I remember when the story of Tyler’s Clementi’s suicide broke. I was heartbroken that a young person had committed suicide after being bullied.
Learning that a kid is being bullied makes me hurt inside.
I was bullied throughout grade school and junior high school. For 7 years, I didn’t have a single friend at school. I’d had a Coke poured over my head, had an orange pushed onto my back, had spent most recesses alone, and had been called countless names (one which is still so painful to recall that I can’t share it with Indian American Dad, though he’s asked). In science class, I’d hope for assigned lab partners so I didn’t have to deal with the humiliation of watching everyone else desperately pair up so they wouldn’t have to be my partner.
I didn’t tell my parents about any of the bullying. I was ashamed because I thought it meant that was something wrong with me. And I couldn’t let my parents know that.
So my heart aches for all the kids out there who are bullied. I know how painful it is.
But every day, when I was picked up from school, I could leave that awful world behind.
It must be even worse for bullied kids today. When they go home, their Facebook and Twitter accounts might let fresh pain in, every time they hit refresh.
When I read about Tyler’s suicide, I also thought, “Those horrible bullies. I can’t believe they would do that to someone.”
Then I learned that one of the bullies was Indian.
Last Friday, a jury convicted 20 year old Dharun Ravi, an Indian man, of a hate crime in connection with Tyler’s suicide. Tyler committed suicide shortly after he learned that Dharun had used a webcam to record him being intimate with another man; Dharun had also invited friends to watch. Dharun texted Tyler to apologize, but at that point, Tyler was already jumping off a bridge. Now Dharun faces up to a 10 year prison sentence and possible deportation. Here’s a link to a New York Times story on the trial.
When you’re a parent and you hear about something bad happening to a young person, you immediately hope that nothing like that ever happens to your kid. The weird thing about this case is that I feel that way both about the victim and the convicted criminal. Tyler was a young man at a very sensitive point in his life — away from home and exploring same-sex relationships as an adult. Dharun was a kid who did something cruel that caused unintended consequences.
It’s strange for me to identify with a convicted criminal. But when he’s Indian, I don’t know how I could not. You know the kinship of Indians. Even when we don’t know each other, we’re always connected. It’s the nod at the Indian couple you see at the grocery store. It’s the searching for Indian names on a magazine masthead. It’s feels like we have 2 degrees of separation rather than the usual 6. Someone you meet is always someone else’s neighbor from India or cousin’s college roommate or family friend’s raas team member. Plus, remember how I said I always get excited when I learn someone important could possibly be Desi? That’s the Desi kinship too.
I hope Indian American Toddler never does anything like what Dharun did. Indian American Dad and I teach him to love and respect others and will continue to do so. But he won’t always do the right thing. And as he gets older, we won’t be able to control all of his influences. Who among us has not been troubled by the homophobia around us? We’ve all heard, “That’s so gay!” to describe anything lame. We’ve seen disapproving looks when boys play with dolls (not that that says anything about a kid’s sexuality). Heck, many politicians essentially run on a platform of homophobia!
And unfortunately, we live in an age of hyper-media-connected cruelty. It strikes me that Dharun’s actions were fed by it. Unlike us, and probably unlike most of the jurors, Dharun grew up with social media. I didn’t even get a Facebook account until my late 20s and only joined Twitter this year. I’m sure many of you were similarly mature when you began to use social media. So our judgment about what is appropriate to post and the consequences of a post is different than Dharun’s generation and will be even more different than Indian American Toddler’s generation.
Even with our mature judgment, today, in a moment of anger, we can say something mean about someone else to thousands and even millions of people. Just touch “publish,” “tweet,” or “post.”
I stopped reading a popular law blog, Above the Law because some of the stories and most of the commenters were so mean. They’d lambast lower-ranked law schools. They’d post profiles of attorneys and law students and completely destroy them (incidentally, many of the targets were women who dared be too sexual in their outside-of-the-law lives). And do you remember a day when people weren’t talking about some mean celebrity tweet? Just this weekend I heard about Rihanna’s Twitter war with Chris Brown’s new girlfriend — Rihanna put a pair of sunglasses and gold hoop earrings on a rice cake, apparently referring to the new girlfriend’s Asian heritage. Who does that? Someone who gets paid exponentially more and has more publicity than a diversity educator who is actually making a positive difference in the world.
Now what Dharun did went beyond just bigoted tweets. And I’m not condoning Dharun’s actions. He did something cruel, violated Tyler’s privacy, and probably wouldn’t have done these things if Tyler were straight. Still, it would be a tragedy if this young guy rotted away in jail for 10 years and/or was deported. Why not turn this into a teachable moment. Certainly he should be punished, but he should also be out there, helping to spread the message of tolerance with the younger generation of tweeters and web cam users.
I really wish someone could have gotten to Tyler before it was too late. I really wish someone could have talked to Dharun before he went too far. And I hope that as parents today, we can support our kids and teach them how to treat one another so that it never happens again.
How did you feel when you learned the verdict in the Ravi case?
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