On an adoption web site I recently saw a topic concerning a child who was being bullied by another boy. The discussion seemed to be more concerned with whether the bullying was racially motivated [the child is from Guatemala], or whether it was even bullying to begin with, and not just “normal” child’s play. I remember very clearly the bullying I went through, and then the adult formalized versions of this: Glass ceilings; calling into question of citizenship; etc. But I’d like to open this up first: Were you bullied? What were the motivating factors? What percentage of this were your adoptive parents aware of? How did they respond? Expand as you wish….
I’m posting my reply from the adoption web site, expanded a bit….
I feel for this boy now in your care. I was bullied as a child, either verbally (being called “sand nigger”) or worse. The discussion of “whether this is racist or not” is indicative of the problem itself. American culture is, in and of itself, racist. The bullying of my youth turned into glass ceilings in adulthood, and now a questioning of my citizenship. From the fact that most adoptive parents live in de facto segregated neighborhoods (by race and/or class), to the fact that we are pussy-footing around the issue both point to the reality that things like race and class cannot be discussed in American society openly and honestly.
But the problem is greater than this taboo, or this boy’s physical strength, and although the answer seems to be in the physical realm—self-defense lessons—more empowering would be giving the child the mental and emotional backup that would allow him to stand up for himself. This you cannot do I’m afraid, because you are of the dominant mode of things, just like this bully. The act of adoption was, when all is said and done, an equal or greater violence than what he is suffering at the hands of this other boy. I am stating this to just provide the framework needed to get somewhere here.
If I had had the grounding of a family of my ethnic background, or a community to fall back on, or else figures from the historical past or communal present to look up to, I might have had something to fight back with. But my family too was white. My schools (up to a certain point) were private and white. My neighborhood had a large Lebanese community, but they did not see me as “one of them”. Everything my family said to me in good faith—that race didn’t matter, that what was on the inside mattered, etc.—didn’t hold up when students in my first grade class asked me point blank: “Why are you brown?” and then shunned me after that.
So the answer I want to give you is that you need to empower this child psychologically speaking. But to do this calls into question the very act of how he came to be with you. This is a Catch-22 that I do not envy. For unless you are willing to marginalize yourself, and stand down from your class status, or question the mythologies concerning America that you might be beholden to, you are unable to all of a sudden be spouting Frantz Fanon, or Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, or Malcolm X.
For the boy, I would say he needs to be empowered physically, as well as emotionally and psychologically. But this will require a lot more from you, and not so much from the systems of dominance that you are seeking redress from: social workers, the school district, the psychiatric community.
I only felt empowered after returning to my land of birth, some 40 years after my adoption. I wish I could say there was another way, but I do not know of any.
I whole heartedly agree with Daniel. I was bullied relentlessly when I was a child through out the whole of my school life. I never said a word to anyone. Empowerment is the key giving the child a strong sense of self and identity. And yes physical empowerment or the “threat” to others that he is not a push over. I do not condone physical violence and I’d say it is something that should be avoided at all costs. However depending upon what the child is interested in I’d say investigate some good martial arts schools something that will give the child not only the physical side but also the philosophical side to the art so it is not just about physical. Is it possible for the child to also take a trip back to Guatemala?
[Variations on “bullying of adopted children” are at the top of the list for search phrases coming into the site.]