Rep. Ilhan Omar. Photo: Lorie Shaul

By Hudson, age 13, and IndyKids Staff 

As students begin another year, many schools take steps to prevent bullying and safeguard the health and well-being of their students. Yet, unfortunately, bullying isn’t just a problem on the playground, but it’s an issue in many levels of society, from workplaces to families, even in the highest level of government.

This past summer saw a number of racist attacks on U.S. Democrats of color in Congress, as well as civil rights leaders. One of the most prominent incidents was President Trump’s racist attacks toward four congresswomen of color: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. He told them via a tweet to “go back” to the places from which they came. All four of them are U.S. citizens, and all but one were born in the United States. The slur “go back” has a long history that claims that certain people and races “don’t belong” in this country. In a joint press conference following the attack, the four congresswomen, who identify themselves as the “squad,” said that the president’s words were an act of white supremacy. Rep. Tlaib added that Mr. Trump is “the biggest bully I’ve ever had to deal with.”

Consistent with anti-bullying advice to speak out when you see someone being humiliated and harassed, the House of Representatives voted to condemn the president’s tweets as racist, but only four out of the almost 200 Republicans voted with the Democrats to denounce the tweet. The vote was the first House rebuke of a president in more than 100 years. Following the tweet, almost 5,000 people wrote to the New York Times discussing their experience with the slur “go back.” One Mexican-American woman said that after suffering those racist remarks, she even tried to avoid teaching her son Spanish.

But the ramifications of this kind of racist speech coming from the president’s mouth and his Twitter page aren’t confined to Congress, and they’re finding their way into schools. A research study from the University of Southern California published in October 2018, saw an increase in the health effects of discrimination on teens after Trump was elected. Researchers found that those who reported feeling concerned, worried or stressed about “increasing hostility and discrimination of people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation/identity, immigrant status, religion, or disability status in society” in 2016 were more likely to report more days of substance use or feelings of depression one year later. In addition, in August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement highlighting the negative impact of racism on child and adolescent health through implicit and explicit biases, institutional structures and interpersonal relationships.

Researchers from the LGBTQ rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC), who also found a spike in harassment amongst youth after the 2016 election campaign, said that there needs to be greater leadership from politicians to address this issue. “We are calling on politicians to explicitly denounce bias and reject support from hate groups, and all adults to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of our young people,” HRC Foundation senior research manager Gabe Murchison told NBC News. “Young people who participated in our survey told us they need three things in the wake of this election: their identities and fears taken seriously, adults to stand up against bias and harassment, and a chance to get involved politically to ensure that our country’s leaders are committed to the safety and equality of all.”

Meanwhile, racist attacks against Rep. Omar have continued, with Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in late August echoing Trump’s words, saying she “should go back to Somalia from whence she came.” This came just hours after Rep. Omar revealed she received an anonymous death threat.

Speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show, Rep. Omar said these racist tweets also have another effect. She suggested that the attacks made against her not only help President Trump by fueling his supporters when they hear racism, but they also distract the country from corruption investigations, “[allowing] for the media to be distracted truly from delivering the kind of inside investigation into the lawlessness that is of his administration, the constant human rights violations, the policies that are detrimental to our existence in this country, and the harm that he is causing on a daily basis to our Constitution and the existence of our country.”

At the joint “squad” press conference with the other congresswomen after the president’s “go back” tweet, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez came up to the podium without any notes and reiterated similar advice to what anti-bullying campaigns suggest: that we need to create safe and inclusive spaces where everyone feels welcome and people do not use their power to harm others. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said, “No matter what the president says, this country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone.”

If you are a young person in crisis or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk or get resources, visit https://www.stopbullying.gov/kids/what-you-can-do/index.html 

 

Glossary 

The House of Representatives: Before something becomes law, it is known as a bill. Bills are first voted on by the House of Representatives before being brought to the Senate to be voted on. After a bill successfully goes through both houses of Congress, the president has 10 days to sign or veto the enrolled bill to make it a law.

Condemn: Disapproval of something, typically in public.

Denounce – Publicly declare something is wrong.

Rebuke: Push back, or a negative response.

Ramification –  A consequence of an action or event, especially when complex or  unwelcome.