Yesterday, I was walking home with my sons after school. It was a typical day, sun shining, warm but not hot, suburbia splattered all over the sidewalk. Frankly, I think, we’re living the dream.
Walking about 50 feet in front of me was a young boy and his mother. The boy was carrying a bag with his name on it: Muhammed. Across the street were a boy a girl, likely brother and sister, both well dressed, handsome and blonde. I’m guessing 3rd and 4th graders. I walked out of the school yard surrounded by all these children and more. Like I said, it was a typical suburban day.
“Hey Muhammed! Hey Muhammed! Hey! Hey!” the boy across the way started to yell.
“Muhammed! What’s wrong with you? Muhammed? I hear [inaudible name] likes you! She’s a weirdo!” the girl cries out.
Then the mocking kicks into high gear. A lot of it is hard to make out, but at one point, Muhammed turns and yells something back, and his mother leans in and whispers something to him. My guess, she was telling him to just ignore those kids. And yes, you just read that correctly — the kids were bullying Muhammed from across the road RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS MOTHER. When I was a kid, even the cruelest of bullies wouldn’t pick on someone when an adult was in earshot, let alone the MOTHER of the object of the bully’s contempt, lest his mother call your mother, and man would you ever get it. That used to be the key component of being a bully — they were actually just scared little bastards who lacked the balls to say something when the risk outweighed the reward. But apparently, no more.
I thought about it a little more, and realized that no way would these kids be mocking young Muhammed in front of a teacher. But somewhere, along the line, someone taught them that while teachers are to be respected, the parents of other children are not. You don’t learn that in school. You learn that at home.
The mocking continues from the little girl, and finally, I’ve had it. At this point, I have no idea if they are bullying Muhammed because of his ethnicity, or if maybe he is just a weird little kid. I mean, they exist. My thought is it’s the former, I hope it’s the latter, and either way, it’s going to stop, and right now.
“Hey,” I holler. They both look. “Watch your mouth.”
The boy looks at me, unsure, but decides he doesn’t need to respect me, either.
“Muhammed, you’re not funny. But your name is!” the boy shouts.
“Oh yeah,” I shout back, “what’s YOUR name?”
The boy and girl both quickly run off in another direction, apparently done with their bullying for the day. Either they sensed that maybe I was the kind of person who would follow them home and tell their mother what they did, or they were just bored. I hope it’s the former, I bet it’s the latter, but either way, it’s over.
Muhammed’s mom glances back at me, smiles, nods, and goes on her way with her son.
Fast forward to this morning. I decide to talk to Hank quickly about what happened. During the entire exchange, he had hurried ahead with his friends, and didn’t see or hear any of it. So I lay it out for him. I tell him what the kids were yelling, what I said, what I think about why they were yelling. I reinforce a lesson I have tried to teach him over and over about how he has the choice to walk away from bullies. I tell him that’s it’s unacceptable to mock someone just because they are different from you, whether it’s their name or the color or their skin or any other reason. I explain to him why I stepped in and what I said to the kids.
And you know what he said? My beautiful 7-year-old, looking as serious as possible, looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Muhammed’s not a funny name. Sounds normal to me.”
It might just be baby steps, but maybe we’ve come a little further than I thought, at least in my own little slice of suburbia.