Spirit Day is an annual celebration organized by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (though in reality, they are so much more), as a day of solidarity against bullying and bigotry, and particularly for LGBTQ+ folks.
From GLAAD’s #SpiritDay launch page:
“Spirit Day is a means of speaking out against LGBTQ bullying and standing with LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities. Pledging to “go purple” on Spirit Day is a way for everyone — forward-thinking companies, global leaders, respected celebrities, neighbors, parents, classmates, and friends — to visibly show solidarity with LGBTQ youth and to take part in the largest, most visible anti-bullying campaign in the world.”
I tell this story today in honor of #spiritday, a campaign against bullying. I’ve told this story in confidence to a small number of people in my life, but today for the first time I am going to share it publicly. I won’t name names. I don’t want pity. I made my peace with this event years ago.
TRIGGER WARNING: LGBT bullying, sexism, misogyny, physical assault, and some language. I want to warn you now that what I am about to describe is not pretty, and I will not censor it; that may be triggering for some, and if it is, I fully understand if you don’t keep reading.
All of my life I’ve been a small guy. Heck, I’m 5’5” NOW (and I ain’t growin’ any taller, let me assure you). In high school, I wasn’t just short, I was also pretty meek. I read a lot, raised my hand in class all the time, and spent as much time talking to teachers as I did talking to peers. I was a nerd.
I don’t know when he first targeted me. He was an upperclassman, a year or so ahead of me. At some point he decided I was gonna be his proverbial punching bag. I don’t know why. I don’t care. All I know is that we had Spanish together for a year, and sometime during that year he decided that I was the kid who was going to take his assaults.
At first, it was all verbal. Every day, he would find some reason to call me “gay” or “fag” or “queer”. I didn’t know how to respond. Once or twice maybe I told him to “f*** off”, but guaranteed that didn’t change a thing. The teacher apparently didn’t know how to respond either. If she overheard him calling me something, she’d meekly reprimand him, but that’s about it. It hurt me a lot (and yes, I am gay, I am queer, but that’s beside the point). I don’t know if I cried. I do know that at the time, it made me hate myself, and it made me hate going to class. But I had no choice. I wanted to go to college. I lived in a tiny little town, part of a regional district that took three whole towns to make one high school. My parents couldn’t afford private school. I had no options, I had to stay.
If it had stayed verbal, I probably could have dealt with the assaults. It didn’t. One day I came to class; like any other day I hiked the stairs of the old school, and got to class a little early (I never used my locker… I don’t even remember where it was, but it would have been a joke trying to get to it and then to class without being chewed out for being late). That day, the teacher wasn’t there yet, but he was, as well as most of the class. I think he was waiting for me. I got to the door and he was standing there in the frame. He wouldn’t let me in. I tried to push past him, but he was a good deal bigger than me. I got frustrated, and was about to walk away when he pulled the pointer out.
It was one of those old, three-and-a-half foot long wooden pointers with a bullet-shaped rubber tip, and a short nail in the back end to hang it on the wall, near the chalkboard. He scratched my arm with it. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do. He scratched again, on my other arm. And again. I started to walk away… I don’t know where I thought I was going, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to stand there. When I turned around to leave, he scratched me, HARD, on the back of my neck. I was trying to walk away down the hall when the teacher walked up. She didn’t notice the scratches. I tried to tell her what happened, but she was flustered, and told me to go in and sit down. I did.
After Spanish class, I had lunch. There, my friends noticed the scratches, which were bleeding and swollen. I explained what happened. They told me to go to the nurse… I resisted a bit, but finally agreed and asked some teacher for permission to leave. The nurse was shocked. She put Neosporin on the cuts. She told me she had to tell the principal. I begged her not to; I was so scared. I went back to lunch, and then to my next class. Sometime during that class, I was called to the vice-rincipal’s office. I explained what happened. The vice-principal asked if I wanted to do anything about it. I said yes. His response? If I wanted him to do anything about it, I would have to sit and tell my “side” with the other kid there, next to me. I refused… I was so scared. He said if that was the case, there was nothing he could do. I left. I cried in my next class. Quietly.
When I got home, my parents noticed the cuts. They were really obvious. I told them what happened; my dad was furious. I’ve maybe never seen him so angry. He went into the other room and called the school. I remember him shouting really loudly. He told me when he came back that they’d promised to suspend the other kid. I didn’t feel much better. A little bit, maybe.
