Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Boys We Lost to Bullying

A very good friend of mine sent me a message describing the bullying that he endured as a child. He is a straight white guy, who, as he put it, was called "gay" so often that it seemed like a nickname. He is sad that we remain a society that refuses to police bullying, that considers bullying to be a part of growing up, in spite of the damage it can do. He is also sad that so many boys are scared to death ever to be called "gay," the lowest of the low insults one could "suffer."

I was somewhat lucky. I wasn't really bullied for long; I was teased mostly because of the way I spoke. You see, young black boys who spoke standard English were often subjected to being called "gay" or "white." In the end, I think that my size saved me; I was both big and tall growing up, and when I took my head out of a book long enough to play some sport (though never varsity), I was not too bad. For whatever reason, my being the "smart brotha" was alright.

But, my heart goes out to the families of those two little boys, both 11 years old, who felt that they could not bear the burden of being teased anymore. I wish that someone, anyone, could have given the right words of comfort to Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera on the days that they decided to take their lives. Sometimes, I wish that the people who drove these boys to this point would have to look at their images for the rest of their lives, as a reminder of what they wrought. Sadly, I am confident that some of their tormentors had little or no remorse.

"Gay" is used as a weapon against people, because we continue to support the idea that being gay is wrong, dirty, an affliction, abhorent, shameful. We have no idea what sexual orientation either of these boys would have developed as they grew older, and it doesn't matter. We lost them. We will never know what they could have become. Maybe their deaths will help us turn the page on bullying. Maybe their deaths will help us move toward abandoning "gay" as a pejorative term used to hurt those who simply may be different.

There is so much more that could be said, but I just can't do it. May those boys rest in peace, and may their deaths help to trouble the waters and move us away from a place where children feel the need to do such things.


Anonymous said...

This kind of tragedy is beyond words, but you are right to attempt to describe the problem.

I'm not a fan of speech codes or hate crime legislation, but I am at a loss as to how to prevent this kind of thing. I don't think it is a gay issue as much as it is an issue of parents and teachers and other opinion leaders reinforcing decency and respect for others. Bullying by kids for any reason is terribly sad.

I was particularly struck by this quote from the link you include in your post:

"Bullying is much more intense in poor, urban school districts because this is where children (and their "parents") are taught to glorify "thug" culture. So it becomes unfortunately all-too-common in the black community to taunt and harass boys and young men who do not act like thugs."

Scott said...

This just makes me so sad. I can understand people who abuse other people as a means to an end, to gain money or power. It's not a pleasant part of humanity, but I understand it.

What I have never understood is cruelty for the sake of cruelty. Hurting someone simply for the pleasure of hurting them. And it is especially sad that it happens between children, those we like to think of as innocent.
I wish I had something to say about it, but I don't. It just makes me sad.