What is identity-based bullying? Identity-based bullying is any form of bullying related to the unique aspects of a child’s identity. This can be: race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or physical appearance etc. This form of bullying not only degrades the young one being bullied, but reflects an aggressively negative attitude toward an entire community or group with whom that individual identifies. Identity-based bullying is an especially destructive form of bullying and those being bullied need special support.
Being a bully’s target because of an aspect of who you are is especially damaging for children who are still trying to discover themselves. It can cause them to internalize negative messages about their identity and destroy their self-esteem, and can last well into adulthood. It’s important that a student realizes that the bullying is happening because of an aggressor’s bias, not because the target’s identity is wrong. The person being bullied should never be blamed. That person is not being bullied because they are Muslim, deaf, or part of the LGBT community. They are being bullied because of a bully’s bias toward that identity group.
What is considered Identity-Based Bullying?
• Denouncing a student with a disability
• Teasing anyone about their body
• Using homophobic hate speech toward students in the LGBT community
• Excluding someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms
• Making fun of or trying to pull off a Muslim student’s hijab
• Sending a text or speaking racial slurs
• Degrading women for how they choose to use and show their bodies
Who are the high targets of identity-based bullying?
Of middle school and high school students, about 30% were made fun of for their race/ethnicity, 21.95% for their gender expression, 19.4% for their sexual orientation, 18.1% for their gender, 18% for their religion, and 12.7% for their disabilities. (“From Teasing to Torment: School Climate R evisited Executive Summary.” GLSEN, 2015. ) It is possible for anyone identifying themselves in these categories to be at a higher risk for identity-based bullying.
What Can Educators Do?
Children spend a great deal of time with their teachers. Students need to feel safe and supported at school. They need to feel free to discover themselves without judgment. Teachers need to promote a respectful and inclusive atmosphere for all their students to thrive. Here are a few ways teachers can do this.
Teach about identity and bias: Specifically, with identity-based bullying, engaging students in anti-bias activities teaches them about the spectrum of identity, develops their understanding of bias, and helps them to build the needed skills to challenge their own bias and the bias of others. Also, open communication will help students to learn about everyone’s differences and they’ll in turn accept their own identity.
Be Approachable: Many students decide not to tell adults about the bullying they are experiencing. The older the student gets, the less likely they are to report a bully. Make yourself more approachable by taking every issue seriously, investing time in the issue, not brining up a student’s past, and being a good role model by being careful not to gossip or name-call yourself.
Encourage your students to be allies: Most bullying occurs when a teacher is not around, and most students won’t report the bullying to an adult, therefore, teachers need to motivate their students to no longer be bystanders and to act as allies for their peers. Teach the skills needed for students to support themselves or others who are being bullied.
With 76% of young people admitting that they do not feel like they ‘fit in’ at school, it is important that teachers, now more than ever, teach their students about the dangers of bias and the benefits of inclusivity.
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