A group of middle-school students attacked two Senegalese-American boys and called them “Ebola” at their Bronx school on Friday.
According to their father, Ousmane Drame, the two brothers — eighth-grader Pape Drame, 13, and sixth-grader Amadou Drame, 11 — tolerated two weeks of taunting in school following the arrival of the Ebola virus in the U.S.
“If they go to play in the gym, the kids tell them, ‘Don’t touch the ball. If you touch the ball we will all get Ebola,’ ” Drame told DNAinfo. The bullying got physical last Friday during lunchtime at I.S.318 in Tremont when fellow students beat the boys to the point of hospitalization.
Drame holds no grudge against his sons’ young attackers, given their ignorance and the fact that they, according to him, “are babies”. His beef is with the school system, for falling short of properly educating students about the disease — an education that could have prevented his sons from experiencing schooldays when they were ignored and treated like a cancer, he said.
Both boys were born in America and raised in Senegal until about a month ago, when they returned to the U.S. to be with their father.
U.S. Representative José Serrano and New York state senator Bill Perkins criticized the attack as a “hate crime” during a press conference on Monday at the headquarters of the Association of Senegalese in America in Harlem.
NYC’s Department of Education is already investigating the crime and has stepped up security at the boys’ school, the agency said in a statement issued on Monday. The department will also inform administrators to be more vigilant with regard to discrimination in their schools.
Serrano and Perkins drew attention to the growing stigma that West Africans in the U.S. contend with owing to the Ebola epidemic. And Ebolaphobia — as underscored by the Drame boys’ scenario — can be as sinister as the virus itself. These irrational fears have percolated down from the Rob Astorinos and Donald Trumps to schoolchildren.
Federal and state leaders have continued to call on Americans to place their anxieties aside and educate themselves about the disease. This education would’ve perhaps allowed the Drame boys’ bullies to know that Senegal was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization on October 17.
In a bid to address the xenophobia, West Africans in the U.S. have turned to social media, using hashtags like #IAmNotAVirus and #IAmLiberianNotAVirus to counter negative stereotypes as a result of Ebola:
Stigmatization of Africans must and should stop #IAmNotAVirus Ebola isn’t just an African disease.
— Schea Of Sheba (@scheafferoo) October 27, 2014
— Catherine Conrad (@CatieConrad) October 24, 2014
— Mamusu Kallon (@MamusuKallon) October 22, 2014
— Liberian Ent Awards (@LibEntAwards) October 26, 2014
— Grand Sultan Nuhu MD (@Mdnuhu) October 18, 2014
— Reynier del Calvo (@reynier2011) October 22, 2014