Thursday, April 16, 2009

communal brain damage

The Field Negro featured a story last night about a young sixth grade boy who was teased in his new school for being active in sports, the boy scouts, volunteering and going to church. It went on for months - calling him gay and teasing his clothes - and it didn't end until he committed suicide. His mother complained to the school. His school hardly did anything. The bullies were relentless. It really hit home for me because my sixth grade bullying experience was so similar. Here is my two cents on the matter, which I originally posted in the Field Negro's comments.

"that wasn't just homophobia. that was communal hatred of the pursuit of excellence. i relate to this boy's story - i went through the merciless teasing that happens when you're the new kid in a school and you stand out for the pursuit of excellence. if i had been a boy, they would have called me gay, too.

the teachers knew i was being teased because of how they fawned over me, but they didn't care, and they continued to do it. i was depressed. i tried to hate myself because everyone else did. i was 10/11 years old. my only resources were my parents. there were no counselors at my private school. and i imagine that this boy begged his mother NOT to come to the school, just like i did, knowing it would only have made the situation worse with the other kids.

he knew the school wasn't going to do anything about the teasing - adults don't take child teasing seriously. they don't see a line between friendly teasing and the chronic kind between enemies that makes you depressed and suicidal. they don't even think kids would get depressed like i did, or suicidal, like this young man. they think eventually the bullies will tire of the game, and that the victim will get over it with the resiliency adults think all children have. i can tell you that is not how it works. it took me years to get over what happened to me in the sixth grade. years.

and part of the problem is that black people, in fact low-income people of any race (whether or not they have pastors) often don't take mental illness seriously. it may not have occurred to this boy's mom that a shrink was necessary. she probably had no suspicion that he was so far gone that he would ever be tempted to kill himself. and her son probably covered it well by continuing to put on a front that nothing within him was changing. that's what i did. sometimes i would cry or complain, but when i realized nothing could be or would be done by adults, like when i was molested by another child, or when i was teased mercilessly at school, i got real stoic, and covered my inner turmoil as best i could.

some of our children are suffering in silence because they don't see any other way.

and too many adults don't think of bullying as life-or-death, wellness-or-illness dangerous to the well being of a victim. especially in low income black communities, where hazing is done both within the home and in the neighborhood from early ages, to harden children and make them tough enough for a world seen as inherently hostile. nobody wants their kid to be the soft one, and in the minds of parents like these, whoever their kid is picking on could probably use the toughening up, anyway, since the victim's parents obviously didn't do a good enough job of it. i have a friend whose three year old son is being targeted - not by strangers but by his own grandmother and father - as needing to toughen up. they don't want him to cry or ever act like his feelings are hurt. at three.

homophobia is part of the problem, yes, because of the 'gay' label, which children aren't just using for labeling homosexuals, but for any behavior they see as out of the stereotypes of what it means to be black, or appropriately hard - sometimes it doesn't have anything to do with gayness, but the fact that it connotes gayness is an added emphasis or bonus to the slur. 'not only are you acting like a soft white boy, but you like boys, too.'

this is a multifaceted problem that can't be solved by a lawsuit, or prayer without action, or a bunch of shrinks. it is a societal and cultural problem."

I survived my situation by the grace of God. I suppose I was resilient enough to keep taking it everyday without losing myself in the process. I got a into a fight with one of the popular girls, and afterwards, they respected me a little more, even though they still didn't like me. I shouldn't have had to physically fight and get in trouble to get respect - I was lucky it was one on one and that I didn't get jumped. I managed to make a few friends, which made avoiding the bullies easier. After a year, the worst of it passed. The next two years weren't as bad as the first. Mercifully, I then made it to high school where the teasing wasn't nearly as bad, since everyone there was reaching for good grades and college. But I was affected by distrust of my peers, insecurity, low self-esteem, and unsolicited hostility as a preemptive measure at least for the next four or five years after that. And looking at this young man's situation, I guess I got off easy.