Wednesday 19 October 2011

Bullying, racism and the Shadow...

'Mum? Can I talk to you?’ James in serious mood last night. I nodded and we sat on the edge of the bed, looking ahead, cos it’s easier to discuss tough stuff when someone isn’t looking straight into your eyes, isn’t it?
‘It’s school.  They say I’m black.  They call me ‘Blackman’ and say I come from Nigeria.’
‘It’s cos I tan so easily, cos my skin goes so dark.’

Seriously, I didn’t know where to begin, whether to be more pissed off at the bullying or the inherent racism in the little shits. Or to laugh at their sheer fecking stupidity. Anyhow, we talked it through; about how people who bully do so out of low self-esteem; about how people project their shit onto other people (via racism, homophobia etc); about how you deal with bullies (pretty much the same as you deal with internet trolls really) and so on.  But really I just wanted to go into school and pick ‘em up by the scruffs of their sorry little necks and bang their stupid little heads together.  And, seriously, don’t you just wish that schools taught the basics of psychology? Or that parents could get their own shadows under control and not pass them onto their children?  Yeah, right.  Like I’m so perfect! *hollow laugh*

Projection. A psychological defence mechanism where we plonk our subconscious thoughts or emotions onto other people – either one person or a group of people.  Psychologically it's supposed to reduce anxiety by allowing us to express our unconscious impulses and desires without owning them in conscious thought.  In our generally spiritually barren society, in which we generally turn away from the healing power of myth, more and more people project their inner potential, their ‘kingdom’ and ‘queendom’ onto celebrities. It’s heart-rending.  And our shadows?  The parts of us that shame or scare us?  We project them all over the place, willy-nilly – we scapegoat.
Interesting word, scapegoat.  Apparently it’s a mistranslation (ez ozel = the goat that departs = the ‘escape’ goat or ‘scapegoat) of the word Azazel.  Azazel was a demon; also the name of a hill from which sacrifices were thrown.  But anyhow. 
We project our shadow onto individuals (the child who is ‘different’, the ‘whore’ down the road, the drunken tramp, the crooked politician etc) but also onto groups. Men on women; whites on blacks; Christians on Muslims; socialists on capitalists (and, of course, all vice versa and every which way).  War erupts from collective shadow projections – look at any war and you see devils and demons dancing straight from the human unconscious.  

Curiously, the more creativity and ‘sophistication’ in a society, the deeper and darker the shadow annihilation that will loom up in its wake. 
But, see, the shadow isn’t all bad.  We project our darkness but, interestingly, we also project our light.  In the shadow lies power – it’s just that we misdirect it.  

William Blake talks about exactly that in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

Heaven for form, hell for energy – marry the two and you find the highest form of creativity.
How do you deal creatively with the shadow?  I guess that's another post - though I read somewhere that there are language schools that teach by getting you to adopt an identity entirely different from that which you use in your normal life - causing not only swift learning but also great eruptions of energy.  Interesting, huh?

Ah heck.  This is getting a bit complicated for a blog post, isn’t it?  But really, I go round in circles at the moment. 

Back on the bed, I hugged James.  I also said a few things that made him laugh like a drain but which probably aren’t terribly good examples of ‘proper parenting’ so I won’t repeat them.
‘What can I do, love?’ I asked, after we’d stopped laughing (cos really, you have to laugh, don’t you – or you’d just end up sobbing all over the place). ‘What would you like me to do?’
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘It just feels better having talked about it really.’

And, in a world where often there really isn’t anything you can do physically, cos really, it's all crap, it really is - sometimes talking is all there is. 
But then - if you can't find the right words?  If words only make things worse? Then what?  Shit huh?  


Milla said...

Little shits! You know how my boy has suffered from bullies. Even found self, shamingly, crying on phone to teacher last week. I swore I'd keep away now he's in this year, but crumbled. Nothing like this with other boy, but some snobby little bastards in F's school, label-led, judgemental, shallow, venal twats. Sorry, I'm hiding what I think again aren't I. Being equivocal.
It's diff with F and me. He doesn't seem to mind, he's very sussed in many ways, knows what they say is not true and that the sadness is in them, the hurt is in me, something about a vulnerability being so raw in such fierce self-sufficiency. I want to slam their bloody heads together. For me it's the on-going context he is growing up in whereby he thinks it's normal to be mocked. Drives me mental. I need some of his wisdom really. Am sure he'[s lived more lives than the rest of us.
Go James. Arses.

