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:

Happy Birthday, Anne

This post by Katie Adams, museum volunteer

I remember the first time I heard of Anne Frank. I was in seventh grade, and we were required to read her diary as part of our study on the Holocaust. My introduction was of the commonest variety–school children around the world read her diary, many when they are around 12-13 years old. I’m certain that this has to do with making the events and victims of the Holocaust real and relatable, and in my case, this goal was achieved. I was never the same after meeting Anne, or learning about the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.

After learning about Anne’s life and times, I felt the need to be a better, kinder person, to know what was happening in the world around me, and to be prepared to stand up against injustice whenever I could. I took to heart Anne’s feelings that people were mostly good, and have done my best to believe so in a world that would tell me otherwise.

When I heard that we would be collecting copies of Anne’s diary to help schools in need share Anne’s story and legacy, I was beyond thrilled. How many lives could be positively impacted because of Anne’s words? How many students would have an opportunity to learn from Anne, and to learn to love her? Today, as we celebrate her birthday, I am excited and encouraged by the thought that at this time next year, a whole new group of students will have met Anne for the very first time, and that our museum will have played a role, thanks to the countless visitors and friends who care enough about making the world a better place to donate a copy of Anne’s diary.

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.

It’s Not About One Man, It’s About America—It’s About All of Us

A personal reflection from Paula Nourse, Director of Communications

It was Martin Luther King’s birthday.  The children of Dallas were on holiday from school.  A few days before someone asked me, “Why does one man [MLK] get his own holiday when there have been many great presidents who have to share President’s Day?  It doesn’t seem fair.”  I work at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance so I practiced some–tolerance.  I allowed the question to smolder without offering a whisper of response.  The ashes from that smoldering question swept into my mind where they flicked and floated for days until they gently began to massage my unsettled thoughts.  

Many presidents, like MLK, lived amidst great controversy.  Many received death threats and four of those threats also became assassinations.
Many presidents struggled in a morally bankrupt, corrupt and destructive system, as did MLK.

Like MLK, a few presidents truly did leave the world in a better condition than they found it—for everyone and not just for some. One president in particular was a champion for justice and racial parity, as was MLK, and they had a great respect for each other. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 on behalf of President Kennedy who conceptualized it and who was a stalwart in defense of it prior to his death.  MLK was dedicated to leading a movement that would end in reforms for equality—peacefully, until his death. 

Not one president was jailed, but a couple should have been.  MLK spent some time in jails including the Birmingham jail where he wrote his profound Letter From Birmingham Jail.Many presidents left behind timeless and powerful quotes, as did MLK, whose voice had the smooth timbre of river rock, the power of a locomotive, and the sweet music of hope.  

So why, you ask, does one man deserve a day with his name on it? Martin Luther King was a member of an outcast and historically abused race of people. He was jailed for his peaceful insolence.  Yet in one short life time he moved a mountain and became a founding father for freedom and civil rights that made all Americans free.  He did this at a time when it was not legal but quite okay to spit on, bully and beat up a person of color– male or female, child or adult.  And, he included everyone, not leaving anyone out of what he wanted for the future of his country. He taught generations that there were alternatives when dealing with hatred, bigotry, inhumanity, and fear.

These facts and outcomes may never answer the question for some people and that is a little frustrating for some of us.  But those of who get it will stand up and peacefully defend the rights that protect those who are curious, the challengers’ and the naysayers’ freedom to keep asking that question.