To continue on this week’s theme of anti-discrimination posts, I thought I’d share my experiences of bullying with you.
If you’ve read my most recent post on racism, you’ll know that I am an advocate for standing up for yourself and others, as well as knowing your rights because knowledge is power.
For me, it all started at home. I have lived many years with an abusive father.
In many collectivist communities such as the Chinese community here in Singapore, it is the norm to live with one’s parents until one is married. This supports the idea that children are meant to care for their parents/elders when they are adults, as is tradition in the Confucian philosophy of filial piety. But what does one do when there are no feelings of piety due to an abusive relationship? In my case, I have tried resolving the issues with communication but with no positive outcome because my father is in denial of his actions (comes with the territory when you’re a narcissist).
In situations like these (IMHO), sometimes the best option is to cut and run. As much as we want to make some relationships (and some people) work, they just can’t or won’t. Sometimes it’s not personal, so the best thing to do is to look out for your own welfare despite social expectations.
Another common source of bullying for me was the schoolyard. I was not particularly unpopular as a child so I was never the kid eating lunch alone in a restroom stall, but I do remember sandbox politics and the cattiness that came with attending an all-girls-school. There were instances of manipulation and power play that would make a politicians’ antics look juvenile. The dreaded words: “I don’t friend you” were one of the most traumatizing things to hear as a 7 year old, because that usually meant you lost the friendship of not just one person, but everyone that they could influence to turn on you too. I remember being made to choose sides, being on the receiving end of the cold shoulder, having taunting songs made up about me (and my friends), and having cruel rumors spread designed to ruin my reputation. There were also instances of other girls being physically harassed, lunch money stolen, and schoolbags hidden or dumped into ponds. Kids can be bastards.
When high school rolled around, similar occurrences of bullying could be seen everywhere. It was torment to spend my first day of lunch eating alone in a classroom because no one wanted to associate themselves with the tall strange girl who spoke English and not Mandarin. It didn’t help that no one from my old school had transferred to this new high school either. My first damning moment was when I found a book at my desk with the name “Nathan” scrawled across the top, and asked the class who Nathan was so I could return his property and they all laughed then continued to make jokes of it for a year. The cause of this humiliation? I failed to pronounce the name in the Indian phonetic Nātaṉ, but instead had said it as Nāṯān. It felt like there was a big joke that I was left out of because I had come from an English-speaking family and primary school. I was mocked for being too good at the language, accused of being stuck up because I did not speak any dialects, and possessed an accent slightly different from theirs. Ridiculous? I thought so too.
An opportunity for further torment arose when our form teacher assigned a community building exercise. She had us sit in a circle on the floor with pens in hand, then passed around folded pieces of paper with our names printed on the front. We were to anonymously write one comment about the person who’s piece of paper we were holding, then pass it on and repeat. When we got our papers back, we could open them and read the contents. Mine was heartbreaking. Every insecurity I had about what others thought about me was confirmed on this one flimsy sheet of folded blue paper. Sprinkled with a small handful of compliments from my friends (I recognized the hand writing), the rest were stinging jabs at my accent, weight, shape (I was an early bloomer and my boobs were the topic of interest for many a not-so-whispered conversation), apparent snobbery due to my background/language/grades, and height.
Although I can look at these comments and brush them off as an adult now, they did scar me a little back then. No one wants to be picked on, it is not a pleasant feeling no matter what age you are.The best retaliation I had at the time was to pour every inch of my mind and soul into studying and doing well in my exams so I could advance in the class ranks. It worked, because the very next year, I was placed in an advanced class and never had to deal with my bullies again. In my new class, I met classmates who did not discriminate, and fostered close friendships that are still dear to me even to this day. This just goes to prove that knowledge is power, no matter how you apply the principle.
I wish I could say things get better with time, but I think this is not entirely true. There will always be ugly people in the world who make it their mission to come for you no matter how you live your life or carry yourself. The only thing that changes is perspective. It gets better only because you learn to deal with the negativity in a positive manner. In my childhood and teen years, music, writing poetry and journaling helped immensely and were my catharsis. These days, I find positivity in the friends that I choose to surround myself with, the activities that I do, further education, and activism.
Your best weapon is to know yourself and live in your empowerment.
Like Manila Luzon says, “make em’ eat it and gag!”