I have been reading (I am sure you have too) about the many cases of bullying and the awful consequences of being a target for bullies. Kids and young adults committing suicide, suffering chronic depression, choosing to be home-schooled, or quitting school altogether: there’s no doubt that being bullied negatively shifts how a person experiences their daily life. The theme I keep coming across in my reading is the fact that NO ONE within these schools is doing much to stop the bullying.
Sure, they do not like it, but in so many cases it is reported that there was little if any institutional intervention. Of course, they sure were “saddened when they heard the news.” The rub for the people on the bad end of the bullying is that so many schools already have well-intentioned “anti-bullying” policies in place to prevent harassment–but they don’t work to protect the targets. There are many official reasons for institutional apathy. School officials say that the bullying was not witnessed, or that there was no physical proof, or no written documentation.
We all know that bullying is not a new phenomenon. For people who were bullied as kids, the lack of institutional response gets a “yep, I coulda told you that.” Now that I am older and more educated, I know exactly what is going on: the bullying persists because the institutions where these incidents take place are classist, racist, and sexist in and of themselves.
In other words, they are systems that have historically oppressed the kinds of people who are targets for bullies. Now I’m not saying the dreaded “correlation is causation,” but I am saying that it’s very obvious that schools will protect the students that are most like the people who work in the institutions themselves — middle-class, white, and straight. The bullied poor kid with the messy hair, the weird clothes, and the angry, advocating parent will get a different institutional response than the kid whose clothing and physical presentation reflects the world of the people in charge. How do I know? Well, think about it! When was the last time you heard about the bullying of a wealthy white kid who wears all the brands and has Lexus-driving parents? If these cases exist, they are rare, which is exactly why class is a variable in how schools deal with bullying on their campuses. You protect your own, screw the rest.
Julie Garza-Withers is an award-winning community college sociology instructor and organizational diversity consultant who works with individuals and groups to facilitate collaborative solutions to gender, race, and class-based conflicts.