bullying & standing up

I just watched the movie “Bully” on Netflix [strongly recommend it] and am thinking about the phenomenon of standing up and how to nurture this quality in our young people. So many of us do nothing when we see bullying. I think this lack of courage is at least in part a result of punishing young people when they stand up to adults.

I remember my mom hitting my older brother when I was about five. I ran over to my mom and started hitting her and telling her to stop. She and everyone else in the family then switched targets and yelled at me. It took a long time and I mean decades before I figured out how to stand up for people. Likewise for my expectations of anyone standing up for me.

I think they missed an opportunity. When children take a step towards taking on an injustice, however flawed that step, we need to support it. Even when that step is in stopping us when we’re acting in ways that are less than stellar.

Before I discovered Patty Wipfler and that lot, I yelled at my children. One day, as I was yelling at my son, my husband came over to me, hugged me saying, “You’re a good mother.” I just cried. I didn’t want to act like that; I was just ineffectively trying to unload some old unaware feelings. My husband stopped the behavior without in any way making me feel defensive or ashamed and I got to let go of some of that tension without harming the young people.

Some years ago (who knows when, the years all seem pretty indistinguishable at this point), I made a commitment to always do something to interrupt parents acting oppressively to children. ¬†One day, while shopping, I heard a child’s loud cries and its parents panicked and harsh efforts to stop it. I walked over and said, “I want you know that I don’t mind that your child is crying. It’s a natural and healthy thing for a child to do.” Their three other children looked at me in wide eyed wonder and I added, “It’s really hard for parents and children at grocery stores. The children want so much and the parents can’t pay for it all. Hard for everyone.” They profusely thanked me and even chased me down as I was leaving to thank me again, saying that usually people get angry at them when their children make any noise.

On another occasion, as I was walking to the library, I approached a large man and a young, maybe seven year old child. She was walking along a brick wall while he bellowed, “What don’t you understand about the word no!!” I went over, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, “I’m an elder mom and I know it’s hard for parents and children.” (Do you detect a theme here?) And he almost started to cry and told me how he didn’t want to yell but sometimes couldn’t help it. Boy, did I understand.

Not all my attempts were that good, or even successful, but I think it’s worth the try.

Got some examples of your own?


drugs, jails, and race.

I just came back from a meeting downtown to launch our “community read” of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It’s subtitled, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and we began by talking in groups on what “colorblindness” means in a racist society.

I guess it was a step up from blatant racism to move to colorblindness, but it allows us to ignore the ways in which some of these “colors” face obstacles that some others of us can’t imagine.

In the book the author traces the lineage of the present prison system from the creation of slavery which required the invention of racism to justify that level of bald faced exploitation of an entire group of humans, to Jim Crow laws which enabled the use of nearly free labor from that same group, to the current system of arrests and imprisonment which so heavily impacts the African-American community.

As has been widely reported, the “War on Drugs” is mostly fought in black communities. The widespread use of drugs on college campuses and in middle class communities is mostly ignored. I remember a friend’s child was caught selling cocaine and was given a suspended sentence.

On the other hand, African Americans are incarcerated at 10 times the rate as whites for non violent drug offenses although 5 times as many whites use drugs than African Americans.

African Americans serve about as much time in prison for a drug offense as whites do for a violent offense according to the NAACP website.

The Washington Post has a great analysis of the arrests of African Americans compared to whites for marijuana use:

Many of us know of the racial bias of the courts [though I didn’t know the extent], but Michelle Alexander’s service is this analysis that helps us see this, not as random stupidity, but a well functioning system to keep a people down to maintain a familiar and profitable system.

Martin Luther King said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

This book can help us avoid a bit of that fate and pass on a little less of it to our children.