Bullying and ING’s Work – Speech given at #IAmAmerica unity event

This speech was delivered by Islamic Speakers Bureau member Bahira Metwally at a #IAmAmerica unity event held at San Jose City hall on November 20th, 2016.

One of the most heart-wrenching impacts of this election cycle and its aftermath is the jump in both hate crimes against and bullying of Muslim, African-American and other minority students. The FBI this week just issued a report showing that hate crimes against American Muslims surged 67 percent from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015, the second highest since 2001. These included attacks against individuals, including murder, and vandalism and arson against mosques, among other hate crimes. In the days after the election, there have been reports of a new uptick in hate crimes, harassment, and bullying of Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics, and other at-risk groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center received reports of over 300 hate crimes since the election, as of November 14; the most frequent targets were immigrants, African-Americans, and Muslims. Even here in the relatively tolerant and liberal Bay Area, we’ve seen increased harassment and bullying in the wake of the election, including an attack on a Muslim student at San Jose State who wears hijab. We have to insist to local government and law enforcement that such actions do not go without consequences.

We are also hearing disturbing and widespread reports of bullying and harassment of minority students, including Muslim students, for whom increased bullying following episodes or events that relate to Islam and Muslims has been a long-standing reality. This includes being labeled with the “terrorist” slur that has remained a constant since 9/11, and girls wearing head scarves being targeted for abuse ranging from verbal attacks to the tugging or pulling off of their scarves. Bullying for students of any background leads to anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and even suicide. It’s a deadly reality.

Even worse than bullying by fellow classmates are bias and verbal harassment by a teacher or staff member. While we have heard reports from across the country of inappropriate comments by teachers over the past year, since the election it appears that some teachers across the country have become suddenly emboldened to make Islamophobic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic remarks to students, including comments such as “you and your family are going to be deported,” or “don’t make me call Trump and get you sent back to Africa.” Given the power inequality between teacher or staff and student, such assaults hit young people even harder than bullying by their peers.

At ING we have tools for parents, teachers, and administrators that build understanding of at-risk students and provide tools to address and stop bulling. We work with school districts and teachers to ensure that all students feel supported and that they do not suffer misunderstandings, bias, or discrimination because of their religion, ethnicity, or background. As school administrators, parents, and community members we must work together to ensure that all our students feel safe and welcome in our schools; we must have zero tolerance for bigotry and bullying, whether by students, teachers, or staff members.

Not only that, but we must teach our children to be upstanders in the face of bullying, bigotry, and hate, no matter who the target. It is not the job of the bully’s victims to repel the bully, it’s up to those around them to support and defend them, as we have witnessed in recent days with numerous stories of bystanders protecting those attacked because of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference. Along with the stories of increased bigotry are heartwarming stories of a university in Michigan where students gathered to protect Muslim students praying, and of a group of students in Minnesota who wore a headscarves in solidarity with Muslim students. It is these small acts of kindness and humanity that give us hope as a nation that we can overcome, we must overcome, we shall overcome.