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 mean...you know...when some people get angry and loud like..."
"Why not lions, elephants, pitbulls? Why say monkey?"
"I just meant that...you 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.