Bully

You slammed against her to break her,
But crumbled to pieces at her feet.
I can’t feel bad for you.

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Call Me By My Name

Let’s talk about name calling and why people do it. We’ll start with something that happened this weekend.

A boy came to our Minecraft server and broke apart something my daughter built. (These kids are 11 & 12 years old.) He said he thought what my daughter built wasn’t very good and he could do it better. My daughter then banned him from our server. A few minutes later she logged onto a Skype call with this boy and some mutual friends. They were all playing Minecraft on this boy’s server. When he saw my daughter’s name pop up as being available on Skype, he said, “Oh, great! Here comes the Drama Queen.”

My daughter spent the next hour, and parts of the next few days, defending herself. She repeatedly told me all the ways she is not a Drama Queen.

But that is not the point, at all. Truth be told, the boy was already generating more drama by taking what was a personal interaction and broadcasting his accusations to a group of kids not previously involved.

I said to her, “In your lifetime, boys are going to call you much worse. Girls will do it, too. Why do you think they do it?”

She didn’t have an answer. But I do. This is basically what I told her:

Think of a photograph of a girl you don’t know very well. If, above the photo there is the word “Jane”, you will see her as just a girl like you. You might be curious to know more about her. But if instead of “Jane” there is the word “Drama Queen”, you will already judge her before knowing her.

Name calling is not about saying a word that hurts to hear. Name calling is about erasing the person and replacing her individuality with a stereotype. It’s easier to convince people not to like Drama Queens, Cheaters, or Sluts. If someone can manage to take away your name and replace it with a slur, whatever negative thing they say about you after that is more likely to be believed. Essentially, they are weakening your influence and limiting your power.

Is that 12 year old boy aware of this or is he mimicking society? I guess the answer could go either way. But the end results of the behavior are the same.

Without critical thinking skills, people believe the negative things they hear. Even if they don’t believe it, they may still laugh and go along with it. No one wants to say my daughter isn’t a Drama Queen because to argue about it might make them a Drama Queen, too. Even my own daughter is reluctant to object because objecting is exactly what Drama Queens do.

To relate to this as an adult woman, consider the last time someone called you a bitch just because something upset you, and then acted like the fact you didn’t like being called a bitch was proof the label fit.

A further example is the stereotype of “Angry Black Woman”. This label has been used to effectively discredit valid arguments from Black Women for years. It tries to erase power which in turn will erase passion and ultimately results in silence.

Name calling is NOT just a word hard to hear. We know this. That’s why name calling mostly occurs when talking to other people than the person being labeled. It is an extremely powerful and effective way of erasing individuality, erasing personhood, erasing the legitimacy of words yet spoken. By simply introducing someone as a label instead of their name, I can create a bias with which you will filter their words. You may refuse to listen to them at all. But then how will you know if I lied?

Only critical thinking will set us free.

I told my daughter that I have no friends with whom I have never disagreed with at some point, even after 42 years. Disagreements are not the problem and will not ruin friendships. I’ve even had many friends use the same tactics on me that this boy used on my daughter. Long ago, I probably did the same to them.

“That doesn’t make it’s right to do it. I’m just saying you probably can’t stop people from doing it to you. It’s going to happen again. Keep being you and realize WHY they are doing it and don’t be so quick to give up your power. Don’t name call in return.  If someone doesn’t care about you or how you feel, just let them go.”

I know it’s easier said than done. I look at social media and I’m well aware of how many people continue to name call strangers they’ve never met in exactly the same way a 12 year old would. Even worse, they often jump on the bandwagon to judge someone they’ve never met simply because of a label someone else gave.

I am not great at remembering names. Sometimes I have to ask for a reminder again and again. But I promise I’ll always see a person as an individual, even if I have nothing in common other than our humanness. I promise to let my kids see this about me and hope it spreads. I don’t know what else I can do.

What about you? Have you found any other ways of dealing with problems like this?

Hate, Forgiveness, and Self-Control

My mom would often tell us, “You don’t hate anything.” Hate was not allowed in our house.

