protest? Or better yet how quickly would Al Sharpton and co. demand accountability from the school, and elected officials under the threat of casting the kind of media spotlight that people like Don Imus have nightmares about? .


Which makes me think that the kids doing the bullying are not really the ones at fault. They are simply taking their cues from adults. And the message they are receiving is that today in 2010 it may not be okay to call someone the N-word on the playground, but it is okay to call someone the F-word.
As a mother of a Black child, I can tell you quite honestly that black children get called nigger and it hurts like hell.  I have held my child as he wept in his arms because someone he thought was his friend, had no problem using his White privilege to hurt him.  I have struggled to help maintain his sense of self worth in a world that is determined to "other" him and reduce him to an animal, but apparently none of his experiences count when there is homophobic bullying going on.  This is oppression Olympics at its finest and an example of the worst kind of so-called liberation advocacy.  One does not become empowered by ignoring or purposefully reducing the oppression of other groups.

Even though homophobic bullying is front page news today, the truth of the matter is that any kind of perceived non conformity is enough to encourage children  to attack in the most vicious way possible.





partial transcript

Reporter: On a school bus in suburban Orlando, a father's fury caught on a surveillance tape. 
Video shows a father standing at the front of a school bus, yelling at the children and using profanity to express his point.
Reporter: James Jones, a former private first class in the army was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function.
The video once again moves to him standing on the bus yelling at the children.
Reporter: Jones admitted that his temper got the best of him when he unleashed a tirade on some boys who were bullying his 12 year old daughter Shatray who has cerebral palsy. 
Jones: It is not about me; it is about kids that are being bullied.  Even if you walk them to school.
Reporter: A fathers temper used to protect the daughter he loves.
Jones: This was very much out of line, out of character for me - but my daughter, I still love her.
Reporter: In the deputy's alert Jones alleges that the boys:
  • slapped his daughter on the back of the head.
  • twisted her ear
  • shouted rude comments
School officials said that Jones never complained to them that his daughter was being harassed.  They say that the district has a strict anti-bullying policy.  The national center for educational statistics reports that 25% of children say that they are bullied in a daily or weekly basis, but for children with disabilities, it's far worse - 85% say that they've been targeted.

Julie Hertzog (director national center for anti bullying protection): Kids with disabilities are targeted for bullying because of their vulnerable reaction to the behaviour: whether it is getting mad or scared or getting angry, they're providing a response that makes the person bullying feel empowered and in control.

We can no longer afford to see bullying as a sort of right of passage that all children must go through, because it has serious consequences.  Though the attention recently has been on bullying based in homophobia, the fact that 85% of disabled kids are targets weekly or daily is a figure we cannot afford to ignore.  These kids don't have an Ellen or a Neil Patrick Harris speaking out on their behalf, but that is no reason to ignore their suffering.  Bullying happens not only because of homophobia; it happens because of the isms we have allowed to permeate our society.  It is important not to descend into Oppression Olympics because this further entrenches hierarchy and leads to marginalized groups fighting against each other, as though they are not people who fight more than one oppression at a time.

What we need is a campaign to end all bullying.  Parents need to talk their children about not initiating attacks against other children, or passively following the herd.   We cannot always be there with our children to correct their behaviour, but if we make a point in our home of affirming that all bodies matter, we can help to stem the tide of aggression on the playgrounds.  I have personally seen my son stand up to a kid who felt it was funny to call another child a f@ggot.  He did so because he knows such behaviour is harmful to others. Anti-bullying is not solely the fight of the LGBT community; it is the fight of every single marginalized body. It is time that we hold these schools to their so-called zero tolerance policies. 

H/T Boniface for the video