I was a victim of racist bullying
Andrea was bullied to the point of bunking school simply because of the colour of her skin. She urges anyone facing this kind of racial abuse to speak out.
Once again I found myself locked in the girls’ toilet, crying and struggling to catch my breath. School had become my own private hell. My self-esteem had hit an all-time low; I hated myself. Dabbing the milk off my hair that one of my classmates had thrown at me, I knew I was a victim of racist bullying, but I couldn’t help but blame myself.
Early school life
My earliest memories of school were happy ones. When I was 10, my parents sent me to boarding school in Kenya, where they’re originally from. They thought it would be valuable for me to experience my own culture, and they were right. I had the time of my life and an enriching education. Being in an international school gave me a great understanding of different nationalities and cultural attitudes. All of my classmates were so open-minded and understanding. And we all took advantage of the beautiful landscape and wildlife.
Back to the homeland
Although I enjoyed Kenya, I was excited to come home when I was 13 and start a local private school. The first few days posed no problems and I spoke to a few girls in my class. But on the third day, however, I noticed some girls pointing and laughing at me. I tried to ignore it, but later one approached me with an evil grin. She asked me about living in Kenya and I thought she was just interested to hear about my culture. Instead she called me that disgusting word that has been used by ignorant and evil people for years, nigger, and said people like me didn’t belong in the school. I felt sick to my stomach. Never before had I experienced racism on such an explicit level.
Things only got worse from that point. Because my tormentors were popular, most of the year group either went along with the racism, or just ignored me. People would whisper and laugh as I walked past. When the teachers weren’t around, they would call me names, such as ‘jungle girl’ and ‘shadow’. Although I knew these were stupid and disgusting comments, I still took them to heart. I went from feeling proud and special, to ugly and alienated.
Then it escalated. They started throwing milk at me at lunchtime and taunting me for how my hair was different to theirs. On a daily basis I was sworn at, told to go home, and that my family should die. The ‘n-word’ was also thrown about regularly. The bullying made me feel so ashamed of myself that I didn’t tell my parents or teachers. I suffered alone, running to the toilets repeatedly to cry.
My marks at school plummeted and I hardly went out. I was a shell of my former self. I started bunking school, using faked sick notes and making phone calls pretending to be my mum. But my school worked out what I was doing and one day I came home to my parents, stony-faced, saying we needed a talk.
Letting it all out
My parents were so angry. They thought I was just being a rebellious teenager and grounded me. But when I finally told them I was ashamed of my race, they were shocked and appalled. It took weeks of meetings with teachers for me to finally admit what had been said and who’d been saying it. I was so low in myself; I thought I deserved the bullying. But, when I did open up, I was assured that racist slurs are beyond wrong and ignorant.
I was pulled out of school as the teachers took action. Diversity workshops were incorporated into the curriculum, the bullies were suspended and their parents were called in for meetings. They were told that the police would get involved if the behavior continued.
New school, new start
However, my parents didn’t want me to go back, so they put me in a new school and my first week couldn’t have been more different. Initially, I was wary of the popular groups due to years of abuse and prejudice. But after making friends with a lovely mix of people, I was made to feel special and normal again. As I was called up in front of the class as the ‘new girl’, people seemed genuinely interested in my Kenyan background. I wasn’t different to these people, but a part of them. I felt at home again.
Stand up for yourself
Racist bullying in schools is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated. But it can still go on when the teachers aren’t around. It can be very damaging to fight against, especially when you’re only a teenager. This is why it’s so important to tell some if you witness ANY kind of racism. Different ethnicities should be celebrated and embraced, not punished.
- If you have witnessed or experienced racist or xenophobic harassment, please submit your experience to iStreetWatch who track racist and xenophobic harassment in public spaces.
- BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call on 0808 800 2222.
- The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Andrea Bew
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
Photo of girl by Shutterstock and posed by model
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