When we look at the violence constantly inflicted upon marginalized groups, we have to understand our part. People mistakenly think there are two roles: the perpetrator and the victim. But that isn’t the truth. The actions we take or do not take changes everything. When you are capable of taking action but stay silent in the face of hatred, you become complicit in a system designed against the marginalized.
In last month’s “Racism Depends on Power,” we talked about a 13-year-old (whom we called Mary) who has been physically, emotionally and verbally attacked by classmates at Wilson Middle School in Chowchilla for several years because of the color of her skin. She has been called racial slurs in front of teachers without any action being taken. According to her family, the administration has continuously downplayed and dismissed their concerns.
“Racism is a virus and we need to find a cure,” said Mary’s father.
Mary’s father is aggravated and tired. Under the circumstances, any parent would be. Her parents aren’t asking for anything more than the standard: “We expect and demand that the Chowchilla Elementary School District provide our daughter/student a safe, fair, healthy learning environment in accordance with state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination and racism in schools.” A child should be able to attend school without being constantly under attack.
On May 3, a student we’ll call Ashley held Mary in the girls’ restroom against her will, blocking the door and pushing her. Mary pushed her way out and immediately headed to Principal Zach White’s office to report the incident.
Mary’s parents received the following message after school from the principal: “Good Afternoon, This message is to let you know that [Mary] came to me today and reported that she and another girl pushed each other in the bathroom at lunch. Both of the girls will receive lunch detention for pushing each other. If you have any questions, you may call or come down to the office.”
The situation was clearly being oversimplified as Mary had clearly been the victim—not an equal participant.
On May 4, Ashley had some of her friends harass Mary early in the day. Mary ignored them. Ashley then approached Mary during lunch, harassing her and trying to intimidate her. Mary ignored her and walked away. Ashley proceeds to push Mary from behind and pull on her hair. Mary defends herself, breaks free and runs off to the office, hoping that something would finally be done about the abuse.
Mary was again reprimanded for defending herself.
On May 10, Mary became aware of a rumor that Ashley was planning to beat her up. Mary reported this rumor to the administration and avoided Ashley, including avoiding talking to her.
Instead of acknowledging the real danger to Mary, Vice Principal Erin Henley and Principal White came up with the idea of forcing Mary into a meeting with her bully.
Mary was brought to the vice principal’s office to try to force her to talk with Ashley, who had attacked her on May 3 and 4. There was also a rumor being spread that Ashley was planning to attack Mary at school. When Mary relayed that she wished to continue avoiding Ashley for her own safety, Principal White accused Mary of “wanting to keep drama going.”
What kind of adult tells a victim of constant assault that they should end drama and talk with their assailant?
On May 15, Mary was approached by another student calling her names and questioning why she was a snitch. He promptly let her know that Ashley was planning to beat her up.
Clearly trying to force Mary into talking to her bully was not making the “drama” end.
Mary’s family has made it clear they are not backing down.
“We are pursuing and taking all the legal action necessary to ensure and protect [Mary], and bring about change, justice and fairness for all the students in the Chowchilla Elementary School District, and Wilson Middle School, and not just the non–African American/non-Black students.”
This school has repeatedly violated the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, AB 537. AB 537 was passed by the California legislature in September 1999 and signed into law by Governor Gray Davis. This law prohibits discrimination in California public schools on the same grounds used to define hate crimes under California law.
It is the school administration’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for students of all backgrounds to grow and learn. Actively ignoring racially charged attacks is in violation of this goal and of California law.