I used to write a lot about my experiences with bullying, but what I’d like to focus on for now is the definition of bullying. Too often, people conflate bullying with just plain ol’ being a jerk or a brand of schoolyard violence . And yet, bullying can be better understood as a structural and systemic form of cruelty whereby actions have disparate effects depending on the relative positions of the parties.
A perfect example of this is a series of videos in which celebrities read mean tweets. Why is that funny when bullying is not? Because celebrities are in a position of power, and they are reading the criticisms of people who are not in a position to challenge that power.
By contrast, much more subtle unkindness will have a disproportionately severe effect when it is conveyed by a person in a position of power against a person without influence or by a group against an individual or when it is a repeated or cumulative unkindness.
I was an exceptionally awkward teenager even before I had 4 years worth of reconstructive knee surgeries, and things only got worse for me when I came with a full length cast, a cane, and an extra 20lbs. For me, it wasn’t usually physical assault; more often it was little things that ranged from calling me ugly to telling me that I was faking my injuries to stealing my diary and passing it around. Everything in my life seemed to be telling me that I was not only worthless, but that I was bad; that the world would be better without me.
When I was adopted by the anti-bullying community, I learned that, far from being alone, my experience was a microcosm of a much bigger and more serious problem. When viewed in that context, bullying becomes an umbrella term that covers all manner of sin, including racism and sexism.
My hope is that this can be used as a framework for understanding one another. We can explain that there’s no such thing as reverse racism for the same reason that there’s no such thing as reverse-bullying: the power dynamics don’t allow for it. We can understand the suspicion and resentment of Indigenous peoples to the Canadian government as we can understand a wife’s mistrust and anger toward the abusive husband who has always told her she’s worthless, who has controlled every aspect of her life, and who now comes home with flowers claiming to have changed. We can choose to trust women in their claims of harassment and assault, as we can choose to trust racialized people in their claims of police harassment and assault, as we can choose to trust children in their claims of harassment and assault.
We can discuss with each other, and believe in each other, and support each other. We can be a community.
Posted in: Progress