But when my uncle would visit, he would tell us elaborate stories from their childhood, finishing with, “I hate that woman/man.”

Mom would say, “Now, now. You don’t hate anyone.”

My Uncle responded, “Hell yes I do hate them, and you should, too!”

I tend to be more like Mom. I’m not comfortable with hate. I think it can eat away at the heart of the person holding it, and does nothing to change those we feel it toward. There are plenty of people I have reason to dislike, some of them are hopelessly flawed and unrepentant. But, I can’t think of anyone I hate in a forever kind of way.

Forgiveness is a different issue. Despite hating no one, I seldom forgive the most harmful people. They simply don’t deserve it, having never asked for it, or even acknowledged the harm they caused. Some people say we should forgive those who have hurt us so we can move on, but I’ve moved on quite well. Forgiveness is not the key to happiness. The assertion that we are going to be carrying around the weight of another person’s transgressions unless we forgive the person who hurt us is a lie.

As a perfect example, nearly a decade after leaving an abusive relationship, I called the guy. I wanted to hear him apologize. I scheduled a meeting in a park. We sat in my car. I asked him why he had physically hurt me so many times. I listed all the atrocities he had committed. He listened, then laughed. He said, “You used to be such a damn crybaby.” And then he leaned over and kissed me. What a prick.

Forgiveness? I’ll pass. But, I don’t hate him. I don’t have room in my life for it. There are occasions when I wish there was justice because I love it when people get what they deserve. But, it’s important for me to feel in control, so I try not to brood over things I can do little about.

Feelings of great dislike do arise, but they are usually short-lived. They usually happen on social media, or when one of my kids is hurt by someone, or someone messes with my mom. I am capable of passionately, momentarily, hating. But if it lasts more than a couple of weeks, I know it’s time to either do something or let it go.

Just for fun, I’m going to tell you about some things I hate right now, in the momentary, yet passionate sense.

I hate the t.v. show The Slap. I hate it because there are no likeable characters. They are all so stereotypical that I think the creators wanted the audience to hate them. That must have been the entire premiss: “Let’s create a show to fuel discord by having non-realistic characters as stereotypes people already love to hate.” And it works. I looked at feedback on twitter. Lots of people hating the characters, no one noticing it was a set up. Lots of people arguing about the show as if it reflects any semblance of reality, and it doesn’t.

I hate the song Jealous by Nick Jonas. My kids know I hate it because every time it comes on, I switch the channel while saying, “I hate that song, I hate that song, I hate that song.” And then I explain to them, every time, “He has no right to act hellish just because he’s jealous. He doesn’t own her. He should either be with her or not. There’s no excuse for being a jerk.” Repeat: No one has a right to be hellish. (Are you listening, Nick Jonas?)

I hate that girl… no, correction, I hate WHEN that girl on twitter mocked Quentin Alexander’s appearance on twitter while he sang I Put a Spell on You by Screamin Jay Hawkins. The girl posted a pic of Quentin and asked something to the gist of “What the hell is on my tv screen?” I’ve never before come so close to calling someone an asshole on social media. I know lots of people just like her. They distract from their own flaws by creating a constant barrage of insults toward others, mostly those perceived as underdogs. I could rant all day about how much I hated that girl at that moment, and how actions like hers almost always set me off. But I won’t. I’ll just share Quentin’s performance because it was rich with emotion, beautiful and smart, and everything that girl isn’t.

So, I was going to list more things I have hated this week, but that video just derailed me into a happy zone. That’s okay. I’m not trying to bring everybody up onto the hate wagon.

Sometimes people are just not worth the price of hating them. It’s not that they don’t deserve the hate. It’s not that letting go of your hate for them means you forgive them. It just means that getting them out of your circle so you can heal means not having to think about them at all. They don’t deserve the power we give to villains. They deserve to be sad and pathetic nobodies.

Do Kids Expect Victim Blaming?

