Of Bigots and Bullies

It’s tough being a kid who is seen by their peers as somehow “different.” It doesn’t matter what form that difference takes, such kids tend to become what is called “bully bait.

How bad can it get? Last month a nine-year-old boy in Mansfield, England, after being bullied nonstop for a full week, ended up in the hospital with a wooden plank nailed to his head. The boy’s crime: being autistic.

Now imagine he was your child.

A boy in a schoolyard
Image by Grant via Flickr.

What goes through such a kid’s mind each school-day morning as he leaves the safety of his home and heads off to a place where he knows he’s likely to be verbally abused or even physically assaulted?

It’s bad enough when adults turn a blind eye to bullying, it’s disgraceful when they encourage it, and it’s criminal when major U.S. corporations contribute to the problem by airing or sponsoring TV programs that set up innocent kids as “different” and therefore as targets.

The program itself attracts but a tiny audience. However the seeds of hate it sows grow into a twisted web on social media where impressionable children are easily influenced.
Leah Remini
Leah Remini on her bigoted show

In years gone by, I don’t recall ever hearing of a child being bullied for being a Scientologist. Unfortunately that changed when the A&E Network, a Disney company, began airing Leah Remini’s hate-fest of a show called “Scientology and the Aftermath.” Since then, I’ve heard of several instances in which innocent children were harassed. There is no question that Remini’s gross misrepresentation of Scientology is fueling such incidents—the guilty named her show as the reason for their acts.

The program itself attracts but a tiny audience. However the seeds of hate it sows grow into a twisted web on social media where impressionable children are easily influenced. Because scandal—real or imagined—makes for good click-bait, Internet media outlets that place profits above truth are quick to jump on any passing hate train. And so we now have a new class of potential bully victims… kid Scientologists. (I say “potential” because Scientologists don’t often make good “victims.”)

Take the case of 13-year-old Ram Sharma. When the after-effects of Disney’s failure to police their own house reached him a half a world away in New Delhi, Ram went through a rough time. He was harassed by schoolyard bullies for being a Scientologist and was crushed when he lost his best friend to online anti-Scientology propaganda. But rather than rolling over and playing dead, Ram decided to strike back against bigotry and hate with an online petition to “ban” Remini’s show. It took but a matter of hours for over a thousand Internet users to find and sign Ram’s passionate, albeit roughly worded petition.

Ram Sharma
Ram Sharma, a young Scientologist in India who took action after being bullied

Recently, I heard of two Scientologists in my part of the country (the foothills of Los Angeles) complaining to supermarket managers about a magazine issue on display in checkout counter racks. They were protesting the bigoted Leah Remini article promoted on its cover. In both cases, the managers were happy to oblige and pulled the offending magazines from the display racks. So there are rational folk out there who, given the opportunity, quickly recognize Remini’s brand of for-profit bigotry for what it is.

Lies of the tabloid variety, whether forwarded by bigots or bullies, have the potential to turn us against one another. Luckily, such ill-intended efforts don’t hold up well when confronted by the universal solvent called “truth.”

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