The next day, I went to school. The guy who’d cut me was there, too. In Spanish. Walking the halls. The next day, too. And the next. I don’t know who told me, but I asked someone (a teacher, maybe) what was going on. They told me his mom was on the school board, and that she had insisted there was “no way he could have done such a thing!” He was never suspended. He was never punished. I had physical scars for a year. I hated that guy for longer… more years than I’m proud to admit. I wanted some sort of retribution. At some point I let it go, but it tainted – it scarred – a part of my soul for a long time.
Please never take bullying lightly. I recovered. My scars healed, but so often, and for so many, they never do. So many beautiful lives are lost each year to the trauma of bullying. Please, no more. Never again.
If you read all the way through our first-ever Revolutionary Read of the Month post a few days ago, or you’ve been looking around the site recently, you probably saw this mentioned. #WhenIBegan is a hashtag campaign that we’re starting at Collage Colorado… and it needs your help! If you haven’t already, check out the #WhenIBegan hashtag campaign page!
Watch the intro video below!
The world can be a scary place; this is something that as adults – and more intensely as parents – we know all too well. Too often, an awful event happens and floods our TV’s, radios, and news feeds with images and words of something terrible that people have done to others. In the past year, it feels as though we have been reminded of this more than usual… between the school shooting in Parkland, school protests and teacher walk-outs across the country, and immigrant children being separated from their parents and held in cages, a lot has happened that hits close to home for parents and families.
Try as we might to keep our children innocent of the dangers of the world, the reality is that our children are seeing and hearing many of the same things as we are, though frequently without the context we have as adults. Giving that context to our children can be nerve-wracking in its own right (which is why we frequently avoid it), but there are some simple tips to remember that can make it easier to talk about it, and take some of the fear out of it for our kids.
1. “YOU ARE SAFE!”: The very first thing to do when something scary happens in the world is to remind our children that they are safe, and that there are lots of people who are only focused on keeping them that way. Just like adults, the first thing kids look for in a crisis is stability – in the form of people, places, or even things. Reassuring children that in the moment they are safe and secure goes a long way to diminishing stress.
2. BE HONEST: After safety, foremost in talking about a scary event is acknowledging that it is real. This might seem counterintuitive, but the fact is that as caregivers and educators, credibility is key, and pretending that a terrible event didn’t happen, even though it’s likely being mentioned all over the place, only damages that credibility. It’s better to be honest, but perhaps limit the details. Which leads us to our next tip…
3. KEEP IT SIMPLE: The key to talking about any difficult topic with kids is to keep the details simple. Kids want honesty, especially when things are scary or they don’t understand them, but at the same time, kids don’t need all the details, and some of course are going to be too much for even the most mature child to understand (and again, uncertainty is often the scariest part). So, keep your explanations brief and pointed. If your kids ask follow-up questions, answer them (remember #2, about being honest), but again, remember to focus on the details that they can handle.
4. CHECK IN FREQUENTLY: Just because an event has ended, or even that media coverage has stopped, does not mean that it’s been forgotten, and this can be especially true for kids (think of the last time your child saw a scary movie… how many days or weeks did it take for them to stop talking about it?) More than that, kids often are anxious about bringing up tough topics, and they may avoid it, even when they desperately want (or need) to talk about it. That said, make sure to gently check in with your kids regularly for a few weeks after a major event, to be sure that there aren’t lingering fears or concerns.
5. PLAN AN ACTION: Ultimately, when it comes to problems (of any size) kids are just like adults – words are great, but actions make them feel best. Actions help us to push back against the things that scare us. The main thing is figuring out the right sort of action; something that feels significant, but of course not triggering. One really great way to get kids involved is a community action – neighborhood projects or discussions are a good low-key way for families to get involved. Volunteering for a local nonprofit that is working on the issue at hand is another great way. Some parents may choose to get involved in protests (our family is all about this), but if that is how your family decides to be active, make sure that the demonstration you’re attending will be friendly and safe for the kids (otherwise, the demonstration can be as triggering as the initial event!)
Navigating scary events will forever be a challenge, and no checklist can ever totally prepare us for when bad things happen, but hopefully this list helps. If you or your family have other suggestions for cutting the stress and fear when big events happen, please share them in the comments below!
