This Anti-Bullying Week, we’ve been speaking with award-winning author, A. M. Dassu about the inspiration behind her World Book Day £1 /€1.50 book, BOOT IT! (Old Barn books) – a powerful story of friendship and booting out racism.
Your World Book Day £1/€1.50 book, Boot It! is a powerful story about friendship and booting out racism in football. What was the inspiration behind this book?
A. M. Dassu: BOOT IT! was inspired by recent revelations in sports news, which highlighted the importance of words and how comments or “banter” about an individual’s identity can be immensely harmful and sometimes life changing.
Through BOOT IT! I want readers to experience and understand the impact of prejudice and bullying. Stereotypes are hurtful and can belittle a part of a young person’s identity they can’t control. I chose sport and football to explore racism and bullying because it is the one thing that connects us all throughout the world; across cultures, languages and nations.
How would you describe bullying? Are all kinds of bullying the same? Why or why not? How are bullying and racist behaviour connected?
A. M. Dassu: Bullying is when someone uses their power or strength to insult, humiliate, threaten, hurt or intimidate you.
Racism is connected to bullying when someone is abused or harassed in person or online because of their race or skin colour or where they’re from. It can take many forms, from being excluded from groups, fun being made of their food, clothes or how they look, teasing, mimicking accents, assuming things about them because of their culture etc.
When people share their negative opinions and thoughts about someone else’s identity it can make that person feel isolated, sad, angry, even ashamed about their race because they are made to feel they don’t belong.
I hope BOOT IT! will empower young people and show them that you don’t have to accept being bullied. By speaking up you can find allies and by peacefully protesting you can make a difference.
What advice would you give to a young person experiencing bullying?
A. M. Dassu: I wrote BOOT IT! to help us talk about being different and come together to stand up to racism and bullying. I want young people to know it’s okay to be different and even if you don’t fit in, you can still achieve your dreams. It’s not easy sometimes, but there are so many people like you, and you’re not alone.
My hope is for anyone who has been excluded, or doesn’t feel like they belong, to see themselves in this story. Lots of people struggle with bullying, but one thing is true: we are stronger when we support each other. Here are some things you can do:
1. If you’re being bullied, talk to someone. Whether that’s a friend, a parent, carer, teacher or someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone you know, you can contact Childline and speak to a trained counsellor. You don’t even have to give your name. But being able to talk about your worries really helps.
2. It’s hard to do, but speak up – either by telling someone, or correcting people if they say something wrong. Challenge racism and hateful language if you feel able to. If it is not safe, tell your teachers. Sometimes all it takes is saying, “You need to stop,” or, “That wasn’t nice,” or telling the person who is attacking to step back and leave.
3. If you’re getting bullied online, block anyone who is being abusive towards you. You can also use free apps like Block’em which block unwanted calls and text messages.
4. Remember, it is your human right to use your own language, culture or religion. If someone is harming you because of your race, skin colour, religious belief, gender, sexuality or disability, they are committing a hate crime, and you can report them and speak to the police.
5. You could ask your teacher to organise an assembly for you and others to speak about your own or someone else’s experiences so that everyone else can learn how bullying can impact a person’s life.
6. You could also ask a friend to help you when you’re around the bully, by simply checking in on you and asking if you’re okay.
7. Be proud of who you are. Remember this time will pass. Focus on what makes you smile and picture where you want to be. Do things that make you feel good. When you’re older, you can show these bullies up by achieving your goals! Use their negative energy to fuel your success. Your success is a sure-fire way of leaving them behind and feeling good about it!
I hope readers will see their own story through Sami and Ali’s in BOOT IT! Not everyone is accepted for who they are or who they want to be. And I want them to know that they’re not alone. Things can get better.
And I hope that anyone who sees someone being picked on or targeted for who they are, what they’re wearing, what they look like, or what they believe in, I hope you’ll stand together and take that bullying and BOOT IT!
Get your copy of BOOT IT! by A.M. Dassu for FREE with your World Book Day £1/€1.50 book token
Getting your free copy of BOOT IT! is easy – simply take your World Book Day £1/€1.50 book token to your nearest participating retailer and swap it for a copy of the book.
The World Book Day book tokens are valid from Thursday 16 February to Sunday 26 March 2023. Find you nearest participating retailer here.