WH anti-bullying summit to address specter of ‘Islamophobia’

With everything else the Obama administration has on its plate these days—such as the drafting of executive orders meant to jumpstart the eoncomy in the absence of congressional action—you probably thought the White House had turned its back on its Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

I’m guessing you didn’t know the White House even had an Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, let alone a Facebook page dedicated to this worthy cause with 3,859 followers.

But it does. And last Saturday the administration sent officials associated with that initiative to Hunter College here in Manhattan, to meet with local parents, teachers, students, and community leaders at a bullying prevention summit. The stated purpose of the conclave was “to address the safety of Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Muslim American students.”

To be honest, I didn’t know there were any Pacific Islanders living in the Big Apple. Since the Census Bureau fixes the percentage of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders at 0% for 2010, I would imagine their numbers are relatively small. I also wouldn’t think that Asian Americans are that much at risk unless it’s of having other test takers copy their answers. Forgive my racial insensitivity, but the vast majority of my sons’ classmates and friends at the brainiac high schools they went to were Asian, and they placed extremely well when it came time for college applications.

And what of Muslim Americans? I recall hearing fears expressed after 9/11 that Muslims in this country were likely to be targeted, but those fears were never realized. Sure, there were random offenses, but no massive hate-fueled campaign against the American Muslim community, no rash of attacks on mosques.

Yet, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education, Muslim American students and their pan-Asian counterparts are likely targets of bullying. In a statement, Thomas Mariadason, an attorney at the Manhattan-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said:

Post 9/11, bias-based bullying toward religious and immigrant communities has been a consistent issue, and it continues to be under reported.

We’ve seen the egregious effects bias-based harassment has on students when there is a failure to intervene, from the violence at South Philadelphia High School in 2009 to reports we received in years past from the former Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. The problem persists, and it is a critical time for the White House to address these issues.

The incident in South Philadelphia Mariadason refers to involved some two dozen Vietnamese students who were jumped and beaten by black students. The motivations for the attacks were never scrutinized. The number of victims varied between 7 and 13 depending on the account; all were treated at an area hospital for scrapes and bruises and released.

The event precipitated a response within the school—50 Asian immigrants led a boycott—and the community at large. A year later, the Notebook, a Philadelphia public school blog, which had done extensive reporting on the incident initially, wrote:

[T]here’s no doubt South Philadelphia High School is a very different school. A new principal, an energized student base, emerging partnerships, a commitment to addressing school violence—all have resulted in striking progress. The violence and chaos of last year is largely gone, and students report a changed attitude from staff members, some of whom had participated in the harassment by mocking their accents and refusing to take seriously their reports of racial bias.

In brief, the incident was one-off. Corrective action was taken, and everyone has since moved on—except Thomas Mariadason. His mention of Lafayette High School in Brooklyn is doubly ludicrous since the hates crimes alluded to are close to a decade old and the school hasn’t existed since December of 2006. It’s a pretty safe bet that closing a school down will end any racial animus within its student body.