The reality of education’s often unbalanced approach to handling bullying issues hit me. Victims become perpetrators and perpetrators, supposedly unwitting victims. During his attendance at my brother’s alternative middle school, Sean expressed many insightful comments. For example, he knew that being black brought with it unspoken prejudice, and pointed to the Trayvon Martin case as evidence. Sean and our dad had watched the Trayvon Martin case carefully and I watched my little brother struggle with harsh truths of prejudice and friendship. Yet through it all, Sean also did something that startled me: He spoke.
Ok, fine, in many cases he would only share his frustrations with me. Remember, he is only 12 and mom is still “weird” to talk to in his mind… but his unnerving maturity sprinkled with the breaking of innocence pricked me. On many occasions he shared the dichotomous feelings he felt about the education he received at the alternative middle school compared to the school he had been suspended from. “Big Sister, although I don’t want to be at this school [alternative middle school] they know how to teach me”. Sean had even been bumped to higher level reading classes, something at the previous school he worked hard to reach but never attained.
Although Sean did not share these frustrations on a nationwide anti-bullying campaign tour, his vocalizations made an impact on me. He still played with the neighborhood kids, although he expressed his embarrassment in doing so. He felt the hurt when a previous classmate seemed to hide from him in the grocery store. He explained that he knew he was not the violent kid that some might want to depict him as but knew he could very well become that, simply out of tiredness of trying to prove otherwise.
I remember being the bully at his age. Tired of being bullied myself, I became the 6th grade tyrant of psychological warfare (I am too ashamed to call it abuse). I related to the depth of some of the hurt my brother felt while being bullied and also realized the negative repercussions being the victim of bullyinghas. I got pissed because I knew and still strongly believe, like the 6th grade version of myself, Sean’s bullies need help. Help in realizing they to are hurting as they are hurting others. I bullied because I wanted control back, I wanted the power I felt I lost. If activism is just handing out flyers on a street corner, proclaiming a cause or launching class action lawsuit, Sean is not an activist. But if at its fundamental core, part of activism, is simply speaking out, then Sean is activist.
Sean’s thoughts lead me to change my profile picture to “I was a bully”. I needed to admit that what I did was not right and hopefully to urge others to do so too. Although it did not have the intended effect, and only caught my friends by surprise, it presented an opportunity to admit a part of myself, that has since been changed, and desires even more, thanks to Sean, to do something about it.