Unknown said...

Please tell his school, it should have a policy about both bullying and racism. As a teacher, I would hate to think of my pupils suffering. My school is multi-national and multi-faith, a big inner city junior school, but we are inclusive and would never allow attitudes like your poor son has suffered to be fostered. Hugs to you both xxx

Anonymous said...

If we lived in a Utopia we wouldn't realise it - we would be blind to it because there would be nothing to measure it against. The world can be a cruel place and often, children can be the cruelest, but in striving to destroy the contrast are we not overlooking the fact that to allow others their freedom in expression and to actively promote this in our children we are then raising our issue with an outlook that says :tolerance is putting up with what we don't want to put up with, but allowing is more powerful as there is full joy in it and its reciprocity is guaranteed.

Anonymous said...

What I'm getting at is this: If we allow others their freedom in expression as long as it's not physically life-threatening and we encourage this type of behaviour then the allowance of everyone will be such that we come to accept that everyone has a right to their expressions and so there is nothing unfair happening.

Eliza said...

I was accused of racism at work the other day. All I did was ask some visitors to leave as it was about 3 hours past visiting! I was so shocked, and upset, still am. In my line of work it would be very difficult as I care for every race and social background there is.
Racism is still out there unfortunately, you'd think in this day and age we'd have got beyond this. I hope James is OK now and the little shits have had a good telling off.

Exmoorjane said...

Milla: Love your fury... :) And yup, sadly I know what your boy has been through (thought of you as writing this) but, as you say, F is a wise head. James pretty sanguine really - just irritated. Arses is it really.

theotheralig: thanks for your kind thoughts... they do have policies but this is one he'll sort out on his own... The racism is an issue here in the country (something that isn't often addressed) because - unlike in the inner cities - there simply isn't a mix.

Bud: re the contrast I think we're on the same page... :) Is the only reason I can come up with for there being divergence/division in the first place. Though, tbh, I personally struggle with it a bit..
Sticks and stones? Words? Yeah, to a point...have a strong enough sense of self-esteem and they bounce off - your troll argument, right? Bottom line for me with children - get them to have good self-esteem (but in practice, bloody hard to do). However I do think everyone could do with being aware of their shadow projections - logical end conclusion being that they may end up in positions of fact, are even more likely to do so than people who are aware of them (politicans generally have the hugest shadows!)...

English Mum said...

Ah I'm sorry to hear that. I recently took the mother of a 'friend' of my son's to task about her son's vile behaviour, only to be told that it was 'a joke'. Oh yeah, texting someone and telling them that nobody likes them and they're a 'f*cking twat' is hilarious, I'm sure.

I honesty don't think the mothers have any clue what their offspring are up to half the time. I'd eat mine alive if they ever treated anyone badly...

Exmoorjane said...

Eliza: Sorry, you slipped in as I was commenting...not ignoring you! That sucks... PC just shoves the shadow onto the other side...and gets horribly abused. Leaves bad taste, huh?

Becks: Yeah, that's the thing, isn't it? My teenage niece had death threats against her on FB a few years back... that was apparently a joke too. Ho fucking ho.

But really, y'all...James is fine. In the scheme of things, it's seriously mild and he's learning from it... apart from anything else, we're finding out about his cultural heritage - Nigeria is a fascinating place.

Jackie Buxton said...

Jane, I was all incensed on your behalf and then I read your final comment about Nigeria being fascinating - he he, that made me laugh. You're right. Bullying is awful and I worry about the mobile/cyber world meaning there's the potential for it to happen 24 hours per day but it sounds like you've dealt with it beautifully and in the end, James will come off best. Stay strong (and smiling)!

Expat mum said...

Gosh - I had to read your first paragraph again to make sure I had it right. In this day and age they're calling him a "Black man"? Ugh.
Whenever mine were called a name, I used to teach them to say something disarming like "So what?" or "And......?" and it usually helped.
Ugh - I hate ignorami. (Is that the plural?)

Tee said...

Fantastic post, Jane. I really liked it. The line "Or that parents could get their own shadows under control and not pass them onto their children?" Is that not the goal?

It's so hard. All this shite, isn't it.

The terrible part is the negativity seems to be contagious. And it;s hard not to let it weigh on you.

I think the real upside is your kid talks to you. Bravo. Really. That;s a feat all in itself.

Rachel Selby said...

