How Bullying Changed My Outlook

Writing at Essence, Janelle Harris chronicles her childhood struggles and explains how being targeted by classmates provided her with a sense of empathy.

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Writing at Essence, Janelle Harris chronicles her childhood struggles and explains how being targeted by classmates provided her with a sense of empathy.

I got it from all sides. I was chunky and wore glasses. In the fifth grade, some boys in my class got wind of how much I weighed and invested their creative energy into composing an entire song in honor of my chubbiness, which they sang all year, every single time that number came up. I had an overbite that was likened regularly to horse teeth, and eventually got fitted with braces, which didn't make matters much better ...

My experience has, however, honed a deep affinity for underdogs (yay underdogs!) and made me empathetic to the similar struggles of other people. My heart aches whenever I hear a story about a young person who has been verbally or physically pulverized by their peers. Sometimes they act out. Maybe they pull a gun and go ballistic at their school, maybe they internalize their pain and end their own life ...

I don't have a revelation about how to stop bullying. I sure wish I did. But I do implore parents to keep an eye on their kids, not just to prevent them from being bullied but to prevent them from becoming a bully, too. Everybody wants to think highly of their children—I know because I do, too—but I would put my daughter in an eternal chokehold if I ever found out that she was making it her business to rock some other child's self-worth and force them to wake up every morning wondering what misadventure in misery awaited them that day. Peer pressure can make otherwise nice, home-trained children act like they don't have the good sense their mamas and daddies instilled in them. And that, spoken from firsthand experience, can affect somebody for a lifetime.

Read Janelle Harris' entire piece at Essence.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.