McPhillips, D. (2019). The Hidden Harms of Racial Bullying. U.S. News - The Civic Report, C13–C17.
Why do we have to go?
Come on Sheila. There is a better life for us in America.
It's okay, baby. You'll meet lots of new friends. This is what is best for us as a family.
We'll miss you!!
Earlier that week, Sheila learned that her mother enrolled her in a private school in America, and would have to move out of Haiti. Tonight was the night before the flight.
NOW BOARDING FLIGHT#643
For context, Sheila is taken care of solely by her mother since her father's death when she was a toddler. Her mother works in a restaurant, and money has been tight. Her sister, Bella, is too young to fully understand the situation.
Sheila says her final goodbye to her friends from school before her family boards the trolley to the airport.
FLIGHT #643 NOW LANDING
Before they knew it, it was time for the flight to America.
This is our new home. It's a bit shabby, but it's ours.
While her mother and baby sister slept soundly on the plane, Sheila stayed up thinking about how much her life was about to change. She had stopped crying finally, but her anxiety remained extremely high.
Several hours later, Sheila and her family land in Austin, Texas to begin their new lives.
What if they think I'm weird? What if they laugh at me? What if I look dumb in class? What if...
This run-down house was all Sheila and her family could afford, but it was enough. Unfortunately, Sheila wouldn't have enough time to get settled into the city, as her first day of school was tomorrow. Sheila's nerves had yet to calm down and she was low on sleep.
Night falls in Texas and Sheila still fails to find rest. Some of this is due to jet lag, but most can be attributed to her apprehension of the approaching morning.
In a hurricane of thoughts, Sheila finally falls asleep.
But I'm scared, mommy.
Who is she?
Remember to be on your best behavior, Sheila.
They don't look like the people in Haiti...
Morning comes, signaling the arrival of Sheila's first day interacting with Americans. What would they have in store for her?
Um... my name is Sheila...
Why do you talk like that?! HAHAHA
As Shella's mother reassures her, the kids in the city have already began to take notice of the new kid in town.
As Sheila looks around, she notices that none of the kids look like her or her family. They're white. She had seen white tourists back in Haiti, but she had never been this close to them, and she definitely didn't have to speak to them before now.
Sheila's first experience with the children in Texas was having them make fun of her name. It was rather common in Haiti, but the kids in Texas hadn't heard a name like that before, so they made fun of her. Also, her Haitian accent was quite strong and only made the teasing worse.
Sheila? What kind of name is that?!
After having her accent and named mocked all day, Sheila just wanted to eat lunch alone. Unfortunately, her fragrant Haitian food caught the attention of her bullies, and they proceeded to laugh at her through the whole lunch period. She knew that they would mock her for speaking, so she just cried and tried to eat her food.
Sheila? Are you okay?
The only respite Sheila had from the kids was at recess, where none of the kids wanted to play with her. Throughout this whole terrible day, Sheila's teacher never stepped in to make her feel better. Sheila knew the reason-- she was different from the rest of the kids. Poor Sheila was ready to go home.
Sheila's first day in school ended up being horrible. As she got on the bus, she dreaded the idea of doing this until she graduated.
Knowing how excited her mom was for this venture, Sheila couldn't bring herself to speak about the teasing and bullying. Sheila's mother thought that she was still nervous about moving here, so she left Sheila alone.
That night, Sheila ruminated over why she was treated like that at school. She knew the reason, but she just couldn't wrap her head around it. She would never treat someone so rudely based solely off of how they speak or what they eat.
What did I ever do to them?? They don't even know me, so why are they treating me like this?
Why don't you speak to us anymore??
Even weeks later, the bullying never ceased. Sheila's teacher neglected to step in and put an stop to it, and Sheila's outlook on school became more and more damaged. Eventually, this began to bleed into her life at home.
Sheila became so fearful of being ridiculed that the simply stopped expressing herself. Her mother didn't understand what was going on since Sheila wouldn't confide in her, so she got angry and began yelling at Sheila. This didn't help her situation at all and only made Sheila more of a shut-in.
A year of silence from Sheila forced her mom to crack and remove her from the school. However, the anxiety remained. Sheila was in her late teens before her mom decided to seek the help of a therapist and get to the root of the problem. Through cognitive behavioral therapy and various exercises, Sheila was finally on the way to overcoming her severe social anxiety.