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Commentary: Unrelenting

By Stephen Whitley

Dallas, TX –

Recent incidents of bullying have led to coverage of the subject on national news and talk programs. The issue struck a personal chord with commentator Stephen Whitley.

Nine teenagers in Northampton Massachusetts were charged recently with the "unrelenting" bullying of a teenage girl who ended up committing suicide.

A 13 year old boy in Joshua hung himself in his family's barn recently after enduring bullying by his classmates.

These two stories really hit home with me, because as someone who has been on the receiving end of bullying in the past, I can understand what they were going through. I went through it myself.

If you're different in any way from the "mainstream" kids will focus on that difference as a way to intimidate and scare you. Growing up in a small East Texas town in the 1970's and 80's, and not being interested in football, huntin' and fishin' the taunts aimed at me usually fell along the lines of "sissy" or "faggot" or "queer." Verbal intimidation was usually followed by physical abuse, knocking my books out of my arms, pushing me into a locker, tripping. If you're lucky it will stop there, hopefully a teacher or coach will intervene. If not, you feel as though you're on your own. It seems that in the case of Phoebe Prince and Jon Carmichael, not too many teachers or administrators intervened to stop the abuse, or if they did their actions were wholly ineffective.

When I was a Freshman during Senior Awards Day, one of the Senior Class Officers got up in front of the whole school and the parents of the seniors and essentially called me a "fag." I didn't mention it to my parents, but they found out and raised hell about it. Quite frankly I just wanted to ignore the whole situation because I always felt that was the best way to handle it. I never really stood up for myself. I never fought back; I just let it slide. Sometimes ignoring it worked better than others. But I don't know how I would react in this age of Facebook, text messages, email and blogs to bullying that must seem inescapable. I can't remember ever thinking of killing myself, although I did look forward to being able to leave Winnsboro after high school and I got out of there as soon as I could. I understand now that kids are mean and that a certain amount of conflict teaches kids how to interact in the real world with people who can try to push you around. But bullying is different from conflict. Bullying is about power and exerting that power to intimidate and coerce or to make the target conform to an accepted "norm."

I used to think that the bullying I received in school didn't have any effect on me but in reality it did. It made me distrustful of people, it made me question my self worth, and it took a little bit of therapy to finally put it all behind me.

It's sad that it takes the suicide of young people to force authorities to enact measures to stop bullying. Massachusetts lawmakers passed anti-bullying legislation this month. But there is only so much lawmakers can do if teachers and administrators do not stop the behavior when they see it. Anti-bullying projects should be instituted in schools as well as in university teacher certification programs.

Because no kid should feel that the only way out of an intolerable bullying situation is to take their own life.

Stephen Whitley is a writer from Dallas.

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