Silencing Techniques from the Sandbox



Okay kids! Time to do a participatory exercise! Are you ready?

This exercise is called “Deconstructing Insults” or “Let’s find out what the bullies in the sandbox are really saying!”

First, let’s find out what insults people are using! Please stop if you know this exercise makes you want to cry and find your mommy. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

“Dumb?” “Stupid?”

Yes, that’s right! And what else?

“#$(&#%*(&#(&(&@) ?”

Yup, you got it! Those are racial and gendered slurs that you’re not old enough to be exposed to, but will know because of media exposure and peer influence anyway! What else have the bullies tried to say to scare people?

“You should #@$#@%$^#! (*&)&*&_)(*)(* yourself! I hope you @#$#$^$%^%!”

Whoa, that’s making me do all sorts of horrifying bodily functions. That’s correct!

“Teacher, this is making me sad. And I already got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

Sorry about that, kiddo. Say, how many of you have been kicked when you’re already down?


Wow, that’s… disconcerting. Good thing I’m a social worker. Bullies are mean, aren’t they.

“Yes they are!”

But guess what? We’re not done! The fun has just begun! The next part is figuring out what the insults really mean! Let’s start with “dumb” and “stupid.” If someone calls you “dumb” or “stupid,” what are they trying to say about themselves?

“That they are dumb and stupid?”

You must have a high emotional quotient! That is called projection and happens when someone uses words to describe another person, when they are too afraid to use those words to describe themselves. What else might they be saying about themselves? What is the opposite of dumb and stupid?

“Smart?” “Genius!” “Nerdy?”

That’s correct! When a bully calls you dumb and stupid, they are trying to say that they are smarter than you, and a genius or a nerd compared to you. They are trying to make themselves feel better by making you feel awful. But is it true that you can become smart just by calling people dumb?

“No way, Jose!”

There you go. Okay, how about the racial and gendered slurs that you’re not supposed to know. When someone says those, what does that say?”

“I don’t know, but it makes me want to cry and find my mommy.”

That’s right! Racial and gendered slurs are used to make you feel unwelcome and sad. But where can you go to find your mommy?

“Home.” “She’s at work!”

That’s exactly what bullies want. Some adult bullies will even say, “GO HOME” or “GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM” to make you do this. But why would a bully want to make you go home?


Bullies aren’t fair! And anytime someone threatens to hurt you or says they hope you hurt themselves, you should know that they don’t really care about you. When you are with a bully, you are not in a safe space.

“But what should we do? Bullies are liars because they say they’re smarter when they aren’t. And bullies are mean and unfair. On top of that, bullies make the sandbox unsafe!”

Well, you can do two things: 1) Run away to your mommy and 2) Stand up to them.

“Why can’t we lie, and be mean, and unfair, and violent, too?”

Because you would become a bully.

“Oh… but if I run away to my mommy, don’t I have to leave the sandbox?”



You can still stand up to them.

“No way! I’ll get hurt! I’ll cry! I’d rather run to my mommy!”

Me too, dear. Me, too.

“What if lots of my friends stand up to the bullies? What if we say we won’t take it anymore?”

That, my sweetie, is called solidarity. When you’re older, you’ll learn about organizations like the ACLU (, and activists like Suey Park (, and conferences like PANAAWTM ( that are dedicated to the work of solidarity.

You may not always agree with what they do, or how they do it, and you might not always feel like friends. But the important thing is that you stick together, even when bullies call you names and try to hurt you, even when bullies try to make you hate each other. When you’re all together, you’ll stand solid and you can’t be moved. You will be like a big mountain that no one can shake or take down. And the sandbox might even be yours one day, in which case I will ask you to remember two things.

“What’s that?”

Sharing is caring, and dumb is not an insult because it is better to be kind than to be right.



“Han, translated as “suffering,” has multifaceted meanings in Korean. Park (1993, p. 31) defines han as “frustrated hope, the collapsed feeling of pain, letting go [of hope], resentful bitterness, and the wounded heart.” More than the ordinary experience of discouragement, Han refers to life that because of prolonged abuse and injustice has lost its spirit. According to Poling and Kim, this Korean term enables victims to express indescribably dreadful experiences. It can enable pastoral theologians to understand victims and the complicated healing process necessary to recover from such experiences.

Jeong is translated as “love” or “affection” in English. However, according
to Wonhee Anne Joh (2006), jeong is more powerful, lasting, and transformative than love. Jeong describes the longtime attachment or deep bonding within relationships, even those that involve ambiguity and periods of alienation. Jeong helps pastoral theologians explicate the complicated dynamics of human relationships, an important contribution from within a collectivistic cultural framework such as in Korea.” –‎

I don’t have time or enough emotional energy for sadness to turn to bitterness. I can only make room for han to burn, for anger to lick through my body, for rage to culminate in action. Let’s hope that jeong can cut through the crap and bring about hope and healing.

I don’t have time or enough emotional energy to as Suey Park would say, “enact the labor” to explain what racial slurs on a public platform symbolize to those maligned by them other than the obvious (to me): “You don’t belong. We are not interested in laughing with you, but at you. But don’t make us uncomfortable about it, because that would make us need to, like, change.” Those who know me know that I have a deep, abiding love for comedy for a number of reasons, and it has made me the person I am today. But certain conversations are worth having. I am just not interested in having them for now, because other people have graciously taken the time and emotional energy to articulate their thoughts and document their experiences for me.

Recommended reading:

Reasons Behind #CancelColbert
“You’re stupid” as a Silencing Technique

I will not tell you what to think, but I will tell you facts and patterns worth noting. You can draw the conclusions yourself, because I believe in your intelligence, and refuse to use stupid as an insult.

  1. Suey Park, Korean American activist, has advocated on multiple issues related to solidarity among all people of color, including Native American advocacy, educated in satire as a writer.
  2. Josh Zepps, media personality, educated in satire in white-dominated societies, Australia and United States.
  3. Suey Park and other supporters of #CancelColbert are insulted with racial and gendered slurs, and threatened with rape, death, and other kinds of violence.
  4. Opponents of #CancelColbert are denounced for affiliating with white supremacy (white allies receive shoutouts of appreciation) and for nationalism (Asian Americans who are perceived as uninterested in ending racism are called out).
  5. Variations of “dumb” and “stupid” are taken out of the elementary school sandbox and used to dismiss #CancelColbert supporters’ opinions.
  6. Media headlines emphasize Suey Park as hashtag activist or Twitter activist, erasing or minimizing the in-person, full-time activism that she does outside of her use of social media as a tool. See Hashtags as Decolonial Projects.

Let’s repeat our mantra again:

Sharing is caring, and dumb is not an insult because it is better to be kind than to be right.

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