Monday, November 8, 2010

"I didn't realize monkey was a racial slur"...?

As you all know, I've been working really hard with my school to cut down on bullying. Last week we were made aware that a young lady on my caseload was being bullied by several of her classmates by the president of our "Students Against Bullying" club. Turns out this young lady (let's call her W) was recently diagnosed with clinical depression is on a series of medications that make her nervous and the fact that she participates in class on a regular basis she's been deemed "easy prey".

Long story short, we made plans to call down 3 of the worst bullies that have been bothering W, parents were being contacted, and students programs were being changed so that none of the bullies were in her classes. One of them happened to be a girl that consistently harassed W during changing in the locker room and admitted to saying that she "wanted to punch W in the face because she's so #$#@ annoying". Before we could do any of the above we had to get a statement from W in writing and hear her account of all the events that happened in class and in the locker room.

While explaining all of the details, we asked W to please let us know everything because we can't protect her if we don't know all of the details. W proceeds to tell us that there were two instances where she did say something first to her bully that incited an argument. The first one: "You must be preparing for a life of prostitution when you leave here". Ok, W very politely called her bully a "ho". The second statement W starts with, "I know that this is inappropriate but ...I told her once that 'it's no wonder that when your mom takes you to restaurants the waiter asks her if she wants a banana for her monkey". (Did I need to mention W is caucasian and our bully is African-American?)

You could have heard a mouse fart in my office it got so quiet. It was myself, the guidance counselor, a dean and W. We each exchanged uncomfortable glances as W fidgeted uncontrollably. Once we recovered, a discussion on inappropriate things to say, retaliation, and, whew, inappropriate things to say!! I remained quiet afraid of what I might say, inside I was infuriated. However, one-of-the-powers-that-be happened to come in to speak to W to assure her that we were taking care of her problem and then W for whatever reason decided to volunteer this information. Livid would be an understatement for her reaction to this new information. She tried to get W to understand the significance of what she said, how while we understand W was being bullied what she said was just as bad as what the bullies were saying to her:

"I'm not a racist...I didn't realize monkey was a racial slur...I just meant that sometimes certain people..."

"What kind of people? People like me and Mrs. E?"

"No...I know...when some people get angry and loud like..."

"Why not lions, elephants, pitbulls? Why say monkey?"

"I just meant know...when monkeys get mad they get to throwing their arms around and screaming..."

"I'm deeply disappointed and hurt that here I am trying to help you with your bullying case and I find out that you've been saying things like this. Just hurt and a little disgusted." (insert storming out of the office right here).

Later, I met up with higher power, and we both were like WTF?? Was there something different going on here? Two of the bullies were African-American and one was Hispanic. Try as we might we couldn't help wonder if there was something more to this case. In this day and age, who doesn't know that calling a person of color a monkey is a racial slur? Really? It's one thing to know as an adult that people are still thinking this way, but to hear a 15 year old say it? I just don't know.



Anonymous said...

its not bullying if W is talking trash right back to the bullies.

Chocolate Mom aka Blupoetres said...

That is the very debate we find ourselves in. What do you think and why?

Rich said...

I don't understand why bullying is even such a big deal right now. i was bullied when i was kid, i also bullied some kids too.

What is bullying?
according to the first google website i clicked on
"Bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person. "

If that's the case, good for W and her bullies, she is just getting ready for the real world.
If bullying is such a big deal, I have a few complaints about my supervisors.

Nathaniel said...

It took awhile for me to respond to this post, but I'm not shocked. After President Obama was elected there were a lot of people who made comments similar to this, but they were referring to those individuals who do not act like the people they hang out with. Though the intent is there not to offend everyone, but our race can not be divided between those who you as individual can relate to and those who you cannot. Racial slurs affect most individuals if not all people of that race. The student needs to understand that the words she used carry a deeper racial undertone that reflects the way she is treated by her bullies. The students bullies needed to communicate with W that her words are racially chargered whether she meant it that way or not.

Nathaniel said...

Does she know her words are racially charged? Does she understand that you cannot divide the race by those who you can identify with and those you cannot?

N. Nicholes said...

As a person who is NOT a bully, but bullied in school (elementary - not high school) I was called a monkey, had pictures of monkey families posted on my desk, drawings of monkeys greeted me on my chairs. >SIGH< After having a child I figured that a certain amount of teasing is GOING to happen, but one person can't do things and then yell victim when there actions are just as laden with guilt.

Maybe her diagnosis with clinical depression will be seen as the cause, but her lack of explanation with "certain people" being identified as a monkey leaves me a bit nervous.

And to the poster who doesn't see why bullying is such a big deal - it's not the same "teasing" that we were used to in school. Children are taking their lives because they aren't being poored into by parents, teachers, and other adults like we were (or at least I hope you were too) when we were children.

I take bullying and teasing seriously, and as a parent, I don't excuse the victim if they have been saying equally horrible things to their attackers. It only escalates the problem.

Sorry to be all over the place.

W.Reid said...

Bullying is a BIG deal to the person getting bullied.

Chocolate Mom aka Blupoetres said...

@Rich - Bullying became such a big deal when kids started ending their lives because of it. Simply put. Our school has a zero tolerance for any form of bullying no matter how major or minute. The reason being: we know that this W has emotional problems and is on medication for clinical depression, but we don't always know what our kids are going through and suffering with in silence.

@Nat-I'm almost convinced that this girl is really that clueless. She has been bullied for so long she wanted to say something that would really hurt this girl who antagonized her everyday while she was most vulnerable -changing in the locker room. In no way in hell am I excusing what she said, make no mistake! However, if you met W, you would understand...that's all.

@Nicholes & Reid - thank you for the valuable input!

Anonymous said...

i'm black, i'm reading this and honestly i'm not convinced she meant it as a racial slur. i think she really did feel her bullies were monkeys. waving their hands all about and screaming in her face. as someone who's been bullied (by kids of ALL races) i do know that sometimes you will strike back at a bully with your words. also, why does the school still keep those kids who bully her around? what happened to zero tolerance?