Racism used to be an every day part of my life--from all sides. Nobody was immune, though I do know that I cannot begin to truly understand what it's like to be black in the rural South. As a little girl, I didn't understand that there was racism, not really.
My first year of public school, I started riding the bus. I was a first grader. I was painfully shy. I wasn't a racist, even if I didn't know what that meant at the time. I sat with a friendly girl my age and we grew to be friends. I'll call her Lynn. The bus was all ages. 1st grade through 12th. Of course I sat with the kid my age who smiled and talked with me. There were a few others my age and eventually we grew to be friends, but Lynn was my first school friend. Ever. Wonderful, right?
You see, Lynn was black. I am not. A few of the older black kids on the bus started picking on her, teasing her, tormenting her, for being my friend. She cried. Really, when a mean high school student is pinching you and taunting you for talking to the white girl, what are you going to do? As a first grader? She stopped talking to me. (Just to be clear, when I say "they" I don't mean everyone on the bus, but there were quite a few in the group.)
It didn't end there. They picked on her until she had to pick on me, or they'd hurt her. The forced her to become a bully. Eventually, she did bully me. From then on, I was physically threatened, taunted, and completely miserable every time I had to ride the bus. I was only in first grade then. I'd never faced anything like that before. I eventually did everything I could to sit near the bus driver. This helped some. But I couldn't always manage that. When I had to sit near the back, I was hit. My hair was pulled. I was made to sit on an older boy's hand and he tried to fondle me. At that age, I didn't understand anything other than it was wrong and I managed to get away.
I was truly afraid of riding the bus. I became the favorite bully target of my once-friend, Lynn. I carefully planned things so I could get to the bus fast enough to sit up front. The bus driver didn't do much to protect us other than yell. He didn't report bullying. It wasn't really done, then. It wasn't really reported by anyone. This continued through elementary school and middle school. By high school, I decided to wait hours after school to ride with a family member after work--all to avoid being bullied on the school bus. I'd rather sit in my grandfather's truck for three hours than ride that bus.
This is what I went through. Every day. Scared of being beat up, pinched, hair pulled, being taunted. I dreaded it. It had a huge impact on my life. But I was so very lucky, in the end. Because this kind of bullying, though it scared me and made me scramble to avoid being beat up (even hiding behind seats), I knew it really had nothing to do with me. Not really. They didn't know me. They never touched my self worth. I was scared, but I never thought any less of myself, not even for being scared. So yes, I was lucky, because no matter what they did, it wasn't about me.
And I hope that's what anyone being bullied can hold onto. It's not about you. It's about them--how they're striking out, how they're the ones in the wrong. Not you. Hang in there, and report it. Today, I know I should've made that bus driver face what was happening on his bus, I should have told the principal (one of them--this happened through three schools), and I should have told my dad. I didn't. I faced it alone and stayed silent. Don't do that. Speak up. We'll all listen.
Please visit more authors participating in Authors Against Bullying. There are so many stories out there, so many people who can help, just by being there and telling you what they lived through. Let's stop bullying in its tracks. Let's stop the fear.
photograph by The U.S. National Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Rees, David, 1943-