Getting Past the Bears: Racist Abuse in Middle School and the Formation of People of Color Consciousness
The nadir of the day was Physical Education. We were supposed to change into gym clothes in the foggy hell of the girl’s locker room. Bursts of powdery aerosol deodorant drifted across the room, mixing with sickly sweet hairspray fumes, stale sweat and the stench of watermelon bubble gum. The first time I took off my shirt to change into gym clothes, I was surrounded by a circle of older, larger, shrieking white girls. “You should shave your legs, you look like a gorilla!” “Look, that bitch doesn’t have any tits!” “CHINESE JAPANESE DIRTY KNEES LOOK AT THESE! HAHAHAHA!” I cringed into a corner and wrapped my arms around my chest. I never changed my clothes again.
He leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the desk and his hands behind his head. He probably thought it made him look more casual… more on a level with the kids. He said, “Let me teach you a little rhyme. It goes, sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. Can you say that?” I mumbled something and came close to crying. His sigh carried a strong note of impatience. “Do you have any other problems you want to talk about? No? Okay, just remember that rhyme. Bye!”
Ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong.
I’d seen this behavior before coming from packs of white kids. When they see a wounded animal, the pack instinct is to circle, to make probing attacks, to see exactly how weak the prey is. I knew I had to get up, I had to move, or they would keep closing in. But I was paralyzed. I could feel my blood pounding through my veins. I’d gone beyond the point of breaking down in tears; in a few more seconds, I was going to start hyperventilating or vomiting. I had to try something. I used my last coherent breath to choke out a sentence… “Calling me ching chong is the same as me calling you a nigger.”
Other than calling her experiences "abuse," the author doesn't say exactly how they affected her in later life. But we can imagine the effects because we've studied The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence. For instance:
Certainly, there are other areas of life that need to be addressed and which may appear to be more urgent. Crime, substance abuse, incarceration and many other ills are relevant problems that require solutions. However, the root of many, if not most, of these is the lack of self-esteem our children experience. Over the past five centuries our religions, our languages, our ceremonies, the totality of our cultures, have been violently suppressed. Today, youth learn about Indians through distorted depictions in advertising, by watching television and movies, and through the symbols associated with athletic mascots. Not many years ago, some of our friends overheard reservation children, while watching a Hollywood western, voice the hope that someday they could meet a "real" Indian. This situation must change, because without a healthy self-image, our youth are condemned to lives of continuing social and emotional problems.
Minority groups are regularly excluded and marginalized, and the dominant culture is reinforced as the norm. As a result, not only does the audience believe that minorities are bad people, minorities themselves feel excluded from their Canadian identity and believe that they are indeed inferior people. "Negative depictions of minorities teach minorities in Canada that they are threatening, deviant, and irrelevant to nation-building; they effectively serve to instill inferiority complexes among minorities; there are few positive role models," says Mahtani.
Below: "Indians are like savage apes! Ha ha, just kidding!"