Racist bullying is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. If your child is experiencing racist bullying and you don't know what to do, here's where you can turn for help.
Photo by Gratisography.
Racism can be scary and, for children, it can also be academically damaging. If your child experiences any kind of racism, there are a few steps you can take to address it.
Ask the School for Help
Obviously, you first want to bring any incidents to the school's attention. Your child's teacher may not even be aware of what's going on, so call and schedule an appointment to discuss the issue. If the teacher is unhelpful or unsure of what to do, talk to a guidance counsellor or principal, and if other parents have similar experiences, you may want to organise a parent-teacher conference.
This much is obvious, but it's still your first course of action and an important one. Author and certified school social worker Signe Whitson puts it this way:
A parent's best strategy for countering bullying is to reach out to as many people as necessary to make sure that the bullying comes to an end. If you have reached out to your child's teacher and received a bland, disinterested, or downplayed response, do not be deterred. Continue to contact other school personnel — preferably according to a chain of command — to make sure that your voice (and more importantly, your child's voice) is heard.
You also want to document any phone calls, meetings or discussions. As Whitson suggests, write down your goals for the conversation and at the end of the meeting, write down any solutions you've agreed on. Then, ask the involved parties to sign. As Whitson points out, establishing a paper trail is less about trying to get the school in trouble and more about organising the process, making it easier and keeping everyone on the same page.
Of course, the problem is, not all schools, teachers or administrators are responsive. They may downplay the problem or dismiss it altogether. If they're not willing to help, though, you may have other resources.
When to Report It
First, if there's been an act or threat of violence or someone has vandalised or destroyed your property, that's not just bullying; it's a crime. According to the US Department of Justice and Australian Institute of Criminology, hate crimes are underreported.
You should first file a report with your local police. Make sure to take down any other relevant info, including the officer's name. If you believe the crime to be racially motivated, tell the police this, as well as why you believe this. Make sure they put this on record.
If your child's school refuses to address the bullying, you may want to file a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Racial Discrimination Act makes racial hatred illegal, which includes "racially abusive comments in a public place, such as... at school".
You can file an online complaint to request the Australian Human Rights Commission investigate any incidents.
How to Talk to Your Kids About It
Beyond reporting the incident, there's also the matter of talking to your kid about racism. You want to make sure your child knows any bullying, teasing or violence has nothing to do with them. Here's what Adoptive Families suggests:
Ensure that your child knows that racial teasing is not just about her, but that it is a big problem in our world, and that even adults have a tough time handling this kind of behaviour. After your child describes the incident and her feelings about it, demonstrate a problem-solving approach. This is a process that adults work though almost automatically, but that young children need to be taught.
They suggest you talk to your child and ask them to define the problem, then go through all the possible solutions and consequences.
Psychologist Dana S. Iyer warns against telling your child to just ignore the problem:
Racism doesn't go away just because they look the other way. Such experiences are likely to lead kids to feel powerless, ignoring them may lead to more helplessness and avoidance...Bullies tend to pick on kids they perceive to be weaker or dislike and usually victimize their targets in groups when the target is alone or with kids they do not feel will retaliate.
Beyond that, you don't want to downplay the issue. Iyer suggests teaching your child to be appropriately assertive and to talk about the problem with someone they trust.
Look for Signs
Kids aren't always forthcoming about their troubles, so you should be aware of signs that your child may be experiencing racism, even if he or she hasn't brought it your attention. They might refuse to go to school or they might seem anxious or depressed. Psychology Today points to a few other signs that may be less obvious:
- Speaks negatively of ethnic/racial background, is disparaging of others of the same ethnicity, expresses desire to be a different ethnicity, i.e., expresses desire was white, had lighter skin
- Embarrassed to engage in cultural activities or activities that call attention to ethnicity
- Begins to perform poorly academically
This is not just a frustrating issue to deal with, it's a scary one. Racism is a pervasive, troubling issue that we won't solve with a single complaint or conversation, but there are resources out there, and when it's time to use them, you want to know where to turn.