Blackstone mom: Parents need to ‘wake up’ on racist bullying

Blackstone mom: Parents need to ‘wake up’ on racist bullying

Erika Richardson, of Blackstone, is pictured here with her two kids, ages 13 and 10. Richardson said her daughter experienced bullying at Hartnett Middle School related to her race.

BLACKSTONE – A Blackstone mother says the community needs to do a better job of addressing racism after her daughter experienced racist comments and bullying at school.

Erika Richardson is the mother of a 13-year-old student at Hartnett Middle School. She said her daughter, who is biracial, started experiencing racist taunts and bullying a few years ago when she was in elementary school.

“The kids just started, ‘Oh, your hair looks a certain way.’ It started off like that and then the kids got a little older, started calling her the n-word, calling her a slave. One girl told her to go kill herself,” she said.

Earlier this year, she said, a classmate called her daughter the n-word when they were on their way to lunch. Though the school dealt with the issue and disciplined the student at the time, Richardson said the incident continued to have an effect on her daughter.

“She was on honor roll, she won awards for being kind at school, all that stopped second semester,” she said.

At first, she said, she thought the slipping grades were a result of the pandemic. Like other students, her daughter went back to school on a hybrid basis in January and returned to class full-time in April. It was only after school staff recommended she bring her daughter for a medical evaluation that she learned she was suffering from depression and self-harm as a result of the bullying.

“It’s all just still resonating in her head. She just keeps going back to it, and it’s got her really down,” she said.

Richardson met with school staff and administrators to come up with a crisis intervention plan for her daughter, but she thinks the issue goes beyond her family’s situation. After learning of the extent of the problem, she shared her story on Facebook, where many others spoke up about being bullied as a result of differences in race or ability.

“It’s not just her, it’s anyone in the school district who doesn’t fit in with the norm. They’re the ones being targeted,” she said.

Richardson said she thinks the problem starts at home. In many cases, she said, children watch the news or overhear conversations with their parents where they pick up on racist comments and attitudes.

She said she thinks the bullying only got worse over the past year as the Black Lives Matter movement and news coverage of police shootings brought race-related issues to the forefront.

Richardson said she also believes social media is a bigger part of the problem than many adults realize. She said she does not allow her children to have social media, partly due to concerns about bullying on the platforms, but she thinks many parents need to do a better job of monitoring what their children access and share online.

“They’re going to run with whatever’s put in their head. They’re so easily influenced, and people need to pay attention. They need to stop trying to be friends and they need to be parents,” she said.

BMR Supt. Jason DeFalco agreed that conversations around race have become more prevalent over the past year. Last spring, he said, a group of students and staff formed “Chargers for Change,” a social justice group that has brought speakers to the high school on topics related to acceptance and immigration. The group is working with the Anti-Defamation League to bring programming to the high school and is also looking to work at the middle school level, he said.

“We started with the ‘No Place for Hate’ pledge and having all the students at the high school take the pledge,” he said.

DeFalco said the district also looks to tackle topics of inclusion as part of its Choose Love curriculum, which is used for social-emotional learning.

DeFalco said he was saddened to learn about the bullying that happened to Richardson’s daughter. In the past, he said, the district has occasionally dealt with situations where students used inappropriate language toward each other and used anti-bullying protocols to address the issue.

“Nobody wants anybody to feel that way. Particularly when you’re talking about children coming to school every day. This should be a safe place for every student. That was upsetting to me,” he said.

He also said the district will continue to address diversity-related topics both in terms of race as well as other types of diversity. The BMR student body, he said, is 85 percent white and 15 percent students of color.

“When you are addressing issues of diversity in a community that is primarily white and Caucasian, it’s a different conversation. And an even more important conversation,” he said.

Richardson said her daughter has a close group of friends who “would go to bat for her” and supported her through the bullying, but she still has concerns about attitudes in the community.

“She has a little brother. I’m worried about him growing up and going through the same thing,” she said.

She said she’s hoping next year will bring a fresh start for her daughter as she begins high school.

In the meantime, she encouraged other parents to talk with their children about racism and bullying and “wake up” to what’s going on in the community.

“The healing starts at home, but the hate start at home,” she said. “We’ve just got to do better. We have to do better.”

Comments

No one is born racist. It's learned. If your child says racist things, look in the mirror.