The Bullying of Muslim American Children

55% of Muslim children in California report being verbally or physically abused at school for their faith, according to a study dating from just before the San Bernardino attack.

According to a civil rights lawyer associated with the study, “We had teachers who would see bullying and ignore it, or join in on it. We had teachers who would tell their students they’re not American enough to be commenting on Islamic issues. We found teachers showing very biased and derogatory hate films coming from groups all over the country.”

As someone who has worked in youth development in the Muslim American community for twenty-five years, I can attest to the fact that this kind of abuse has been rampant for decades. The pattern is self-evident: explicit or implicit demonization of Muslims on the news and in the media (the only Muslims ever depicted are terrorists; Islam is a violent religion; there is something “Islamic” about “Islamic terrorism,” etc.) and the endless attacks on the faith cause parents to make negative generalizations about Muslims at home, which in turn feed hateful actions at school. Studies show that it’s gotten much worse recently.

Kids who experience racist abuse at school frequently do not share what is happening at school with their parents: kids intuit that by telling their parents, they only pass on the feelings of humiliation and impotence.

Putting aside the fact that Muslim kids — and even Sikhs, according to reports across the country — are being verbally and physically abused, is this behavior likely to reduce or increase the chances that some young person becomes radicalized in anger?

The good news? Americans don’t like bullies, and many reel against racist abuse when it is brought to their attention (even if belatedly: see the recent incident at Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin.) Any parents or community members raising the issue at home and at school can help ensure that teachers and staff monitor for and prevent Islamophobic bullying. Given the distaste for what is silently happening throughout the country, any parent speaking out now can make a huge difference.

12/21/2015