Mrs. Lily Chin, mother of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in 1982 by autoworkers who blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s troubles. His killers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, were fined $3000 and never spent a day in jail.
by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Last Thursday, my son, eight-year-old Little Brother, did not want to go to school. No fever. No stomachache. No runny nose. Normally, I am a big softie when the children do not feel well, but that day I had to go to the courthouse, so no time for fooling around. As I carried him to school under one arm, socks and shoes and breakfast and backpack under the other, he finally admitted that he did not want to go to school because something had happened on the playground a day earlier. Nothing too serious—definitely not bullying—just boys playing a little too rough, but he was frightened. He did not want to get his friend in trouble, but I told him that he had to tell, if only to help his friend learn how to become a better friend, and to let the grownups know to keep a closer eye on the foursquare. Together, we went in to tell his teacher and the principal, after which Little Brother was able to go to class without worries.
The Trayvon Martin case was wearing heavily on my mind. It was important to me that Little Brother tell his teacher and principal as “practice.” Time to review the skills I teach my children in preparation for the bullying and hate crimes I hope never come. Because when it happens, one can never think quickly enough, these skills have to already be there.
Say Something: When I was a child, I did not know I was supposed to tell, or when I did I was completely ignored. So I tell my children that if they experience or witness any bullying or name-calling, to stand up for their friends and to tell an adult. If that adult does not do anything, then tell another adult, and then another. Similarly, parents have to set an example and say something, too. (If their friends are the aggressors, then they should say something to their friends.) For practice, I encourage them to challenge their friends instead of simply going along, “Ewwww, Twilight. Thank you, but no.”
The Exact Words: Whether or not a bullying incident or crime is racially motivated needs proof, usually in the form of the words spoken at the time of attack, including threats and slurs. When my children tell stories around the dinner table, I often ask, “What did she say, exactly?” especially when it seems like they might be exaggerating or generalizing. (This is a useful skill for future journalists, too.)
Identify: Pay attention to what people look like and learn to recognize and describe people of different races (and what they are wearing). We joke about “All you people look the same,” but this is a skill that can be developed to help identify witnesses and allies as well as attackers.
Call for help: Move towards people, telephone a friend, or dial 911 for help. The girl that Trayvon Martin was talking to on the phone when George Zimmerman started following him became a witness this way.
Write it down: Write down what happened as soon as possible, in as much detail as possible, before you forget. If bullying is continuing, keep a log of all the incidents, with names, dates, details, witnesses.
Record it: 68-year-old veteran Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. was shot to death in his own home by police last November. However, the whole thing was recorded by his medic alert system, including his own testimony. Kids always have an iPod or cell phone in their pocket. Make sure they know how to use the record function so that they can record without looking at it, without taking it out of their pocket.
For Parents: Get involved in your children’s schools, extracurricular activities, and community. This may sound benign, but the reason to get involved is that in case anything happens, then the people in charge already know you, trust you, and will be more willing to help you. Support civil rights organizations before you need them.
I cannot stand having to prepare our children of color for the possibility of bullying and hate crimes, but even worse is to imagine the many ways justice can go wrong afterwards.
Thanks to Roland Hwang of American Citizens for Justice, the civil rights nonprofit formed after the baseball bat beating death of Vincent Chin, for his ideas.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media’s Ethnoblog, Chicagoistheworld.org, PacificCitizen.org, and InCultureParent.com. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.