More Details on Racial Harassment Case in Michigan

The Detroit Free Press has more details about the 8th grader from Bloomfield Hills Middle School who was bullied and repeatedly called a nigger on a school bus. The bus trip was to a band event. He’s the only black kid in the band and the only one on the bus. A description of what happened:

“Eight kids from the bus were interviewed,” she said. “The average number of times they heard Phoenix called the n-word was 20. And this is a number the principal gave me.”…

The taunting began during a bus ride to a band festival. Williams, the only black student in his band class, said he sat toward the front when one of the accused students sat behind him and asked what he thought about the n-word.

“He said it out of the blue,” Williams recalled. “I told him I felt uncomfortable and that I didn’t want to have this discussion. I told him to leave me alone but he kept repeating the word over and over.”

Williams said he was surprised that neither of the two adult chaperones heard the name-calling. He said other students heard it and were laughing.

The classmate then grabbed the hat Williams was wearing and threw it toward the back of the bus.

“He told me to get it and used the n-word again,” Williams said. “Nobody helped me, nobody said anything. And I just sat there and I was frustrated and upset and confused… and kind of afraid.”

Williams, who plays the trumpet, said he had been looking forward to the band festival but played poorly that day.

On the way back, it got even worse.

Another classmate joined in on the taunting, and this time it was someone Williams had known since elementary school.

According to Williams, the one classmate told the other he’d give him a piece of candy if he called Williams the n-word. Williams said the student – the one he had known for most of his life – repeated the word several times. He said other kids sitting nearby did nothing but laugh at the situation.

“I just felt betrayed,” Williams said. “And once again, afraid and confused.”

He said he’s positive that if he hadn’t recorded it on his cell phone, no one would have believed him, and I’m sure he’s right. Just a horrible situation and the kids who did it may actually face criminal charges for it. Time will tell.

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  • Pierce R. Butler

    A good thing college fraternities haven’t opened high-school chapters yet, or he’d’ve had the whole bus chanting racist idiocies at him.

  • John Pieret

    Williams said he was surprised that neither of the two adult chaperones heard the name-calling.

    You’re young yet, kid. I hate to say this, but you’ll get used to adults turning a blind eye to people abusing you.

  • marcus

    John Pieret @ 2 “You’re young yet, kid. I hate to say this, but you’ll get used to adults turning a blind eye to people abusing you.”

    I was abused in a similar fashion, though it never really rose above the level of intense and more or less relentless ridicule. My harassment was class based rather than racially motivated and it was rare that I actually felt physically threatened or afraid, just humiliated. I still had white privilege shielding from the worst of it. I am definitely not saying that I have experienced the depth of the pain that you must feel, the betrayal.

    I just want to say that it does get better, much better. You are obviously a sensitive and intelligent young man and you will make friends and surround yourself with people who love and respect you, as many do now. You’ve certainly earned my respect, for what it’s worth.

    You have the potential to have a magnificent and remarkable life, most of those little racist assholes you’ll be leaving behind will be lucky if they even get a clue.

  • grumpyoldfart

    The white boys are safe. Mummy and Daddy will make sure their babies never have to face up to their responsibilities.

  • lofgren

    I guess I am probably the only one who thinks this description of events makes the incident seem less serious than before. Based on this description it does not sound like an ongoing pattern of racial bullying, just normal kiddie bullying that happens to have a racial component. While eighth grade is a bit old for this kind of thing, I certainly recall being both party to and a victim of similar incidents when I was a kid, as late as sixth grade at least, and at times directed at and received from people who I would consider my friends both before and after the incident.

    And again I am not saying this isn’t serious, nor that the racial component should not be addressed. But it is imperative that the students understand WHY this incident is different from the dozens of similar incidents that they would have witnessed in the normal course of growing up.

    Children will conduct these kinds of experiments. The thrill that they were getting from victimizing this boy was in repeating a word that held no power for them but did hold power over him. His discomfort turned the word into a kind of magic spell for them. That kind of power is incredibly seductive to young people. The very delicate position that the school is now put in is to try to respond to this situation so that the victim feels that justice has been served BUT ALSO so that the bullies learn and understand what they did wrong and why it is wrong.

    Here are some courses of action that I would consider IN ADDITION to swift and immediate individual punishment.

    1. An assembly involving EVERYBODY on the bus, including chaperons. Possibly for the entire school or the entire grade. The assembly would include photos of lynchings, marchers, and other images from the civil rights struggle and a discussion of that history. Possibly also images of protesters holding signs with similar language directed at the President to show that this is an ongoing problem. If possible there would also be either a professional speaker or a Black parent who is willing to share their experiences with racism. The assembly should include discussion of what a person should do if they see somebody being victimized in general, and based on their race specifically. If only the students on the bus are present, observers should be asked to explain why they DIDN’T step in to help.

    2. Having the boys write a letter to their victim apologizing and explaining why they did what they did and why it was wrong. If possible, have them read the letter to the victim’s face.

    3. Having everybody on the bus write a short essay about a time that they felt like victims, how it made them feel, and what they wish that somebody had done to help.

    4. Some kind of ongoing punishment doled out in small doses for the main perpetrators. The punishments that have stuck with me were not the ones that were over with quickly. Once, for example, I was required to give up about two months of lunch periods. I would go to the main office and eat my lunch there, and then I would help out with any office work that the secretaries put to me. If they had nothing for me to do, they would turn me over to the janitors. If the janitors had nothing for me to do, they would turn me over to the shop teachers. The work was not grueling, just tedious, and it gave me plenty of time to, in the words of parents everywhere, “think about what [I’d] done.” Even though it only amounted to 20-30 minutes a day, I was still spending some time every day thinking about how I didn’t want to ever get caught again a full two months after the incident.

    The problem with suspension or taking away the boys’ extracurricular privileges is that it really requires cooperative parents who will use the time to address their behavior in an effective way. The school simply cannot count on that. Maybe the parents are overindulgent or simply do not have the time or resources to make sure that the bullies are properly chastised. Maybe they are racists themselves.

    Involving the law seems counterproductive. While it would certainly drive home the importance of not getting caught, it’s unlikely that the boys will learn the proper lesson. Instead they may feel that they are being treated unfairly or that their victim is getting special privileges. Remember this is most likely just one more in a long series of such incidents that they have witnessed. None of those other bullying incidents are unimportant, of course, but simply ratcheting up the punishment is not going to educate them. It will only allow them to nurse their own feelings of victimhood. That’s how you make young Republicans whining about how Black people are the real racists. Sometimes more punishment isn’t the best way to teach.