Overcoming the BullyTweet
By : Sarah Koi
I remember the first time I encountered a bully was in Kindergarten. I have images of a boy, just a bit taller than me, picking me up by the collar of my shirt and pushing me into a plastic kitchen set during play time. I don’t remember any teachers stopping him. This was my first time being dunked in the waters of fear.
My next swim would take place in grade one at a Christian school. A young girl grabbed me inappropriately, and as taught, I told on her. Social services then came to our home later that day. Sadly, I ended up being the one accused; It was a scary experience, I thought I was going to be taken away. I left that school the same day.
After this negative experience, the cycle of school-to-school began. The cycle of a victim began. I put on this coat and buttoned it up; this coat is called fear. It caused me to walk with my head hung and my very identity in question.
I went to at least seven schools growing up, three of them being Christian, five of them being private. I remember two predominate forms of abuse during my ten years of school – physical abuse and emotional abuse, wrapped with a big shiny bow of racism.
I share these experiences with you, not for sympathy or self pity, but in hopes that courage would swell within you. I used to hide in the school bathrooms, I was afraid to be alone during recess and lunch. I had basketballs thrown at my head, I had my nose busted in grade four by a much larger boy in grade seven. I had my glasses broken time and again. My shoes were flushed in the toilet. I was called ugly, retarded, and a ‘chug’. My teacher called me an idiot in front of the class, and another teacher ‘accidentally’ spilled her tea on me – it was my fault she said. I even had threats against my life in grade nine and ten; Then sweet freedom! I finally dropped out in the Fall of grade ten.
This was a very hard time in my life. Ten years of intense racism, verbal and physical abuse should have broken me down. I questioned my identity. I already had issues being Native, so when I was called a “chug” or an “ugly Indian”, I’d shout back “I’m Portuguese”. It was an awful feeling of trying to defend myself, when in reality, I rejected my identity and self. The cloak was heavy at this time.
Bullying breaks down ones identity – if you allow it. I remember feeling ugly growing up. My hair was never good enough. I didn’t have the cool, expensive clothes as the other girls did. I didn’t fit into any groups or cliques. I labeled myself a loser – unnecessarily. I remember feeling dumb, and I was treated as such. I remember being removed from all my classes so that a special teacher’s assistant could help me. To this day, I still don’t understand why I was taken out of my classes.
So what did I do to keep my head above the waters? Today I am the person I am, because I forgave those who hurt me; I always forgive. I’m really thankful my mother taught me this principal. I have deep wounds and sharp pains of memory, and the only medicine that soothes my soul is the choice of forgiveness. I can close my eyes right now in this moment and remember sitting in the principals office. I remember him dressed in a suit with a beard, extending his hand to me and shaking it. “Sarah, I don’t think this school is right for you. Thank you for coming though”. I held one hand to my face with tissue to stop the blood flow, and one hand in his. This was after my nose my punched and my glasses destroyed. This was in grade four. I forgive the boy who assaulted me and I forgive that principal too. To forgive is not an attribute of the weak, but of the strong. I was not letting anyone off the hook, I was simply being responsible for my heart, thoughts and actions. Boy, did we fight. My mother never said the abuse was ok or excusable. Parents need to advocate for their children and speak to the proper authorities when abuse is taking place. I remember in grade four, she was threatened to be sued for ‘slander’ from the principal. He didn’t believe or want to acknowledge the abuse in his Christian-ran school.
(Side note: If your child is being assaulted in school, and or facing institutional racism, It’s important to get the proper authorities involved to ensure it doesn’t happen again)
I felt sad many times; I even felt like I wanted to ‘go to heaven’. I didn’t realize that these were suicidal thoughts at such a young age. Counselings didn’t really help me either, I simply felt misunderstood and rejected. Sharing my burden and my brokenness is what gave me strength to face another day. Everyday after school I had to go home and “drop the baggage”. Sometimes it even felt like a physical weight, it would affect my stomach and give me headaches.
I remember the day I chose not to travel with their ‘arrows’ in my back. I pulled them out one by one. And those who loved me would help me remove these arrows by speaking words of healing to me. Speaking greatness into me, worth, value and love. We must do this for one another. Everyone has greatness and goodness in them and when we acknowledge this, the affects can do more than a counselling session.
I learned to float and swim in the sea of hardship. Eventually the cycles of abuse slowed down; the fight was long and hard. And then finally, I began to rise; I began to walk with confidence and not fear. Bully’s are just fragmented people who have deep wounds that fester and bleed and cause pain internally and externally. The actions of a bully are just the inner shards coming out and cutting those all around. I could have been a bully, I have even tried at one point in my life. I tried to be tough and develop a hard attitude, thankfully I wasn’t successful!
Don’t become angry and develop a hardened heart; this is what the bullies have – anger and hard hearts.
Our indigenous people have been victims of torment, racism and abuse since contac, and sadly we see that transfer of bullying within our own communities. Lateral violence is an epidemic. We need to consciously think about our actions and words. Our nations are broken because our houses are divided. Our Nation is broken because our leadership is bullying and being bullied. Bullying is not an elementary issue – it is an issue that extends right into the upper echelons of our society. It has become a norm and this is unacceptable!
Let us agree together that no more lives will be lost by the arrows that pierce and the waters that drown. We are the most powerful people in the world. Respect those around you. Choose your words carefully. We should never be hearing stories of young people committing suicide because of hopelessness and bullying from others. Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral on the situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Let’s make a choice to not allow the ‘bystander affect” to take place in our lives. This affect is where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present.
Bullying is not acceptable.
If you’re the perpetrator – stop.
If you’re the victim – rise.