Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, March 9, 2012 8:44 pm

Defining bullying down

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

When I linked last night to the New York Times story about Texas shutting down health care for poor women while claiming it was all about abortion, I said this: “This is just people being dicks and punching defenseless women because they can.”

In other words, bullying.

I know from bullying. Between third and sixth grade I got my ass kicked fairly regularly by a couple of neighborhood kids. My parents, as parents did then, said, “Deal with it yourself. Fight back.” I did, although not very effectively. The only time I unambiguously won one of those battles was when I smashed a lunchbox across the other guy’s nose. And, naturally, this did not make him go away but for about two days.

Nowadays, the public schools where I live are all about “zero tolerance for bullying,” which is at once both an improvement and kind of quaint when you have kids bursting into middle school in search of a student they believe sexually assaulted a relative. But that’s only an improvement for the kids. The adults are now more into bullying than ever. Sometimes it takes the form of policy proposals that would further enrich the already wealthy at the expense of society’s most vulnerable, such as Rep. Paul Ryan’s kill-Medicare proposal, or that Times article I linked to about cutting health care for poor women in Texas. And sometimes it’s not even that subtle.

Athenae at First Draft offers some suitable perspective:

The only people who like bullies are bullies and the pathetic, conflict-averse, morally cowardly hangers-on who think that by throwing a few rocks they’ll avoid getting stoned to death at some point too. Everybody else recognizes what’s going on and thinks it’s gross, and even kind of sad, and shouldn’t we be past this now, we’re supposed to be grown-ups.

Let me tell you something about pregnant kids and how radically the landscape has shifted since I was in school. I went to a doctrinaire Roman Catholic high school, and in my senior year there were a couple of girls who were pregnant. And not once did anyone in authority, principal down to the … janitor, treat those girls with anything less than the respect every single other student received. You can’t stop kids from gossiping, and I don’t know what went on between the girls and the authorities behind closed doors, but seeing those girls treated just like everybody else went a long way toward keeping the more vicious and nasty kids under wraps.

That’s the real difference between what goes on in the schoolyard and what goes on in our national politics. People have always been mean nasty bastards and they’re always going to be. But once upon a time we didn’t have an entire media establishment dedicated to cheering on the bullies and making them feel good about the dark places inside them that make them hack off on the powerless, 24 hours a day, on TV and the radio and now in the wingnutsphere. Once upon a time you got cuffed upside the head for picking on the smaller kid, the weaker kid, the poorer kid, the dumber kid. Once upon a time, no matter your politics, that was just considered rude, and too easy, and cut it out anyway, jerks.

For the past 30 years we’ve been building to a bullying critical mass, and with what happened to Sandra Fluke quite a few people got a faceful of what that looks like. And they don’t like it. They remember being in a situation where somebody richer, somebody faster, somebody with more friends, made fun of them and all that person’s little pals giggled along. They remember how that felt and they remember every time they didn’t speak up for someone else in the same situation, and they’re starting to speak up now.

The ugly truth that America has spent most of the last 30 years avoiding is that what juvenile delinquents do to their physically weaker peers differs only in degree, and not at all in kind, from what Rush Limbaugh did to Sandra Fluke and what the wealthy and powerful do to the less fortunate in this country via public policy every day: Just as stealing billions with a pen is as much theft as stealing a few bucks with a pistol, bullying via public policy is just as much bullying as stealing a kid’s lunch, tripping him on the stairs or punching him in the nose.

And unfortunately, knowing that bullying is the act of a person with power who still feels powerless doesn’t make it any easier to stop, nor does it make the victim feel one whit better. I don’t know what the metaphorical equivalent of a lunchbox across the bridge of the nose to these people would be, but we need to find it and start using it over and over and over, because to judge from Limbaugh’s actions, it’s the only language they understand.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:37 pm

You want moral conviction? I’ve got your moral conviction RIGHT HERE.

Memo to Michigan Republicans: If your God tells you that bullying is OK, ever, for any reason, you’re hearing Him wrong.

Just trust me on this.

Friday, June 26, 2009 8:15 pm

Michael-Jackson- and Farrah-Fawcett-free post on how we treat one another

How we treat one another is the overarching theme of two otherwise disparate items I wanted to touch on.

First, earlier this week in the N.C. House, freshman Rep. Darren Jackson spoke in support of an anti-bullying bill. This bill encountered a lot more opposition than it should have. Some opponents feared it was giving “special rights” to gay kids or, tacitly, didn’t want to put any formal obstacles in front of kids who want to bully other kids who are, or who even appear to be, gay. Others, who looked to me like people who’ve never had to deal with being bullied themselves, kept insisting that bullying isn’t a real problem. Speaking as someone who got his butt kicked pretty regularly just for having a smart mouth, I can assure you it is. The bullied kid doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to ride the bus, doesn’t want to be within a hundred miles of where the bullies are for any reason. Kids who are bullied suffer academically. On top of that, some bullying crosses the line of physical assault, and rather than treating it as a simple disagreement between kids, it needs to be treated as a crime, particularly when weapons are involved.

Here’s Jackson’s speech, in part:

[A constituent with an autistic son wrote me:] “Students learn more than academics in school, and part of their education should include how to treat others with respect and dignity and look to peers for support, not how to dodge a fist.” We can begin the process of tolerance tonight by taking a stand against bullying for any reason. I know some of you in this chamber have been having these culture wars for many years. This bill is not about that. …

This bill simply says that no child should be bullied even if they are perceived to be poor or disabled or maybe different. This bill’s about protecting kids; at least, it is for me. If this bill prevents one suicide, or one school violence episode, then it’s a success. If this bill is passed, then it will be a step forward for protecting children—maybe even one close to you.

If you’re going to vote no against this bill, at least be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it.

I’m going to count my vote as yes. And when my daughter and I, who’s serving as page this week, go out to eat and go home tonight, I’m going to go see her little brother, who’ll be in bed asleep. I’m going to lean across that bed and kiss my 10-year old goodnight. And I’m going to know that I voted the right way, the way to protect him and other children like him. And if that costs me my seat in this chamber, then so be it.

Then there’s this essay (h/t: Jill) by the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou on the parallels between the civil rights struggles of African Americans and those of gays. Right from the title, which drops the N-bomb, the essay is going to make a lot of people uneasy, even some who agree with the basic premise. But go read it, and struggle with it a little if you have to.

To say that gays are the new niggers is not to say that black oppression has disappeared. The claim that black folks are fully enfranchised and free is simply not true. Stark racial and economic disparities continue to exist in the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.

Legislative onslaughts and public disdain against queer folks invites them into the community of niggers. By carrying the racial epithet beyond race, Rustin insists that blacks and queers share a common quest to save democracy. He calls us to look critically at the ways in which racism and heterosexism are two heads on the same devil. …

For oppressed communities around the world, the civil rights movement is a model for their unique and particular struggles. Although geography, pigmentation, class, religion, and capacity to self-organize may differ, they hold in common the structures of relegation and resistance. The police of conservative, racist, and homophobic forces wield literal and legislative billy clubs.

A relevant point that bears a lot of repeating because it undergoes a lot of forgetting: The Second Great Commandment bars us from arrogating to ourselves rights we would deny others. To do that is to deny that of God that is in our fellow men and women.

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