Skinny, White, and Blonde


Because so many of you write to me with the dream of living on Maui, but you have children, and you’ve “heard things” about the schools here and are concerned…I give you the following:

I’m sure that bullying takes many forms at schools across this country. What I find interesting is that what might get a kid bullied at one school could actually gain them entrance to the cool kids club at another.

Take Jennifer (not her real name), an 18 year old that I recently had the pleasure to meet here on Maui. Jennifer is not only tall and blonde, and white….she is also quite thin. Pretty much sounds like the Hollywood standard for young starlets, doesn’t it?

Jennifer grew up on Maui, but I knew something was “off” when she started sharing how many schools she had attended here (drugs? stealing? poor grades?) Then she told me she had been sent to the east coast to finish high school (pregnancy?)

But no, it was none of these things. “I was bullied in school because I was so white. And thin. And blonde…” she says hesitantly. (As opposed to big and brown?) “I didn’t fit in and it was so bad that I wouldn’t go to school, and cut class. So I flunked out.” Then what happened, I ask. “So I got sent to live with my family on the east coast, but the schools there are so advanced compared to Hawaii, I couldn’t keep up. I mean, I didn’t know ANY of the stuff I was supposed to know. So I flunked out there, as well. I came back to Hawaii and got my GED.”

How far do we think Jennifer will get in life with only a GED? How would she fare in college either here, or on the mainland, if she doesn’t know any of the stuff she’s supposed to know? All because of the accident of fate that she was raised in Hawaii and bullied, versus raised on the east coast with the rest of her family…where she might very well have been the Queen Bee of popular kids because she looked the way she was “supposed” to look, to fit in.

But instead she was ostracized in Hawaii and flunked out of school.

And this begs the question: would those big, brown girls from Maui get bullied at school if they were sent to live on the mainland? Because of the way they look, because they speak pidgin?

I polled a group of my friends, one of whom is a grade school special-ed teacher here on Maui, to find out their views on bullying. I shared that I do not remember bullying going on when I was in school. One woman who is a young 70, commented that when she was in school all of the problem kids were weeded out by junior high and sent to “reform school.” That’s the way I remember it also. Another friend shared that teachers have lost all the power in the classroom (and I also remember teachers being able to use a paddle in my grade school in the midwest, and the THREAT kept most kids in line.) In fact, my father was a teacher, and his gift when graduating from teacher’s college was a paddle carved with his fraternity letters. Something tells me new teachers don’t get those anymore.

I’ve tried to figure out why Jennifer’s story got me so riled. I think it’s because I could finally put a sweet face to a bullying story. How long has bullying been going on in this country at this level? (And I’m talking even before social media, which is so sneaky that kids never have to own up to their behavior). As one friend put it, “Before a kid could only whisper ‘Jimmy’s a fag,’ but now it goes out in giant letters from a social media site around the world in a flash…and those kids don’t stand a chance.”

So, what gets kids bullied where you live? Have your children experienced it personally?

Hollywood has done an excellent job of making people believe that Hawaii is a perfect paradise. So I share this with all of the parents who think if they can just get their family moved here, that everything will be wonderful. One movie that does tell it like it is, is NORTH SHORE, available through Netflix. It’s not just the girls who are bullied; the boys are bullied for surfing in the “locals only” spot, driving the wrong vehicle, dating the wrong girl. And the boys use their fists.

The tagline for this blog states, “Sharing what it’s really like to live on Maui.” And that is what it’s really been like to live here, for Jennifer.

A hui hou! If you would like to subscribe to this blog, please click the “Follow” button on the homepage. Thanks for stopping by.

Aloha, Jamaica

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