Be the role models kids need

Patrick Butler
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Another week and another bad news story from this province making the trip around the world and back.

This time, it’s the story of Torrence Collier, an 11-year-old Grade 5 student from St. Peter’s Academy in Westport who says he has been subject to racially motivated bullying by his classmates.

Torrence’s mother, Heather Collier, told CBC that her son — the only black child in Westport, a community of around 200 people on the Baie Verte Peninsula — endures slurs and threats regularly from other students. He’s been called the

N-word and a “rapist,” she said.

School was becoming like a prison for her son. Torrence, she said, “couldn’t take the daily bullying anymore.”

Since the CBC story aired last week, the Colliers have taken Torrence out of St. Peter’s Academy for the rest of the school year. According to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, several students at the school have been suspended for bullying.

The RCMP acknowledged there is an investigation into the Collier family’s allegations.

Parents and community members in Westport have responded to the media coverage. Several residents have said they aren’t aware of racist attitudes in their community, and contend that Torrence is the bully. They say their community is a far better place than the Colliers have made it out to be.

No doubt Westport is a great place to live, with many wonderful people. But denying racially charged bullying exists seems a stretch, considering students have been suspended at St. Peter’s and the Colliers have pulled Torrence out of school. The kids are picking up the vernacular from somewhere.

Adults understand the social implications of the N-word. Kids don’t.

We recognize what a rapist is and how ludicrous it would be call an 11-year-old one. Kids see it as a superficial, meaningless insult.

The N-word is a learned term, as is rapist. Neither appears in an elementary school curriculum. Neither makes the Grade 5 spelling list.

But somehow they both seem to have ended up at St. Peter’s Academy.

And somehow they’ve both landed Torrence Collier and his community in the news.

In a school environment with young children, especially in a community where racial diversity may very well come down to a single child, innocent and ignorant elementary school students might be expected to make a comment about Torrence’s skin colour.

Race, like any other distinctive physical feature, can be instantly observed. In a setting like Torrence’s, where a black child is an outlier, that factor is magnified exponentially.

What I’m saying is that for a kid to acknowledge another student’s physical difference is normal.

Without all the social conditioning that comes with growing up, an accidentally insensitive but innocent comment about a person’s appearance is to be expected.

But bringing up race with the intention of causing another person hurt, and using language specifically designed to degrade, is a different ball game altogether.

When words like the N-word enter a child’s recess-time vocabulary, “kids will be kids” no longer applies. These are imports from the messed-up adult world, which poison the way kids see each other and prey on differences kids should be learning to embrace.

Words like rapist and the N-word are invasive species in the classroom environment.

And just like dandelions or moose, they can be near impossible to control once they’ve settled in.

The school district has said it has held diversity and anti-bullying presentations at St. Peter’s Academy. But the key for keeping kids’ values in check, for teaching them how to treat each other and for showing them how to respect one another won’t come from a workshop.

Rather, it’ll come from the people kids look up to at home — the adults who model how to behave and how to treat one another.

Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: CBC, Academy in Westport, RCMP Carleton University

Geographic location: Peter, Westport

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Recent comments

  • Know your Role Models
    June 16, 2014 - 12:10

    Mostly, it is some kind of bigot that can see the difference of race, per se, instantly, as is stated here. There is no difference, that makes a difference, of 'race', according to modern anthropology and biology. Homo sapiens sapiens is one. It is shocking that the Google-Wiki generation would still perpetuate the denounced concept of 'ethnicity touted as different races of the human animal'. Yes, we can recognize and discriminate between people's variegated differences, in democratic media, but not writing about it in this backward fashion that tacitly accepts races, as a fact of our lives, and not recent history. This is just monkey-read, monkey-write, methinks and not stirring the melting-pot willfully, or distracting us...? When the stultifying Wayne Bennett was in the Newfoundland race, as a minority-baiting longshot-wingnut for PC leadership, the media-genii were all referring to his anti-Muslim bigotry/paranoia, as racism. This column begins with the phrase "racially-motivated bullying", but by it's end we seem to be reading about bully(status)-motivated racism. The essence of a rousing Felix Collin/Lorainne Michael house-mix battle! This is the root of scientific racism, and religious bigotry. STATUS. We can't totally control dandelions or moose. That is good. The moose will likely keep us fed, as well as dandelions in our inevitable fall from the economic grace of a well-oiled industry. We can't control the lexicon. That is good for us, collectively, as well. Not so good for sophistic, accredited journalists trying to keep the pot bubbling. If children were taught, in school, all the 'bad' words, and what they mean to "bad" people and the history, the subtext, then they might become more like clear critical thinkers, than eager to please parrots. Pretty Patrick! Pretty Boy! Get your bicky...sorry, where were we, OK. that was just a joke. I know he is not writing for purity crackers, or money. Status. All these -isms reduce to a bid for status, even journal-ism, in the messed-up scientifically-impoverished, religiously-starved adult world. Torrence Collier had his head put in a toilet!!!, this is more than name calling, and much less a rite of passage than déclassé sports-hazings that incense other news outlets. This would be assault of the highest degree at ANY progressive NGO office or strip club. Seems the judging media has plea-bargained them down to racism to suit a long-running status-agenda. I'm all for open discussion, and would like to hear if anyone believes the recent formation of a Shogun-Style Schoolboard has anything to do with this unfortunate status-battle that has invaded the lives of our pre-teens, and proved that sticks, stones, and swirlies are nothing, compared to the words of the scientifically ignorant. I am not defending racists, I pity their level of education and the journalists who live and hang off their words and actions. I am defending the rest of us human beings against the plain-clothes trolls of journalism, and pondering their motives?

    • Jeff
      June 16, 2014 - 14:08

      I said the exact same thing to my wife this morning.

  • carogers
    June 16, 2014 - 07:31

    Well said, hopefully the parents of this small town will get the message. If you use racist comments then your children will repeat your words. Frankly the people who have come out on TV denying racism exist in their town come across as very stupid. This only gives more support to the family that the bullying definitely occurred.