Brooklyn, NY: A girl in 9-year-old Malik Jones’ * class called him a monkey and said he was dirty. Other students started repeating the girl’s words. When Malik touched something, classmates would wipe the spot he had touched.
Malik is one of three African American students in his elementary school class in Brooklyn. The class is predominantly white, but includes some Latino and Asian children.
“Malik would come home every night and want to wash his hair, but he has dreadlocks and he doesn’t need to wash his hair that frequently. Then we found out he was being called dirty at school,” recalled Mark Jones, Malik’s father. “He is the darkest child in the class and the only one with dreadlocks.”
One day in class, the girl who led the teasing made a mocking reference to “Malik’s face.” Malik had a tantrum. When his father was called to pick him up at school, Malik could not stop crying. “For five to seven minutes, he kept crying and repeating the words “ever, ever, ever,” Jones said.
Malik’s parents have had many meetings with his teacher and school administrators about their son’s racial harassment. After identifying the young girl’s behavior as bullying, the teacher read a book to the class about bullying behavior, hoping to change the children’s relationship. The outcome of this intervention is still unknown.
Jones told school officials that his options were either to ensure that the classroom environment changes, or to pull his son out of the school. The school has pledged to address the issue, but Jones remains guarded.
“My son was having an experience in the school that caused psychological trauma for him,” he said. “I want my son to learn that skill set of coping with people who are racist or simply insensitive…but I don't want him to suffer through this.”
Millions of families experience the trauma of bullying and harassment. We are looking to the Not In Our Town Network for advice, guidance and best practices.
How do you transform an environment where a child is being harassed?
What would you do if this were your child? If you were the teacher or school administrator what would you do? What can a PTA do to help support families like the Joneses?
If you are a parent, has something like this happened to you?
Please share your responses, expertise and stories in the comments field below.
*Note: This story is based on an interview with the boy’s father, who asked us use a fake name to protect the family’s identity.
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