I tutor a young Black boy, Thomas, that attends a predominately White, all male private school where he has been repeatedly traumatized. I tutored him in math for at least two hours each session, and he would understand and internalize the concepts, but then he would get to school and fail a test. I had to put on my social work hat while tutoring him, and I found out he was experiencing some bullying. I began asking him questions like “Are you sleeping at night? Are you eating? Do you have an anxious stomach? Do you feel as though you’re always on guard when you’re in class? Your teacher is telling you to look forward, why are you looking behind you?” Eventually I found out that the bullies were two young men who sat behind him in his math class and that was why he was always turning around!
Thomas was getting in trouble for not being focused and not looking straight ahead at his teacher, and the teacher was getting angry with him. But she didn’t realize that because of where Thomas was seated, he was being tortured every day, having things thrown at him, and he absolutely hated going to her class. I brought it to his mother’s attention and she realized that he actually wasn’t sleeping at night. That explained why he was completely exhausted in math class – he was just tired. He even became afraid to talk in class because the guys sat behind him whispering to him that he was stupid and dumb and that he wasn’t going to get the answer right. And so rather than get the question wrong, he completely stopped trying. He gave up on himself and it was really sad to watch because he was hurting so badly and was only in the 5th grade. It was too much anxiety and stress at such an early age.
His mother and I took the issue to the principal and the counselor. I went in to advocate for him, and we brought both Thomas and the math teacher to try to figure out what all was going on. One of the worst things to hear was that the counselor actually knew everything that we were talking about! Thomas was reaching out for assistance and the counselor didn’t do anything. She hadn’t even gone to the math teacher to ask if they could possibly move seats! The principal even said she was also aware, and that they were taking great steps to rectify the situation to make sure Thomas was comfortable.
I followed up with his mother several weeks later and found out the counselor still hadn’t done anything and that things had actually gotten worse. So now his mother is going to take him out of the school. Now fast forward four months and the little brother of a friend of mine (also Black) is at the same exact school. He’s two years older, but is experiencing bullying to the extent that he’s in counseling. He has to go to therapy twice a week because of the incidences that he’s had with White students and the principal knows this is going on at her school and isn’t talking to the parents, nor notifying the counselors or teachers or deans to make sure they’re aware of these really horrible occurrences.
I think becoming more accepting of one another, of our differences and the things that make us similar, is extremely important. We have to accept people where they are and make sure we stop harming each other. When there’s diversity of thought, when there’s diversity of culture, then there are a lot of opportunities to become more accepting of one another. When you’re always around the same kind of people, you don’t learn. So diversity of culture - bringing in different types of foods and traditions and teaching one another about our different ethnic backgrounds - is a beautiful thing for New Orleans because it’s so diverse in itself. When we get to the point where we want everything to be very cookie cutter, where we want things to be very straight laced, that’s just not the spirit of New Orleans. New Orleans is color and sound and light.