Targeting Intolerance

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Slappy and I had to run what is hopefully our last set of errands for house stuff at Target today. While Slappy was waiting for a sales associate to bring out another set of stackable plastic bins, I went to find myself a Shred DVD (which I'm fairly sure I'm going to hate when I actually put down these vanilla cinnamon sugar coated almonds and open it).

I found myself walking behind a group of 5 middle school/high school aged boys. I thought they were girls initially, because, DUDE, the boys in skinny jeans thing is terrible. I'm sorry, I don't even like skinny jeans on women, and they look RIDICULOUS on boys. Especially the flaming orange ones that one of the boys was sporting. And the long bleach blonde hair didn't help much.

Anyways, as these boys who were way too cool for everything walked down the aisles (an observation that had nothing to do with their clothes and everything to do with their actions. Please don't misunderstand, I noticed and didn't care for their outfits, but they would've been all but forgotten had it not been for what happened next.), I couldn't help but watch them. It was like a train wreck. Just as we got to the DVD section another boy walked up (wearing totally normal clothes) walking near his mom and he slowed and said hi to one of the boys.

The skinny jeans boy he'd said hi to waited until the normal pants boy's mom passed and then loud enough so I could hear, but quiet enough so the mom didn't notice called the boy a faggot.

I won't lie to you, my immediate reaction was to stop the skinny jeans boy and smack him upside the head. My second reaction was to stop him and SCREAM at him.

In the end, I didn't do anything. And on the one hand, I regret it because I wish I'd intervened. I wish I'd have ranted and raved and made a huge deal, one so huge that they'd remember it every time they uttered the word. So maybe the next time that they decided to bully a kid they'd remember that at least one person, one time, said it wasn't cool.

But on the other hand, I know that it would've made absolutely no difference at all. It saddens me to say and think this, but I think those boys are lost causes in this area. I can practically see them morphing into intolerant young adults and the intolerant asshole adults that plague so many of my days. And it just kills me.

When did bullying become this rampant and when did we start to valuing fashion and social status more than character? And how did we, as adults, let this happen? How didn't we teach our kids better?

And is it too late to fix this mistake?

12 comments:

Laurie in NJ said...

Katie,
The horrible things I could tell you that my son has been through in just the past week alone would make you cry. Kids are horrible and the parents that let it happen are even worse! I have a loving and kind 13 year old boy who during the school year is teased cruelly on a daily basis. He hides most of it because he doesn't want to let on how hurt he is, but it all came out the other day when he had enough. It is sad what is going on these days and what parents let their kids do.

The Artful Blogger said...

Take solace in the fact that, in all likelihood, skinny jeans dude will be working for the person he bullied. Karma is a wonderful thing, as I have found out. That is what allowed me to survive my own years of being an Indian person attending a Southern private school founded to avoid desegregation. If the other boy can navigate his way through the idiots in his class, he will succeed.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Have to pipe in here as the mom of a skinny jean wearing AND mohawked 16 year old. He is an AWESOME kid and the clothes he wears don't make a darn bit of difference. He also happens to be 6 feet tall and weighs barely 120 so the skinny jeans are as much as necessity as they are a fashion statement. He is a skateboarder and skinny jeans are the thing to wear. Baggy jeans just don't meld well with skateboards.

I totally get that some kids are assholes and that bullies should be smacked upside the head. But don't make it about the clothes. OR the hair.

Connor knows that some people WILL form an immediate impression based on his appearance but he's ok with that. He likes himself and his appearance and is one of the kindest kids I know.

And he still tells me he loves me and wants to (at least occassionally) hang out with his mom and dad!

Hallie :)

Overflowing Brain said...

Hallie-

I won't lie and tell you that I like skinny jeans (especially orange ones, I'm sorry), but the clothing was only being used as a description. I totally did not mean that all those who wear skinny jeans are like these boys. In fact, I hadn't even considered that at all. So I'm sorry if you're offended, it was certainly never my intention. It was meant to be a story about bullying and nothing more.

Also? I think mohawks are awesome. Seriously. Awesome awesome awesome. I'm so mad I didn't do one on Slappy for the summer.

Carolyn said...

WW of W is right, you can't make it about the way they look. But your instincts were right about intervention. I say intervene next time. It won't make a damn bit of difference to the boys doing the bullying, but the boy being bullied, although he will never show it, will remember that someone stood up for him. And, like Laurie, I have a kiddo that gets bullied on a regular basis. I feel like bullying has gotten so much worse over the years and it seems to start so early. Anything we can do to let kids know they have someone on their side will help.

