A mother and daughter take action against racist bullies in middle school
While many sixth graders went to soccer practice or hung out with their friends, Sadie Shelmire, a local African American sixth grader from Sunnybrae Middle School, educated people on her personal experience with racism in school.
“Ever since I moved to Arcata, I have been stared at,” Shelmire said. “I could be walking down the street with my dad and a group of girls will just walk by staring.”
Microaggressions like this are exactly why Shelmire and her mother, Director of Student Life and Affairs at Humboldt State Tanza Triggs, held a conference on Oct. 29 entitled “Loving the Skin I am in: My Story.”
The conference was framed as a talk show. Triggs asked questions to Shelmire about her experiences, and then after the floor would be open to the audience’s questions.
Triggs said that while she came up with the idea for the event, her daughter’s experiences as well as growth and maturity while dealing with racist bullies inspired her.
“I wanted to show her that I was proud of her because I saw over the course of the six years how she changed personally,” Triggs said.
Shelmire feels she has gone through a lot over the course of those six years. She moved from a town in Missouri, where the majority of the community is African American, to Humboldt County where the majority are white.
“I am not sad or angry,” Shelmire said about the predominantly white community. “But I am a little uncomfortable.”
Humboldt’s predominately white community is reflected in its education systems. This is something that both Triggs and Shelmire said is detrimental to the experience of African American and minority students.
“There wasn’t any African American teachers,” Shelmire said. “I couldn’t really go to someone who had the same struggles as me growing up.”
These struggles were mostly in the form of racist comments by bullies from Shelmire’s school.
Triggs said people have called Shelmire poop, n*****, and other derogatory names. These problems stem from the student’s homes and many parents need to be held responsible when it comes to admitting to these problems.
“Not only do they get (influences) from YouTube but they are also getting it from their parents,” Shelmire said.
Triggs and Shelmire said students need to be the facilitators of understanding race and its history. Race education should be ran like sexual education or food programs. They believe schools should provide funds to teach children deprived of an education or experience with minorities or children of a different ethnicity.
“We provide children with food because we know they might not get it at home,” Triggs said. “So why not address this problem too?”
Shelmire’s discomforts and experiences revolve around how her teachers don’t discipline the student bullies.
“They then would send us to the principals office, and then they had to apologize and say what they did wrong,” Shelmire said.
Shelmire said that this does not address the problem because the student who was verbally assaulted has to sit in class with their bully.
“After someone just (verbally) racially assaulted you, would you really want to go back to class with them,” Shelmire said. “Especially if kids around you heard it and would stare after.”
Shelmire inspired many to share their story, including Trinity, a 13-year-old African American girl from the Trinity County area, who was racially bullied to the point of being homeschooled by her mother Judy. Trinity shared similar concerns as Shelmire in regards to how teachers have been insensitive or ineffective when dealing with this type of bullying.
“They don’t really do anything ever,” Trinity said. “The kid is forced to apologize but usually you know it’s not genuine and they’re not even sent to detention.”
Trinity also said this mistreatment of the situation creates distrust between the student being bullied and the teacher.
To Shelmire and Triggs, this problem should not be internalized by the children who are bullied, but be dealt with by the institutions and parents who placate these racist bullies.
“When you go to a teacher and they don’t handle (racially charged bullying) well and it keeps happening,” Trinity said. “You will not go to the teacher and you just have to deal with it yourself.”