You certainly have a very grounded young man there. And kudos to you that he came to you for advice/help.

Anonymous said...

I think retaliating with regards to the bullies is not the way to go about it. Do we not lose some of our power in the pushing against? (written or spoken word)

Teaching self-worth in schools is there, but it's not strong enough and should be top of the agendas.

Yes, it is like the troll argument...don't feed em. A child's mind is impressionable, especially when it is worked on by their peers. The thing is to work more on a childs sense of self-worth so that it's bullet-proof. Hard? Yes, most adults don't have it. Why? Some are unaware that it's available to be used and enhanced and others are just too bome idle t0 realise that if you want something to change then the best place to start is with yourself.

Anonymous said...

The thing about self-worth is that if you don't feel bad about something then it can't hurt you. Tell that to your kids.

Of course if someone calls you a name the response is often kneejerk and hurt, but it's the wallowing in that hurt that is the destructive part. It can not only escalate a situation, but turn in on the one who believes they are a victim.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if people spent more time teaching their kids that they are a unique part of their world, no one else is exactly like them, they have a right to be here and are an essential part of the jigsaw, they might start to get the picture.

Exmoorjane said...

Jax: You have to turn it round... and shit yeah, Nigeria... :)

Expat: Yup, pretty much what I have always told James - best way to deflect that kind of jerk is to agree with them...bit like the West Indian guy in The Hill - you ever see that movie? It's a great film.

Tee: yeah, it's fecking hard... really is...tough enough owning our own stuff and then a stage further trying to ensure it doesn't pass on. But yup, we talk about the important stuff and I hope he will always be able to do that. And I'm pretty proud that he feels he can do that.

Midmum :) - well...kudos to him that he will...

Bud: you know, I think we're agreeing here, hon, I really do. :) I couldn't agree more that self-esteem (without arrogance) should be the #1 thing schools (and parents) should teach. Pisses me off mightily that they don't. Having draconian anti-bullying policies is not the answer - not remotely.
Yes, most people don't realise they can do something about it in their children and yes, many of those that do can't be arsed. And, as I said above, I find the way to deal with arseholes is to airbend around them. :)

Exmoorjane said...

Bud: you're typing too fast for me...
Yup, yup, yup to all of that. Y'know - you should write a post about this... I get too complicated, every time.

Funny thing, just had call from James and he is absolutely fine.

Anonymous said...

Kids are resilient....My two have had to learn to be and are now great at trying to wind me up. I pretend they are successful sometimes. My kids are 33 and 30.

Their sense of humour is shit kickingly good and they are the kings of banter.

My house is built of laughter and there is nowhere that misery can get a foothold.

Exmoorjane said...

Sounds like you've got it all sussed, mate. Respect and congrats. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think any of us have got it totally sussed. We're human and have feelings, but it's nice when we can allow feelings to wash over us (a bit like a small child does) and see them for what they are before getting back to the business of joy making...xx

Exmoorjane said...

Nah, I don't think small children let feelings wash over them - they express emotions very clearly...if they feel anger, they hit or punch!

Most of the time stuff washes over me. When it doesn't, when something or someone creates a reaction, I tend to be interested cos it's usually something in me that needs sorting out. :)

Anonymous said...

In "washing over" I meant they express them freely, but don't wallow in them. How many times have you seen a kid going blue in the face crying and the next minute, laughing their heads off?

Exmoorjane said...

Ah okay... had originally had unlikely image of small children floating in Zen-like clouds... :) Yup, as children we are born 'whole' and express emotions freely, easily, without censorship - but split into ego and shadow as our society/culture demands we behave in particular ways; that we conform. Tree of Knowledge and all.

banana_the_poet said...

I have a problem discussing this topic without getting furious. Sprog suffered terribly from bullying in a number of schools.

What do you do when the bullying words used are true? He had a speech impediment and physical limitations and he was socially immature and intellectually streets ahead. The bullying material was limitless. What's more he met more than one teacher and one head who were worse bullies than the kids who took their lead from the shining adult examples who should have known better.

I'm afraid the 'don't retaliate' option when being physically bullied only takes an individual so far. It sounds very commendable - but it was only when Sprog was pushed beyond his limits at one school and went berserk and slugged one of the gits that he was given a grudging respect and they backed off and he began to have happy school life.

The problem being often that the nastier bullies thrive on most kids being of the 'turn the other cheek' variety. Telling the teacher rarely worked with Sprog ending up invariably being quizzed on what he thought it was about him that made the bullies want to bully him.