Becs said...

I don't get teens and kids now. I really don't and it makes me feel really old. Just yesterday some kid rode by me on a bike and called me an effin b#*ch. I couldn't believe it. I didn't even know the kid.

Jess said...
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Jess said...
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Jess said...

Once again, I'm using my sixteen year old cousin as an example. She uses those words as slang words, which annoys the everlovin' crap out of me. I usually yell at her for it, but she's a dumbass and doesn't listen. That's what happens when you have no parental structure whatsoever.

Sue G said...

Katie, someone taught him better because he was smart enough to wait for the mom to pass before uttering his slur. He just made a choice to ignore what he learned and instead stood up to announce his ignorance to his immediate audience.

I worked at a high school and although I was not a teacher, I believe we all teach others with out words, thoughts and actions. I used to tell the kids that what they thought or said about others was also in some way about themselves (psychological projection). We would have lengthy discussions about this and something inside them would click. It was fun to watch them erase comments from their vocabulary knowing that other kids would respond by saying, "hey, that's about you!"

It took me my entire life plus a cancer diagnosis to learn to watch my mouth because ultimately it harms me more than it harms others.

If only our kids would learn this now rather than later. Either way, tho, it will eventually catch up with them and bite them in the butt.

Eliza said...

Yup, it's a tough call sometimes--as a teacher, I don't want to make a BIGGER deal out of it and make the targeted kid feel even more targeted--but I also think it's essential that kids hear that, no, it's NOT okay to use these words. Not as put-downs, not as "slang" ("that's so gay..."), not as ANYTHING that suggests that being LGBT is negative, etc. I think the degree to which this occurs is somewhat regional, as I moved to FL three years ago and, having thought the world had made at least SOME progress in the last few years, I have never heard anti-gay slurs used so often in my life (whether used as bullying tactics or as--as my students see it--"just like saying it's dumb"). It's so disheartening, but what strikes me even more is how rarely I hear another adult, even in the midst of this major "anti-bullying campaign" call a student out on it. Or, on the rare occasion they do, it's done in such a way as to suggest that being called gay is, in and of itself, a bad thing, which is also problematic to me.

With students I have all year, I have the luxury of explaining WHY using gay, et al, AS A PUTDOWN is a problem, and from then on, usually a simple "That's not cool" will at least get me a muttered "sorry." I'm sure they go right back to using it when I'm not around, but I'd like to hope that, at least, maybe, some of them have started to think about it, and, for those kids who are being bullied, and for those who aren't but are struggling with questioning, they know that not everyone thinks it's A Bad Thing. (And then, of course, there's always the proper use of sarcasm. Ahhh, I just wait for the sucker who says, "That's so gay, man," about a book [or some other random inanimate object], and off I go. "I didn't even know books were attracted to books of the same sex." "HUH?" It's a beautiful thing.

But, anyway, what can you do in that situation? Obviously, your safety needs to come first, but it sounds like that wasn't an issue, and, then, that's when I think a simple, "That ain't cool, man," (especially--as much as I hate to admit it, but, especially--when you appear gender- and heteronormative, and you are going to be perceived by the kids as someone not "that" ;-) old and someone attractive...) just something quick, catches them off-guard, and then, you don't yell at them, you don't lecture them, you don't tell them what jerks they are. You go on your merry way, and, maybe it might reach them, or one of them, and more likely it won't. And, maybe the bullied kid will have heard it, and that will make the difference in what he does when he goes home that night, and maybe it won't. And maybe some random other kid who walked by whom you didn't even notice will have overheard it, and s/he'll tell her/his friends how cool that was, and they'll go start a GSA, and your one comment will actually have affected hundreds of kids. Or, no one but the Sourpatch Kids and the chips aisle will care.

But, I've found that just the simplest, quickest response like that, without giving anyone the chance to respond, seems to get the best response, at least with hallway interventions at school.

Now, (playing off the irony of the intolerance for certain fashion choices. . . ) if anyone has any suggestions for how to get my darling middle schoolers to pull up their pants without my getting a "Why, you wanna touch what's underneath?" in response, that's actually where *I* could use some help ;-). I kid you not. Direct quote.

Beverly said...

I'm sorry to say...but I don't think you would have made a difference with the "cool" kids. That's their parents jobs...and so often the parents simply let this sort of behavior fly.

If it makes you feel better, I do have an 18 year old son who is a really cool kid, athletic, popular,etc., and he still walks with me at Target in normal clothes and doesn't make fun of anyone!