a word from your local playground pariah

I would love to tell you some fantastic tale of the redemption of the bullied, how I’m a much better person because I was bullied, how teachers and elders came to my rescue and saved me from my tormentors. I’d like to, but I’d rather tell the truth. The truth is, your child could be on either side of that vicious relationship and you would be none the wiser.

In my day, bullying was a bit simpler. People, mostly girls, would decide they didn’t like you. Most of the time, their disdain had very little to do with anything you could control. They would then declare war on you, enlist troops in the form of other girls who may or may not know you, but will soon hate you just the same. These strategists will develop propaganda in the form of slanderous notes to be passed in classes and hallways school wide. They will market their hatred on the bathroom walls, in lunchroom pow wows, and on the dreaded playground at recess. They will throw things at you, spit at you, punch hit, kick, trip and push you. They will pull your hair and tear your clothing. They will make life hell for you, and they will do it all for the most part, unbeknown to any adult. You can tell, if you want the madness to continue and worsen, or you can take it and hope it will end soon.

I was reared in an upper middle class home. Both my parents were deceased. I was and still am a bookwormy, overachieving, musically inclined loner who had a penchant for nice shoes and cool ensembles.  None of this pleased my classmates. They didn’t understand me.  I couldn’t understand why.  I started my period earlier than the other girls. This made me a target. I was in advanced and gifted classes. Put another ring on that target. My hair was done by a professional. Add another ring.  I excelled in my extracurricular life, which meant that every now and then, and especially when grades and accolades were being given, I was in the local paper. Nothing was worse than report card time or when the standardized test given ( I usually finished early) and the scores came in (I usually scored way higher than my classmates).

I didn’t think I was better than anyone, even though I was being taught at home that I was. I just wanted to have friends. I knew that none of the other black kids were gonna be able to be in the classes with me, but at least we could hang out during lunch and recess. At least I didn’t have to be in that room, the only chocolate chip in the cookie, and have nothing to look forward to once the bell rang. I was, and still am, a very pro black individual. I hated my intelligence to an extent, because it meant that I would be separated from my skin folks. It was true from kindergarten until college.

I got my ass whooped. There’s no beautiful way to say it. The girls that bullied me beat my ass just about every day. I went home with bruises and cuts and scrapes. I told. That made it worse because my teachers assumed it was rite of passage. Everyone gets bullied right? Uh no. I wasn’t allowed to fight at school because “You are not like those dumb assed half raised niggers who have no better sense than to hit you instead of reading a damned book.” That did not help matters. Not at all. I remember being in the middle of an assault, breaking away, running to my teacher and telling her that I was in the middle of an assault only for her to tell me to stop lying and go play with my friends. Sigh. Memories.

How do you explain to your grandmother, who is spending beaucoup  money on your clothes, why you come home in different clothes than when you left? How do you explain how you “lose” clothes every week and don’t even dress out for gym? How do you explain why you’re not hungry, can’t sleep, and are overly sensitive to touch, jokes, and would rather lock yourself in your room than go outside? You find a way. And then you find a way to convince your aggressors that you haven’t told on them even though you really want to scream it from the top bleacher in the gymnasium.

In high school the bullying slacked off a bit because those bullying me found themselves on the wrong end of several people’s feet. It was, sadly, quite hilarious to watch them get all that they’d unjustly given me and then some. What I’ve since learned, in the years that have been kind enough to remove me from such foolishness, is it was never about me. Well not in the sense that I initiated the nonsense. I may have added fuel to the fire at times (because my mouth can be quite jazzy, and at around the age of 13, I really did get tired of the beatings), but I could not help that I was smart or wore better clothes or had what could be considered then, a very active extracurricular life. My tormentors have since become mothers (some before we graduated from high school) and because life goes on, we’ve discussed why they didn’t like me, why I was their target. I’m still waiting for an answer. Some blamed the ignorance of youth, others blamed an unsavory home life, one told me because I was a loner I was an easy target. Whatever. Tell that to my fragile self esteem and my well whooped ass. I hated my bullies because they bullied me, and I hated myself because it was happening to me and I was powerless to stop it. I wanted to die and I wanted them to feel bad about it. I am, in some ways scarred for life.  Even though I have achieved more than some of them ever will, going to my high school reunion and seeing them happy and celebrating our 10 years since graduation was a surreal experience. I know now that things get better and it’s only temporary. Some kids don’t know that and unfortunately, never get the chance to find out.

I brought this up because we are seeing a growing bully/suicide trend.  And by see I mean, it’s a hot topic these days. It’s been going on forever, but you know the drill, nothing in America is news until it is almost too much to handle. With the advent of the internet, social networking sites and the texting revolution, what was once viewed as a childhood rite of passage is now a criminal offense.

You’ve seen the news.

Megan Meier (the myspace suicide)

Phoebe Prince

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover

and most recently Tyler Clementi,

all took their own lives because of the viral rebirth of bullying. What do we do?

First, open the lines of communication with your child. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them questions. Being bullied is a huge stressor.  Approaching your child or loved one about a potential bullying situation is almost like asking your home girl if her husband beats her. Be gentle, be concerned, be adamant, and be supportive. There is nothing worse as a child being bullied, than to feel like your voice is not being heard and your issues are not being taken seriously.

Secondly, contact the school. Find out if there are procedures and policies in place to prevent or properly punish (alliteration, possible tongue twister, I know) bullies.  If not, go to your PTA president, principal and school board. Work on building those policies. This is serious.

Third, be nosey, be a snitch. Monitor your child’s text messaging and online time. Of course you want your kids to feel that they have the ability to use these resources comfortably, but not at the expense of their safety and well being.  Be a parent, not a friend. If you find out this is going on electronically, contact the police and local authorities. Many states do not have cyber bullying laws in place. Let them know how serious this is to you and the communities.

If you find out that your child is the bully, work to fix whatever the issue is that is causing such horrible behavior. Maybe they don’t feel loved or included at home, maybe they are not successful in school and see themselves in a hopeless situation. Maybe they just need an ass whooping. Either way, do something.

I love the show “if you really knew me” on MTV because it meets high school students where they are, strips them of their perceptions and places them on an even playing field. The students are challenged to change themselves and their school. This is done through honesty exercises, team building exercise and group sessions , where the students talk to each other, revealing intimate and often painful details about their personal lives. They start off with a simple but powerful phrase “if you really knew me, you’d know…”  there are revelations and waterworks, with bullies and the bullied both reduced to a pile of blubbering hormonalness.

I think if such an exercise were done in schools nationwide, we’d see less deaths and less bullying. Communication and honesty are key. The truth is, we have decided bullies torment others because they need to feel better about themselves; we never stop to ask what is making the bully feel bad about in the first place. Yes it does indeed take a village to rear a child, but it will take a nation to stop a bully.

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