I still struggle on daily basis attempting to make sense of my past experiences and one of those experiences being High School bullying.
The bullying which I experienced in High School I believe initiated my problems with self-esteem, body image and identity which lead to me encountering certain individuals later in life who preyed upon these insecurities and took advantage of them.
The majority of the bullying I experienced was psychological, rather than physical and I think to some people that automatically makes it seem less serious and impactful, however for me this bullying changed the fundamental aspects of my being – it changed how I saw and thought of myself, which still affects me to this day.
My memories of school go back to primary school. I went to a pretty non-ethnically diverse primary school, the majority of people being white. You could spot which child was me straight away from looking at the class school pictures. I remember up to a period of time I did not realise there was a difference between myself and my other classmates, but that homogeneous ideal soon evaporated. I remember both in school, as well as in out-of-school sport classes and holiday clubs; other children were quick to notice I was different and had no problem questioning me about the reasons behind my differences. I remember other children constantly wanting to touch my hair and asking me questions about why my hair was the texture it was. I also remember other children asking me why the insides of my hands were white but I was black. I remember being questioned about the size of my lips and being called “poo”. I also vividly remember when another black child joined our school in Year 6, the other children were quick to ask me if my brother had joined the school. This was the type of primary school I went to, therefore I learned to be shy in an attempt not to have a magnifying glass put on me, I didn’t want to stand out anymore than I already did. In primary school I was very shy and often did not talk to other pupils or teachers, I mainly had one close friend who I would talk to and when that friend wasn’t in I would spend the whole day in silence. During the final years of primary school the other children would have “girlfriends” and “boyfriends”, however none of the boys would like me and I soon began to think this was because I was different from everyone else and this difference meant that I was ugly and undesirable. Despite being this young, I would watch shows about plastic surgery and imagine how I would look if I had plastic surgery to change some of my features. I would also imagine how I would look and possibly if I would have more friends and perhaps a “boyfriend”, if I was lighter or white myself.
I went into High School with these same insecurities. This time my High School had a pinch more of diversity in it, still not many black people however there were some mixed race and Asian students. However this did not save me from the ignorance and racist bullying, in fact not only did these comments come from the white students they also came from the mixed race and Asian students. When I thought back to my time in primary school I thought maybe those experiences were not racism, maybe instead they were ignorance because we were young children and that’s how young children are. However my time at High School could not be played off as ignorance, despite the majority of teachers refusing to recognise the blatant racism and bullying I was experiencing. This time not only did I have to deal with the questions and the unwanted touching, I also dealt with being called names like the N-word. I distinctly remember two of my mixed race classmates , who happened to be related themselves, calling me a monkey and making monkey noises to me whenever I saw them, not recognising that they were half-black themselves. Not only this, but as in primary school, teachers struggled to pronounce my name. Teachers would mispronounce my name as “A-liar” and then the whole class would laugh and outside of classes my bullies would get a rise from also calling me this. I wanted to disappear, not only did I hate myself and the way I looked, I also hated my name. I would dread registration and also dread when the main teacher, who after numerous attempts had finally worked out how to say my name, wasn’t in so we would have a substitute teacher and they also wouldn’t know how to pronounce my name.
In primary school and the start of High School, some of these encounters would make me cry however my mum told me not to cry in front of these people because then they would know that they won in making me upset. Instead of crying I should ignore them. My mum also told me that I should never lay my hands on someone unless they did it to me first, because I was black and I would automatically be looked at as the aggressor and the troublemaker. So as the bullying continued on a daily basis for years, I learned to hold everything in and not react. I would hate coming into school and learned to always walk with my head down and quickly, on my way to school and in the corridors. Although I detested school, I actually liked learning I loved history, classics and Italian and my mum would never let me miss a day of school.
After some time had passed some of my bullies began to get more confident and in class one day one decided to mock me in front of the teacher. The teacher did not do anything at first and neither did I. However after class she held me back, I assumed I was getting in trouble for something but she actually asked me why the students were laughing at me and pointing and I told her it was because I was black. The teacher reported this to the head of year who said they would launch an investigation. I believed nothing would happen, as usual. However this time something did, the students involved were given detentions. This incident was not the end and actually made things get worse me. I was now not only bullied for my race, I was also bullied for “having a chip” on my shoulder and also being a “grass”. After this occasion, I would often get bullied both in front of and in the absence of teachers, who if there would pretend they did not notice anything. I also used to have a circle of friends who would be present during occasions I would be experiencing bullying and humiliation, but these friends would do the same, in pretending they did not notice anything. Some of my friends would also copy some of the actions of others, such as calling me the N-word, but believe they were doing this as a joke rather than it being the same as the actions of my bullies.
I soon began to accept that I should expect this behaviour and treatment from others. I felt stuck in an endless cycle of experiencing abuse from others. I would also get pushed in the corridors and have things thrown in my hair during class. But I was shy and it wasn’t in my nature to respond in a hateful way back using my words. It is incredibly difficult explaining how I felt and even today as I replay back situations in my head, I chastise myself over not saying anything back. Why did I not stick up for myself. Why did I just accept my role as a victim. Why did I let this experience penetrate my thoughts and self-worth enough to see myself as what they were calling me and how they treated me.
Some people experience PTSD from combat, I think when PTSD is mentioned the first image in a lot of people’s heads are war zones. However my PTSD began following High School bullying.
I still struggle with feelings of worthlessness and I often find myself feeling trapped in an endless cycle, but this time I’m trapped in my head.