In the neighborhoods where I spent a good portion of my childhood, I was the only white kid that I knew, other than my sister. Everyone else was black or Puerto Rican. As you can imagine, I stood out like a sore thumb and my sister’s big mouth didn’t help me either.
“My brother knows Karate and he’ll beat you up,” she used to say. I think she still says it.
"Telling people I was a Green Belt in Karate was supposed to scare them."
I remember the bullies on my blocks mocking my Karate and beating me up to the sounds Bruce Lee used to make in his movies. And honestly, I didn’t know anything about Karate except for the two books I would constantly check out of the school library, one was a cartoon book and the other was a making of Enter The Dragon book or something like that. Telling people I was a Green Belt in Karate was supposed scare them so they wouldn’t mess with me. The bullies on my block couldn’t care less about what color belt I had, what I knew, or who I knew.
There was one incident that happened in the backyard of my Mom’s friends house while we were visiting her. While my Mom and her friend smoked cigarettes and tried to come up with the next winning lotto number, these kids came over and started a fight with me and my sister. When my Mom and her friend noticed this, they came out to help us. Not only were these kids not afraid of adults but they started throwing rocks at us.
I would pray every night for God to get us out of there. By this point in my life I had seen people get shot, including my own mother and quite honestly, I didn’t believe in God, but since nothing else was working I figured I would try it … just in case He was listening. I even made my sister start praying with me every night. As the prayers went unanswered I became more and more resentful of my mother for putting me in this situation, of my sister who kept getting me in trouble with her mouth, and of being different.
I hated my life. I didn’t know how to stop all of this. I was thinking about suicide as early as 7 or 8 years old.
If only I was black. Being black was something I would sit back and fantasize about. If I was black, it would be easier. My Mom’s boyfriend, who was black as well, would laugh when I would tell him that I thought being black was easier. Then he would follow with a lecture of how tough it is to be a black person in America.
I didn’t care about living in America. For all I knew, we were in Viet Nam. There was fighting everywhere. At home, at school, at the playground, in the corner store. Yes, in the corner store. I actually got into a fight inside the store.
No, what I cared about was fitting in. I cared about being able to go to the store and not getting into a fight. I cared about learning my times tables in Math and not having to figure out who I was going to have to fight that day.
Plus, I wanted a kick ass name like my friends, Jamarico and Tamika. Ha. I’m serious. That really did cross my mind as a benefit to being black.
This is what I felt like.
It was crazy though. I had constant anxiety and constant fear with no help in sight. I was falling behind in school because I would either not go or if I did go I was more concerned about protecting myself than learning what 6 times 7 was.
By the time we moved out of those violent neighborhoods, I was violent, physically and verbally. I was violent towards my brothers and sisters, my Mom’s boyfriends/husbands, classmates, and even school officials. At Southern Cayuga Elementary school my desk was literally inside the Principal’s office. I had become something I hated most, a bully.
When I started my Martial Arts training, I was hoping to learn how to beat up multiple people at once. You know, just like how Bruce Lee would do it in the movies. Little did I know that I would find a mentor and a Father that would teach me not only what it was to be a Martial Artist but what it was to be a real man.
I was in awe by Sifu Kevin Seaman. He could beat up anybody he wanted to but he didn’t. He was respected and had this power that he didn’t abuse anybody to get. People looked up to him, volunteered to do things for him, brought him gifts on his birthday. I know, this sounds like I’m describing a scene from one of my favorite mafia movies but this was the real deal. No guns and no violence.
He was an example to me that articulating your feelings, communicating honestly with others, and solving problems in a non violent way wasn’t just for pussies. It was what real men did, powerful men.
Math is fun!
These skills were difficult for me to develop; like learning how to multiply when you’re in 5th grade and should have learned it when you were in 2nd grade, but I did it. I learned how to solve problems, not create bigger ones. I learned how to build people up, not break them down. I learned how to take the negatives from my past and make them positives. And even though I do lose my temper on occasion, this is my daily focus.
The point is, I’ve been on both sides of bullying and what I have learned in those experiences helps me, help others, every day. So now that you’ve gotten through the longest introduction to a how to article ever … let me ask you to stay focused for 2 more minutes and read how to handle either side of bullying behavior.
If your child is a bully
The first thing you have to understand is that you have to address this. Do not think ignoring your child’s bullying behavior will make it go away or that it will get better on it’s own. If bullies are not taught more appropriate ways to solve problems, they become abusive parents, spouses, and bosses.
You also have to set the boundaries for acceptable behavior and accept no excuse from your child for not staying within those boundaries. Bullies give us all kinds of reasons why they did this, why they did that but there is no excuse for abusive behavior, period.
There needs to be consequences for abusive behavior as well. Apologizing is not enough. They use abusive language, they lose their phone priviledges until they can demonstrate that they know how to speak properly and respectfully. Let them know up front that this is the consequence of using abusive language.
Later, you can discuss with your child better ways to handle the situation that got them into trouble.
If your child is bullied
The best thing you can teach your child is not to respond to bullying, to get away. Most bullies will be less likely to pursue them and will move on to someone who is an easier target. Teach them to avoid bullies, if they can.
They also need to know that if avoiding them doesn’t work, they need to get help from somebody who is more powerful than the bully, like you, a teacher, or police. Your child should not have to fight because someone else is abusive.
Getting hit in school is assault and you parents out there that are reading this shouldn’t back off when it happens. Make the bullies parents have to go get their child at the police station. See if that doesn’t wake up the bullies parents to their child’s abusive behavior.
Teach your child that fighting back isn’t always about throwing a punch. Be encouraging. Help your child work through the situation. Give your ideas to them. Don’t just step in and take over. Then your child will feel helpless on both sides. Can’t deal with the bully and can’t work through things on their “own”.
Finally, let your child know that if this bullying doesn’t stop and/or the situation doesn’t improve, you are going to step in and protect the innocent whether it be your child or someone else’s.
It sucks to be bullied. As a parent, it is your responsibility to provide a healthy environment for your children. There should be zero tolerance for violence and zero tolerance for bullying; in your house, in their school, and in the neighborhood. Demand it and support it.
Find a good, reputable Martial Arts school, like CNY MMA, and enroll your child. A good school will help bullies learn better ways to achievement, recognition, and solving problems than abuse. And that same school will teach your child ways to avoid bullies, what to do if they are bullied, and how to protect themselves if it becomes physical.