Recently, we posted a list of 10 Books to Inspire Kids for the Summer, but parents deserve some reading love during break, too; besides, it’s just as important for us adults to push our minds and our limits as it is for our kids. With that in mind, the following is a list of books that should push your thinking, stretch your comfort zone a bit, and (at least for white parents and educators) challenge some of your conceptions of privilege, race, education, and access to systems.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates’ seminal work is simultaneously a powerful personal narrative, and at the same time a scathing indictment of systemic racism as it is practiced in the United States. It shines a light on this institution and its many facets that is frequently painfully, brutally bright, but always necessarily so. The book is not easy to read, but Coates’ voice and presentation make it both emotionally and literarily accessible.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow forces us to face the reality of racially-biased mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, and the modern extension of slavery (at present, most states ban uncompensated work in all cases except as punishment for a crime). Alexander’s work is powerful, painful, and still utterly salient six years after its original publication. (If this work speaks to you, we also highly recommend the Netflix documentary 13th).
The Skin We Speak, Edited by Lisa Delpit
The Skin We Speak is a collection of essays and reflections from teachers and teacher educators who have worked (and are working) to push back against the numerous structural iniquities facing students of color, queer students, and students of other marginalized identities in the United States. The book explores a variety of perspectives, and attempts to offer some broad solutions as to how to address these incredibly important issues. Delpit is a must-read author for educators and parents alike.
Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, by Lisa Delpit
Every teacher will attest: students strive for the bar you set for them. Unfortunately, institutionalized racism has built a system wherein students of color are frequently held to the lowest possible standard. As a result, many educators and administrators ultimately then see what they expect (whether there or not), and students of color then bear that weight, only increasing their struggle to grow.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We really feel that this title of this book speaks for itself (and should be common sense to everyone anyway), but if it doesn’t, or you’re looking to feel really inspired, we highly recommend that you watch Adichie’s TED Talk. Adichie’s book is a direct extension of her Talk, exploring why feminism is so important across all boundaries. Adichie does a wonderful job of meshing personal narratives with extensive research to frame the tremendous importance of practical feminism.
White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race, by Ian Haney López
We commonly think of race as a social construction, and in large part it is, but the reality is that race, and whiteness in particular, has been hotly contested from a legal perspective for more than a century in this country. White By Law explores this through a series of case studies that ultimately illustrate that whiteness has nothing to do with fairness of skin, and everything to do with a narrow set of ill-defined rules and designations that revealed whiteness to be, in essence, the absence of culture.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
Melissa Harris-Perry is perhaps best known for her long running show on MSNBC (now sadly cancelled), but she has also been a longtime professor at Tulane University, and an author. In Sister Citizen, Harris-Perry explores the intersection of Blackness and femininity, and how those combined identities can lead to both a tremendous amount of strength and leadership, and equally a deep well of pain. Moreover, she explores the many frameworks through which Black women have been framed in American culture. At the end of the day, this is a phenomenal book, and no words can do justice to how beautifully MHP delivers the ideas inside.
Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality, and Education, by Cheryl Matias
Dr. Cheryl Matias is a brilliant, invested, and engaging motherscholar, single parent to three wonderful children, and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. She is formerly a classroom teacher and a long-time teacher educator. As a result of her many roles, Dr. Matias has a unique perspective on the state of education, and this is exceptionally evident in her book. Feeling White is a deep and largely academic exploration of the impact of whiteness on education and the typical classroom in the United States.
Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, by Paulo Freire
Freire is a staple of critical race theory (CRT) and post-colonial philosophy; he is best known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Pedagogy of Freedom is an extension of that work, looking at the developments and changes that have happened in education and CRT. It is a short book, but incredibly powerful, and still relevant decades on.
Wise is a well-known standout in social justice circles. He is a bit of a standout in pop culture – a cisgender white man who openly owns his whiteness, and is willing to stand up to institutional racism. Wise’s book White Like Me is a foundational piece, exploring his journey from privileged, ignorant white man to ally and activist. It was not an easy journey – it never is – but Wise presents it in a way that is incredibly accessible. For those just beginning to explore social justice as more than an abstract, this is a fantastic place to start.
Are there any other books you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!