I don’t usually write blog posts two days in a row. Yesterday I wrote about misogyny, rape, and victim blaming. It felt good to write it, but exhausting to process emotionally. Maybe my ambivalence threw me off my game a little when an issue came up with my girls that evening.

Our neighborhood is full of children. Just on our cul-de-sac, we have 13 houses and 26 kids (maybe more if you count high school kids). Most of the neighborhood streets are similar, children everywhere. We have been fortunate that most of the kids are very nice, accepting of differences, and eager to play with other kids. The neighborhood kids have accepted my autistic son, they remember my restrictions for him, and a few times they have helped me corral him if he ran outside without permission.

We have only lived here for a year. Every single day of that year, we have acknowledged just how lucky we are. When we lived in Tennessee, our house was only a few feet away from a busy road. We were in a historical area where some houses were renovated while others were in shambles. Too frequently, things were stolen from porches or back yards. My kids were never allowed outside without a parent there.

But, here, my kids go out. Everyone’s kids go out. Parents are outside working in the yard or taking walks with baby strollers. There are always people at the school for practices or programs, or kids playing at the playground. We can see them from our windows. It’s the paradise I wished for as a kid, but never had.

So I was caught off guard a little yesterday.

My eight year old had a friend stay over after school. They had been riding bikes with “the regular” neighborhood boy, A____. My ten year old daughter was playing at the playground with another neighborhood girl and boy. My son escaped out the door and headed toward the playground, so I decided I’d let him go on up and I followed behind him.

Everyone was playing and laughing when some boys came through on scooters (the kick kind, not motorized). They yelled “Hey, girls!” at my girls before they saw me on the other side of the play area.

A____ told me those boys had asked him if my daughter and her friend were “his bitches?”

That’s when a flood of revelations poured out of all the kids around me. The oldest of the group of boys was in 8th grade. He went to a school across town but frequently came to this playground.

This is when one of my daughters reveals that a few weeks ago this boy had thrown rocks at her and some friends. Then she says, “He spit on me. Then he told me to go home and tell my older sister to come up to the playground so he could see if she was cute or he would spit on me again. I told him to stop or I wouldn’t play with him. But he kept spitting on me, so I left.”

Three weeks ago, this happened. And I found out about it yesterday.

Rage.

I walked into the school where the boys had gone to watch a volleyball practice. I inquired if any of the adults there were their parents. After explaining to the coaches what had happened, they made them leave the building. I followed them out, asking where their parents were.  They said they lived across town. They denied all of the accusations I made and refused to leave the playground.

I couldn’t force them to leave.

I stayed with the kids, but I could tell everyone was intimidated by the boys being there. They also knew, from past experiences, that I was livid. I do not play nice when it comes to protecting my kids. I always call out other kids for not playing fair, just like I do my own. And the neighborhood kids know they are always welcome at my house, but that I expect the same behavior from them as I do my own children: treat people the way you want to be treated. If not, expect trouble.

What has upset me most about that boy… that 14 year old boy… is that what he did was hurtful, yet my girls didn’t mention it. If I had not been standing there on the playground yesterday, I would likely still not know.

Why do kids do this, protect bullies? They likely said nothing for fear I would never allow them to go to the playground again. They kept quiet because they feared they, and not the boy, would suffer the consequences. Which is absolutely possible. And sad. And it makes me angry. I don’t want my girls to feel like I will punish them if someone else hurts them.

So, I had a talk with them. I explained that spitting on someone or throwing rocks at them is considered assault, it is illegal. And if this boy, or anyone else, ever does that to them again, they needed to tell me immediately. I told them to never trust anyone who would hurt them because good people do not play that way. They should get away from people who do those things. I explained that they should always be with friends when they go to the playground and never go alone. If someone is behaving badly up there, come home.

Then I told them, “Go outside and play.”

We have good kids here, and good parents all around. I will not take away their joy because of one rotten kid. And I will not have my kids’ fears realized, or teach them that they will be punished for being victims.

The only punishment on my mind is for that boy. He is on thin ice.