Are You an Upstander Every Day?

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”                             –Elie Wiesel

By now, you have probably heard of Karen Klein, the New York school bus monitor mercilessly bullied by a crowd of 12-13 year old boys on a school bus. As the boys continued to torment Klein she remained calm and did not retaliate, at one point telling them that if they didn’t have anything nice to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all. After word of this incident got out, a complete stranger set up a fundraising site that has raised over $600,000 to date so that Klein could go on vacation and feel a little of the kindness that she could have used that day on the bus.

In reading this story, the classic roles are easily seen: the bullies/perpetrators, the victim, and the bystanders (all those students who were clearly within hearing range, but did nothing). Who is missing? The Upstanders. Those people who are often called heroes, champions of causes, doers of good. Where were they? No doubt about it, many of us feel that if we were there, we would have done the right thing. We would have made it stop. Unfortunately, we have all had chances to be an Upstander that we let pass us by. Whether it was ignoring the girl everyone made fun of in school or joining in heckling a fan of an opposing team for wearing the wrong jersey to the game. She’ll be fine. He deserves it. Sticks and stones, right?

Wrong. It is in these every day instances that we have a chance to shine. Bullying is everywhere, and it doesn’t take much to see it happening. It doesn’t take much to stand by, or even to join in, really. It takes more to stand up and say, this is wrong, we’re better than this. No one deserves to be attacked verbally or physically just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we stand up for these unfortunate folks, we make their world a better place, even if just for a moment. And sometimes a moment is all it takes to change someone’s world.

If you want to learn more about Karen Klein’s story, here are some links to get you started:

How is it that Asian Americans are the Most Bullied and Abused Ethnic Group in America?

This post comes from Paula Nourse, the Director of Marketing at the DHM

I am a woman of African-American and Native American decent. I am also director of marketing at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance where the study of Jewish history and the Holocaust have become a passion for me. Because of this background, you might think I am desensitized to the incivility and inhumanity that human beings can heap upon on one another. Desensitized? Not at all.  I watched as discrimination and bullying destroyed my father’s spirit. I have listened to the horror stories of my Native friends who talk about the rapes and kidnappings of children by non-Native people which still occur on reservations today. Despite my knowledge of the realities of racism and bullying, I was floored to learn that Asian Americans experience more discrimination, bullying and intolerance than any other ethnic group in the United States.

According to Jeff Yang who writes for the Wall Street Journal, “young Asian Americans are facing a bullying epidemic. Last year the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education released a joint study showing that over half of Asian American teens said they’d been the subject of targeted abuse at school, versus approximately a third of blacks, Hispanics and whites.”  AAPI Nexus reported that Asian American students are bullied in American schools much more than students belonging to any other ethnic group.

My mind is full of questions. What? How? Why is this happening? Let’s start with “what” and “why”. According to Yang, Asian Americans are disproportionately targeted for abuse due to their real or perceived “social awkwardness, physical frailty and academic overachievement…” He adds that there is a rising tide of animosity toward immigrants and to those who look different. Many Asian Americans are also misperceived as being predominately Muslim.

Why didn’t I know this was happening?  I knew that anti-Semitism is once again on the rise. I know first hand that the election of Barack Obama did not usher in a renewed acceptance and understanding of African Americans. The problem is that targeted bullying of Asian Americans goes largely unreported.  Yang writes, “cultural and familial expectations push [children of immigrants] to submit to bullying” and they suffer in silence.

Their silence in the face of bullying has its consequences: “over the last ten years, depression rates among Asian Americans have skyrocketed.” Suicide is now the fifth most common cause of death among Asian Americans.

One such suicide caught international headlines recently—Private Danny Chen killed himself after allegedly facing considerable bullying and abuse by his fellow soldiers while based in Afghanistan due to his Chinese heritage. All bullying is wrong, no doubt about it. But the fact that these victims are suffering silently is a tragedy.

Now that I know about this tragedy, I’m going to tell others…and that’s just a start.

Bullying: What Can You Do?

Bullying is everywhere in the news today. From tragic stories of suicide to triumphant tales of kids who have overcome the challenges bullies provide, this is definitely an issue worth talking about. At the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, we know that bullying is just the first link in a chain of negative actions that can lead to the unthinkable.

If you or your child is a victim of bullying, you know that finding a solution isn’t always easy. Here are some resources that can help:

It is so important that we all become Upstanders whenever we see bullying around us. Together, we can keep bullying from becoming something more sinister.