Bullying Others: Factoring in Race, Ethnicity and Immigration
Kids bullying others that they perceive as “different” is nothing new—from America to Iran, children are targets for harassment based on their immigration history, ethnicity, and race. Sara, a girl whose mother is American and father is Iranian, agrees.
Whatever is a characteristic that’s different, that’s a minority,” she says. “Those are the characteristics that are going to be made fun of and known as the odd or the weird because it’s different.”(1)
This focus on immigration, ethnicity and race bullying is still being studied, but research has uncovered some trends in bullying that focuses on these characteristics of students.
Immigration and Bullying
Students—both those who have recently moved from one country to another and those who were born in the country where they’re living, but whose parents immigrated—report being frequently bullied by their peers (2). Interestingly, children who were born in a different country than where they live are also more likely than other students to bully (3), and sometimes form groups (such as gangs) that bully others (4).
Race, Ethnicity, and Bullying
Race most commonly refers to physical qualities, such as skin color, and assumes some shared ancestry (e.g., Asian), and ethnicity usually includes cultural beliefs and practices (e.g., Chinese American). Bullying based on these factors tends to happen most often between students in different racial and ethnic groups. However, ethnic bullying within the same racial groups has been noted.
The racial and ethnic make-up of the particular schools students attend can contribute to bullying experiences. Students of minority (or less common) races or ethnicities within school buildings are more likely than majority students to be bullied, especially based on their race or ethnicity (5).
Preference for one’s own group is a normal part of development (6), but hostility toward those in other groups varies among children. A child’s ability to consider another’s views or feelings, how much competition or conflict a student experiences directly or believes exists between groups at school or in the community, and prejudicial beliefs (such as an unreasonable fear of foreigners) expressed by important people in a child’s environment (7) all factor in to the likelihood of he or she bullying others.
Differences in social rules, language, dress, and religious practices may contribute to bullies’ views of victims as strange or weak. These differences can lead to students being less accepted by their peers, having less friends from other cultures, and feeling isolated or lonely (8).
Pain from the experience of immigration, and from being bullied, could lead students to believe that there is a need to protect oneself or one’s group rather than put up with being bullied—sometimes resulting in a decision to bully others.
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