Eventually we gave up on formal education and homeschooled. Sprog is now 20 and catching up on paper qualifications at an FE college. Distinctions all down the line and loving the social life.

But the bullying years were deeply traumatic for the entire family and have left lasting scars which will never completely heal. We are who we are for having survived that baptism of fire - but I'm not convinced we are the better for it.

I often think bullies justify their horrendous behaviour by convincing themselves they have helped 'build character' and such like - if they ever need to justify it, I'm convinced most of them never give it another moment's thought.

How the adults who were supposed to be in loco parentis could live with themselves is beyond me. But Sprog learned early that there are bad people in every walk of life - which has stood him in good stead.

When I was in school a couple of kids tried to bully me but I just used to make wisecracks and make them laugh and then they left me alone. But I knew I was cleverer than they were and I had a mum who had such a dreadful temper there was very little a kid could say or do that made me even the slightest bit fearful LOL. It is harder for kids who are nurtured at home as Sprog is and was.

I'm not sure what use this comment is - but there we are - one version of how bullying affects people and various survival strategies. Hubby was bullied too - he also went berserk eventually and was left alone. I doubt there is anyone who went to school or who has worked in a 'team' environment who hasn't had someone try it on at some point or other. It is a particularly unpleasant part of human nature. :(

Ashen said...

Good post, Jane, on a vastly underrated subject.

... Let me befriend you, dear shadow, even so I mostly don’t agree with you. Let me never forget the sacred purpose of my physical existence in the orbit of the sun. Without you I would only be fluff on the coat of real human beings...

Extract from the first entry on my blog.

Anonymous said...

With regards to Banana's comment. It's not about turning the other cheek; it's about developing enough self-worth so that the writen or verbal abuse has very little or no effect. Agreed, with anyone who has a certain limited intelligence it can be challenging, but for the vast majority, building one's sense of self-worth is very achievable.

Regarding teacher bullies: I know first hand what that feels like and it's something that shaped me as an adult up until I was in my late 40s. To be blamed for an act of violence and something you haven't done and can't prove and then to have an adult constantly debase you in front of your peers day in and day out is like living in a nightmare.

A similar kind of thing happened to my son and this affected his education. Thankfully we exposed the teacher in question and found he'd been abusing others. He was dealt with.

If I'd had the knowledge and the sense of self-worth I have now, back then; dealing with this particular teacher scumbag wouldn't have been a problem, that's why I think it's important that we teach children from a very young age how to develop a healthy sense of self-worth.

Ironic that I hated teachers with a vengeance and I've been married to one for 37 years with many teacher friends....go figure....

Anonymous said...

Just to add a note about physical retaliation to the written / verbal.

I was bullied and debased up until I was 13 years old before I snapped with a physically violent reaction and to my surprise, I found I could handle myself pretty well. That was a turning point for me because although I was never bullied again, my new found talent was vented at every opportunity and my gripe with every man and his dog ended up in violence, which pretty much fucked my life up for a while, so no - clobbering someone unless it's in self-defense against physical abuse isn't the answer.

Anonymous said...

By way of attempting to extend Jane's post let me add this:

Ever noticed how the funny kids in school, the comedians, don't get bullied?

Any thoughts?

John said...

The reverse psychology thing is for him to explain to them that insulting a Nigerian is a dangerous thing as he knows enough magic to get their sexual organs to shrink forever.

Then, he should laugh manically and walk away.

Exmoorjane said...

Sorry, not had access to be able to reply before.
Banana - thank you for posting that. I do think that the responses and comments on blog posts are often more interesting/important than the post itself. Sharing stories is important; putting things in print takes away the secrecy. I seem to know a lot of people who had to home-school because of extreme bullying. :(

Ashen - yes, I know you know.. :) You are one of the few people I know who really do get the shadow stuff...

Bud - yup, agree it's easy to talk about self-esteem from our adult perspective...I too was bullied as a child and never learned how to deal with it...just endured it. My husband tells James to hit back - hard. I say not. In fact, I tend to go with more of John's strategy :)

My brother's response to being physically threatened was to learn karate - he started out by simply wanting to be able to hit back but found that, once he had the knowledge, he no longer needed to use it. Interesting,huh?

John: Love it! I said he should agree with them; tell 'em that 'we Nigerians' are pretty damn cool dudes...I never thought of witchcraft. ;)