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Viral video of 'terrorist' taunts on Gwinnett school bus points to larger problems

Aasees Kaur is a student at Georgia State University and a member of the Sikh Advocacy Association of Georgia – a youth group committed to working on advocacy initiatives.

She is also the sister of a Sikh boy who was part of a landmark DeKalb County bullying settlement late last year.

Today, she writes about a 45-second video shot on a Gwinnett school bus.  The viral video shows a girl yelling “terrorist” at the boy, who responds by saying the kids are being racist. He curses at them.

The students attend Duluth Middle School and have been disciplined, according to Gwinnett Schools.

Here is the video, followed by Kaur's essay:

By Aasees Kaur

The viral video of a Sikh boy being called a “terrorist” on a Gwinnett County school bus should be another wake-up call to school officials in Atlanta and across the nation. Bullying remains a serious problem, but it remains to be seen whether it will receive a serious response from parents, teachers, and school officials.

As a Sikh American, this issue is personal to me. Like the boy in the video, my younger brother wears a turban. For devout Sikhs, the turban is a declaration of Sikh identity, representing a commitment to the Sikh religious ideals of equality, justice, and love. For many, the turban reminds them of otherness, making it an easy target for mockery and even violence.

Bullying has taken a toll on my family.  My brother was verbally abused in classrooms, in cafeterias during recess – and, yes, even on school buses.  He was called “Osama” and “terrorist” and told to “go back to your country.”

His country is this country, which we’re all proud to call home. He also endured physical assaults – a broken nose and swollen jaw requiring two surgeries. In one incident, a student assaulted my brother’s identity by cutting his hair, which devout Sikhs are required to keep uncut.

My brother and the boy in the video are not alone. According to Sikh Coalition surveys, a majority of Sikh students are bullied and harassed in our nation’s schools – up to 67 percent in some cities. But it is not just my community. Students nationwide are being bullied because of their race, religion, nationality, gender, body type, disability, and sexual orientation.

It is important for adults to remember that bullying takes many forms.  When students intentionally exclude victims from school activities and leave them socially isolated, this is bullying.

When students leave the school campus and target victims on school buses, this is bullying. The school bus is often a torment zone, where schools should be responsible for the safety of their students, but often instead turn the other way and chalk it up to “troublemaking.”

When students use social media and mobile apps to target victims, this is bullying. Indeed, “cyber bullying” is uniquely problematic because it leaves victims vulnerable to slander while bullies remain anonymous.

So where do we go from here?

The real issue is how we, as a society, are dealing with our understanding of minority communities, especially when their customs, beliefs, and experiences may not match our own. We need our school systems to partner more strongly with underrepresented communities to make sure that the needs of all our students are being met.

For example, I wish history teachers would explain that Sikhs have been in the United States for more than 100 years, English teachers would add more courses on world literature, and social studies teachers focused more on current events, like movements to win equal rights for LGBT communities and people with disabilities.

Parents also need to do their part, by acting like responsible adults.  I have a hard time believing 12-year-olds spontaneously call each other “Osama” and “faggot” and tell people like my brother to “go back to your country” without parental influence. I shudder to think what kind of conversations these bullies’ parents are having at home about people who do not look or live like them.

Above all, we need to be proactive. We have to be willing to adjust our schools’ anti-bullying rules if they are not working. Just last year, in response to a federal investigation into my brother’s bullying complaints, the DeKalb County School District adopted new model policies and procedures to protect students from bullying. This was a critical first step, and school districts throughout Georgia – and around the nation – should take a look at these model policies and work to plug any gaps.

I will never forget what my brother went through, and my heart aches for the child in the video, but the fight against bullying does not end when this issue fades from the headlines.  Let’s work together to ensure that all of our children are safe and enjoy the only childhood they will ever have.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.