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Growing up in the suburbs of
Chicago, I was terrified of the school bus. That No Man's Land between the
classroom and home was where I was sure to be called racial slurs and have kids
make mock Chinese sounds and pull the corners of their eyes as I walked down
the aisle looking for a seat.
It was the 1970s in the Midwest. As an an Asian American girl, racial bullying was just a fact of life. I don't
think I ever talked about it with my parents. They would have just told me to
ignore them and concentrate on getting good grades.
I wish I could say race-based bullying
is a problem of the past, but unfortunately, that's not the case. My
second-grader experienced the eye-pulling taunts, and many of my Asian American
mom friends have told me their sons or daughters have been called racial slurs
or teased because they look or speak differently. These aren't isolated cases. A
recent study reveals that half of Asian American youths in New York City public schools reported racial harassment. And
within our community, Sikh, Muslim, Micronesian, LGBT youth and kids with
limited English skills are especially at risk.
Kids are still coming to terms with their ethnic or religious identity, and they may resent their parents for the culture or skin color they've inherited from them.
It's hard as a parent to know what
to do when our kids are the targets of bullying because of their race,
ethnicity or religion, especially if our own parents were immigrants and unsure
of how to speak up or even how the American school system works. That's where
the White House comes in. This October, for National Bullying Prevention Month,
the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Americans is
launching the Act to Change campaign. With partners at the Sikh Coalition and
the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), the White House wants to
give AAPI youth—along with teachers and parents—tools to address bullying.
Even though I feel like I'm doing
the right things by being aware of bullying and being involved in my sons'
lives so I know what's going on at school and who they're friends with, I don't
want to be the over-reactive Mama Bear. But I don't want to bury my head in the
sand and ignore potential problems, either. One of the things I find most
confusing is trying to figure out what constitutes bullying, as opposed to kids
just being annoying.
"Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems."
Harjot Kaur, Community Development
Manager at the Sikh Coalition, a group that's been at the forefront of fighting
racial bullying, gives some examples. Classmates calling an Indian girl called
"Rapunzel" for her very long hair might be benign, but names like "Bin Laden"
or "curry head" certainly aren't.
And don't assume your kids will
tell you if they're being harassed at school. Remember, I never talked to my
parents about what was going on. Kaur says that kids are still coming to terms
with their ethnic or religious identity, and they may resent their parents for
the culture or skin color they've inherited from them. A kid who's being bullied
might show signs such as anxiousness, frustration or using their phone more—or less. And if your child does talk to you, take it seriously. "Students go to
parents when they feel they need a push to go report it," explains Kaur.
"Because the parents will find out anyway."
Even if you're not Asian, you can
help raise awareness of this problem or help make your community welcoming to
all kinds of people, such as befriending a parent who isn't familiar with American
culture. And whatever your background, there's something we can all do: Speak
up. As Kaur told me, "You cannot expect
that other people are going to stand up."
Visit the Act to Change website for
more information about how you can prevent the bullying of Asian American and
Pacific Islander youth.