The Mosquitoes of Prejudice
The Mosquitoes of Prejudice sound like they could be a very small thrash death metal band.
But, no, it’s worse than that.
When faced with a mosquito – an irritant and an annoyance in most countries; the kiss of death in too many others – we effectively have four choices.
Swat. Cover up. Chemistry. Drain the swamp.
Now, imagine the mosquito as a form of targeted, identity-based childhood bullying and then consider what those four options look like now.
Some children will silently and painfully absorb different forms of bullying until they reach a snapping point. Once reached they may try to fight back and swat the mosquito. That strategy may work, briefly when it does, but it also has the potential to exacerbate the situation resulting in what we could refer to here as ‘mosquito pile-on’. That feeling of hopeless isolation can be made worse if watching bystanders do nothing to assist the child. This is particularly distressing when the bystander is a ‘should-know-better’ adult. Incidents like this can be so traumatic for children they avoid those areas where they will be targeted and quite possibly stop attending school all together. If you know you are the sort of person who simply attracts mosquito bites, you’re not going to head back to the jungle are you?
Swatting is exhausting and not something we can do 24 hours a day. There are times when the only way to stay safe is to cover up with the help of a mosquito net. As educators, we may feel that by offering coping strategies, we help the child in much the same way we deploy a mosquito net at night-time. Helpful, yes, but nets are not indestructible and, ultimately, the mosquitoes are still there, waiting.
Plans are afoot to genetically modify mosquitoes so they immunise you against malaria when they bite you, which might be a better option than the widespread use of chemicals like DDT which do so much more than merely wipe out their target. But genetics, eugenics and eradication are part of another story in the history of LGBTQ+ and for another day.
Drain the Swamp
Which leaves us with the only sure-fire way to deal with The Mosquitoes of Prejudice, which is to target the heart and mind ‘swamp’ where they breed.
Fortunately, hearts and minds are core business for schools.
Morally and legally, we have a duty to drain this swamp where prejudice lurks and festers and grows into something truly nasty. How do we do this? By ensuring we tackle prejudice before it gets chance to bite and infect through firm, confident interventions. Although we may not like to admit it, we all harbour prejudice in many forms. Often it lies dormant, deep in our sub-consciousness but, if triggered through fear, it can erupt, volcano-like, through discriminatory actions, exclusionary motives and distasteful language. Therefore, we need to be open and culturally curious so that we can listen to, empathise with and learn from people whom we may not have encountered previously. We must tackle our own innate tendency for discrimination through promoting understanding within ourselves. Once we have addressed our own prejudice(s), we can role model to children what we might call (with a nod to Vygotsky) ‘zones of proximal inclusion development’, exposing them to diverse human experiences through intergroup contact whilst at the same time surrounding them with the language of compassion, kindness, acceptance and empathy.
From my perspective, failure to act feels like an admission that it would be acceptable for some children to suffer. And, if we need a reminder as to what happens when we don’t act the recent evidence of LGBTQ+ children being more at risk of mental health issues and more susceptible to self harm, gives a much better insight than I can offer.
It’s not easy draining the swamp, (just listen to Trump claiming he wants to drain it whilst he fills it) but if we are determined and persistent we stand a much better chance of forcing The Mosquitoes of Prejudice to finally ditch their instruments of hate and unplug their amps once and for all.
And if you think there is nothing little old you can do, just remember the old African proverb:
‘If you think you're too small to make a difference, you haven't spent a night with a mosquito.’