I was born with a cleft palette. This is a condition that may or may not be genetic. It’s relatively unknown. It’s not considered a disability, but a deformity, though it does come with some less than helpful problems.
As it is physical and outward in nature it is visible. People can see it and react to it, which they usually do in real-time. Kids stare at me, parents when I was growing up asked my mother if I was retarded, even today my worth and value is a question because I look different. Before I knew what white was or male was I knew what cleft palette was. It was something different from others that I would be judged on, fairly or not.
I was not bullied or made fun of too much as a child. I grew up in a close community of friends and families and was normalized like everyone else. Despite her efforts, my mom’s lessons on how to deal with bullies was never needed. In fact, only once do I recall any kid taking his finger to his nose and flattening it while staring at me as his bus pulled away. The image stuck with me, but it was an isolated incident.
Later on in middle and high school, once my family moved across country and away from the comforts, things changed, but only a little. Boo Taylor, a young man who would grow up with much more against him than I, picked on me the first day of 7th grade at the bus stop. He called me “Nose” and made fun of how I dressed, a skater west coast kid with an Anthrax t-shirt that was out of place in a growing hip-hop world. It spread, but only a little and only among his friends who would use it over the next 6 years. Sadly, it would be a long time before I gave up on that animosity.
I couldn’t fight with my body so, encouraged by the systematic racism that pitted me, a white kid, against my less privileged class mates (I mean you get that Boo was black right), I used my wit and intellect to fight back. In the hallways I was a target for violence, in the classrooms I was a hero. So, it was clear that being white and smart mattered. As I went through high school, I learned how this was used to divide me from people. Race mattered, privilege mattered, how you project yourself and how you are perceived matter. No one sat me and Boo down (or anyone else I didn’t get along with) and help create bridges. Instead, we grew up worlds apart. He was allowed to live in his world and me in mine, protected by teachers and administrators that made sure I succeeded and he did not. Eight years ago he died in a car crash.He left behind a daughter.
I don’t mean to insist that Boo tormented me for years or that I was greatly teased the older I got. But the world he and I lived in was divided early on. In fact, I would say it was divided before we even knew each other. We only came in contact because my parents rented a house in his neighborhood before buying a new one miles away. That was my first moment as a transient gentrifier, though I didn’t know that at the time. Somewhere along the line he was taught to see difference as weakness. In me, society encouraged me to see race as weakness and to use the value of education I was expected to uphold as a weapon to divide.
When I hear my white friends around me, in these scary, dark days after Trump has taken office and made his decrees, talk about not using violence, about hearing the other side out, I think of Boo. Yes, I could have easily resorted to violence. This would have been perfectly acceptable to everyone. After all, we were cast as two boys, left alone to solve our issues out on the playground. Punching it out was how we were supposed to resolve our differences. This act would prove who was the better and who was not. This is the expectation of boys and men.
It was not bigger of me to use my intellect and wit to get out of fights (though perhaps my face feels differently). Boo was not my first, nor my last tormentor. Most of them were not young black boys, in fact, most of them were white and far more menacing than Boo ever was. But still, that made me no less a bully. It made me an asshole. The fact that I never did get the few teeth I had knocked out of my head is a testament just to how powerful intelligence is wielded as a weapon. My words were always stronger than any threats or sophomoric insults.
Systemic racism is just that, it’s a part of a larger operating system that makes up a whole. Wit, charm, affluence, knowledge, charisma, these are weapons used in this system. People who have many of these traits are in charge and using them to pit us people against each other. The problem isn’t that I should have punched Boo or anyone else, it’s that I belittled these other people, talked down to them and proved they were less than in a system that was designing me to play a part. What we should have done is punched those that pitted us against each other.
Spencer, Yiannopoulos, Bannon and others are fascists. They have been programmed as part of a system that suppresses differences. They started doing this with their voices, their words, their speeches, so filled with hate and inhumanity. They are now using the system, they are leading the system to create violence and fear. They are reinforcing the hate that has been manufactured for decades.
You no longer have the luxury of standing by while the system pits you against your fellow humans. If you sit on the grand pillar of cis, het, male, able, whiteness, a pillar I know you did not build, but inherited none the less, it is your duty to knock those fascists off it and send them towards the masses that have been disenfranchised to get their piece too. The argument towards pacifism is gas lighting you into believing you are being reasonable. And I do not blame you for that. Good natured people do not want to hurt others. Which is why this fight, this uncomfortable act of violence can not just be the burden of the queers, people of color, disabled, Muslims, indigenous, etc., who are left beneath the fray of the monolith that you balance upon.
The state has used violence as a vehicle towards repressing the masses forever. It has also used power to oppress people and preach non-violence in the same breath. It misrepresents pacifism towards the masses, distorting the words of King Jr., Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, and pushing the people towards passivity.
This is a not a matter of waiting to see who throws the first punch. It’s not a matter of sticking up for others. It’s about making a sacrifice to your comfort, challenging what you know and standing up for what you insist you believe in.