Celebrities Bullied as Children Because of Race

Jessica Alba. Miguel77/Flickr.com

Children are bullied for all sorts of reasons—what they look like, where they live or even what grades they get in school. But children from ethnic minority groups also endure bullying because of race, especially if they’re one of the few people from their racial background in sight. A range of celebrities—Chris Rock, Jessica Alba, Steven Spielberg, Margaret Cho, Viola Davis and Rachel True—have said that they faced bullying in childhood because their ethnicity set them apart from their classmates.

The fact that these entertainers managed to overcome race-based bullying as children provides hope to young people living through similar experiences today.

Steven Spielberg: Tormented For Being Jewish

Steven Spielberg’s family was an anomaly in Phoenix, Ariz., when he was a child. They were Jewish. His mother Leah Adler said that neighbors would chant, “The Spielbergs are dirty Jews.” A young Spielberg got revenge on the anti-Semites by peanut buttering their windows, but he still suffered emotionally because of their prejudice. To escape his peers’ scorn, Spielberg began to pass as non-Jewish. “I denied it for a long time. My Judaism,” he confessed during an October 2012 “60 Minutes” interview. “I often told people my last name was German, not Jewish. I’m sure my grandparents are rolling over in their graves right now, hearing me say that. But I think that—you know, that I was in denial for a long time.”

Viola Davis: A Rare Black in Rhode Island

Academy Award nominee Viola Davis is one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. As a child, however, Davis grew up poor in Rhode Island. Her race and class status led classmates to mistreat her. “We moved there [to Rhode Island] in 1965, and we were the only black family," Davis said on episode of "The Talk" in October 2012.

"In grade school I was definitely singled out and teased. Eight to 12 boys every day would chase me after school with bricks and sticks and just say ugly, black, ugly, ugly.”

Chris Rock: Bullied in Brooklyn

“Everybody Hates Chris,” the sitcom loosely based on comedian Chris Rock’s youth, portrayed the title character as a bit of an underdog and a misfit. Rock has said that as a child, he not only didn’t fit in, he was also bullied. “I was bused to a school in Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn in 1972,” he  remembered. “I was one of the first black kids in the history of the school. There were parents with signs: ‘N----r Go Home!’ For all intents and purposes, the United States had been practicing apartheid until ’68. I was spit on every day. I had water balloons with piss thrown at me.”

Margaret Cho: “It Gets Better”

Comedienne Margaret Cho grew up Korean-American in the San Francisco Bay Area. She says that her ethnic background, among other factors, made her a target of bullies as a child, particularly between the ages of 10 and 14. “I was hurt because I was different, and so sharing my experience of being beaten and hated and called ugly and fat and queer and foreign and perverse and gluttonous and lazy and filthy and dishonest and yet all the while remaining invisible heals me, and heals others when they hear it—those who are suffering right now.

If you are going through this kind of s--t today, try to remember that I lived through it and now thrive.”

Jessica Alba: Picked on For Her Race and Class

Jessica Alba may now be considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, but when she was a child the actress endured bullying. She says that her socioeconomic background played a role in her mistreatment as well as her biracial identity. Alba has Hispanic and European heritage. When she was eight, she moved to an affluent part of Los Angeles--but in a modest apartment her parents paid for by working odd jobs, including at McDonald’s. “I was this incredibly shy, awkward child with buck teeth and a thick Texan accent. …We were totally the odd kids out…,” she recalled. “I was bullied so badly my dad used to have to walk me into school so I didn’t get attacked.

I’d eat my lunch in the nurses’ office so I didn’t have to sit with the other girls. Apart from my being mixed race, my parents didn’t have money so I never had the cute clothes or the cool back pack.”

Rachel True: Singled Out in Rural New York

Biracial actress Rachel True, who’s known for the film “The Craft” and the television show “Half & Half,” split her time between New York City and upstate New York as a child. In the latter location, she found herself one of the few brown faces around. True has African-American and Caucasian ancestry.

“I was walking my dog once and we got onto this guy’s lawn a little, and he came running out with a shotgun! I don’t think those people had ever seen a black family that wasn’t on TV,” she recalled in an interview. Already interested in acting as a youth, True recalled her school preventing her from playing a blind child in a production of “The Miracle Worker.” She said, “They were like 'you have to be a maid.’ I was like ‘I just want to be a blind girl. I don't have to be Helen.’ They wouldn’t let me, so in the end I scrapped the whole idea. That’s when I came home and I remember saying ‘I guess I'm going to have to write my own parts,’ and I still think that’s true.