a continuation of Part 1.
When I learned that Amanda was mixed race and was harassed because of her “difference” from peers, I was transported back to Reena Virk’s death some fifteen years earlier. Then too, Reena’s racial and ethnic background was barely noted in the media despite her obvious South Asian ethnic background, and her racially marked difference from her white attackers.
In fact, Amanda Todd’s death can and should be seen as part of a long lineage of violence against girls and young women, particularly multi-racial and Indigenous girls and women. I think of the deaths of Reena Virk and Kimberly Proctor in Victoria, and women like Marnie Frey and Georgina Pepin and hundreds of other Indigenous women, missing and murdered in the Downtown Eastside and on Highway 16, the Highway of Tears.
When the death of a girl is framed as a result of bullying and not viewed as violence against girls and women, we lose this connection. This is not to say that bullying isn’t serious and real. But Amanda experienced more than mere bullying. She was harassed to death. Her harassment was motivated by sexism, misogyny and racist exclusion. This is not just a case of kids being mean. She was criminally harassed in the digital world and the material world. She was targeted because of her difference.
Similarities between Reena Virk and Amanda Todd’s deaths reveal the urgency of naming racialised and sexualized violence. In both cases, the girls were punished for daring to step outside their location of marginality by sleeping with white boys. Both girls were desperate for peer acceptance and belonging. The boys knew it and took advantage of their desperation. But it was white ex-girlfriends who organized extreme violence against them as retaliation for transgressing rigid racial and sexual boundaries. White girls assumed the role of border guards meting out severe punishment for breaking the rules according to a twisted moral code. Reena was violently murdered, while Amanda was beaten and left in a ditch, but the horrible results were the same.
We therefore take issue with calling Amanda’s experiences, bullying, because the language of bullying diminishes the impact of ongoing racialized and sexualized violence experienced by racial minority and Indigenous girls and young women.
What looks like relational aggression between girls, is something more deeply rooted and complex. The language of bullying is problematic for many reasons because it:
- Infantilizes, hides and displaces violence by taking it out of public spaces where it can be openly scrutinized and “outed,” returning it to the semi-private, protected realm of children, schools and playgrounds.
- Minimizes the frequency and severity of racialized and sexualized violence.
- Makes violence against women and girls palatable by watering it down to aggressive behavior that most people have experienced as children and gotten over.
- Focuses attention away from systemic and structural racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and ableisms to individualized, interpersonal aggressive behavior that can be unlearned.
- Adopts masculine language to obscure racialized and gendered violence against girls and women. Boys are more likely to report bullying than girls in self-report studies of school children, but girls and women report over three quarters of incidents of sexual violence to police.
- Perpetuates and fosters machismo culture. Bullying has become a way to perform masculinity among some young men who boast that surviving bullying makes them stronger. They declare that bullying is “no big deal.”
We further take issue with the erasure of racism and sexism as important features of Amanda’s harassment. Erasure of racism and sexism in the case of mixed race girls:
- Obscures mixed race as an important aspect of sexual harassment, social exclusion, and youth violence. For mixed Asian/white young women, there is a particular kind of Orientalist exoticization that hypersexualizes them as sexually vulnerable, desirable, and available to white men. At the same time, being racially mixed is also often misread as Indigenous or Metis, with all the negative and problematic stereotypes associated with “native” women that place them more at risk for sexual violence.
- Breaks crucial links to pornographic images and violence. The circulation of images of breasts associated with Amanda at the age of 12 years is part of a ubiquitous, fetishized and objectified depiction of girls’ body parts that white males produce and consume as girl child pornography. Racialized female bodies have historically been susceptible to dehumanizing sexual objectification.
- Fails to recognize conditions of social exclusion and isolation and misses how the pressure to ‘prove’ desire/worth/authenticity underlies the need for acceptance, a desire to fit in, and a higher likelihood and vulnerability to predatory pressures.
- Neutralizes and pluralizes violence against racialized minority girls and women by muting the severity of harm. Sexualized and racialized violence is not the same as aggressive behavior between peers. In the former, perpetrators know that dominant white, heterosexual, patriarchal culture will protect them from being fully accountable for their crimes, that enables them to continue harassment and violence.
- Negates the complex intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, among other factors that constitute and heightens the contexts and possibilities of violent outcomes.