Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fighting For Children's Rights

Helen Gym

I just thought that I would highlight someone whose focus might be - in my opinion - one of Asian-America's most significant issues today. Helen Gym is an Asian woman based in Philadelphia, who although an advocate for school reform in the Philly area, came to my attention back in 2009 when she was instrumental in the advocacy for Asian-American kids who had been suffering severe racially based bullying and harassment.

Her advocacy is significant for two reasons; firstly she is challenging apathetic attitudes towards dysfunction in the school system, and secondly (but most importantly from an Asian-American perspective) she has been, and continues to be, instrumental in defending the casually abused civil rights of Asian kids in Philadelphia High Schools. I have written about the experiences of the Asian kids in South Philly in several previous posts, and, in fact, it was my feeling that there seemed to be little interest in the violence directed at these kids amongst Asian-Americans that motivated me to start a blog. Of course, my writings explore issues beyond this, but it was my sense that there was a dearth in interest not only in the specific events in South Philly High School, but also there seemed to little exploration into the phenomenon of anti-Asian racism in American schools.

More specifically, my interest covers the intersection of Asian depictions and attitudes in American cultural endeavours, and the experience of racially inflected bullying, harassment, and violence that seems almost universal amongst Asians kids going through America's education system to one degree or another. For me, the possibility of universal casual racism perpetrated by non-Asian kids on their Asian peers in schools, ranks as one of the most significant issues that Asian-America needs to address. The reason is simple; if the casual anti-Asian racism (often in the form of casual retributive violence against deindivuated masses) modeled by American culture is emulated or reflected in the behaviours and attitudes of children, then these attitudes may easily form into habits of prejudice that manifest as casual anti-Asian discrimination in adulthood.

Certainly, addressing media racism directly is one avenue for changing this state of affairs, but I also believe that seeking accountability from school admins, teachers, and any other adult involved in the "care" of Asian kids in the school environment warrants some thought. All too often, anti-Asian racism in America's schools is dismissed as merely the actions of ignorant or insensitive kids, or is simply put down to the fact that "kids can be cruel". These might be sufficient explanations under normal circumstances, but, for Asian-American kids, not only are they dealing with "cruel kids", but with a culture that actually models (through media depictions) many of the racist behaviours that they are experiencing. That is a whole different ball-game.

In effect, America's casual cultural racism can only be normalizing the kinds of racist behaviours that are directed at Asian children, and because this process can actually be viewed as a conditioning process, what it means is that negative behaviours and attitudes towards Asian people become and remain ingrained. This is why I think school racism is one of the most important issues that we as a community need to highlight and address.

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