In a conversation with someone I care deeply about over the weekend, the question was asked: “Why do they need to use violence to get their point across?”
It’s a question I’ve seen countless people asking on social media in the last week. I’ve heard people demanding answers in heated discussions. I’ve seen various forms of it, including dismissive versions like “how does stealing TVs solve racism?”
It’s a great question, and a valid one. Because no, the single act of stealing a TV does not end racism in America. If that is your argument, congratulations, you can have that point.
But you’ve also missed the larger point altogether.
Have you ever been bullied? I mean truly, mercilessly, repeatedly bullied. Over and over by the same jerk, and there was nothing you could do about it. I have. I was bullied a lot as a kid. A lot.
I couldn’t escape it. Everything I did was always wrong, was always pointed out to me. I felt stupid, I felt small, I was defenseless. I lost all confidence. I questioned myself in everything I did. It grew to affect me in ways that were totally unrelated to the acts of bullying I endured. I couldn’t talk to girls and had trouble making friends. I felt no value in myself at all, so why would they? I lost motivation in almost everything, and I started giving up. I stopped trying to play baseball (which i loved), i stopped getting good grades and gave up on getting into a good college. I had no hope. I became isolated. I had no allies to help or defend me.
When I wasn’t being bullied mentally and emotionally, I was being physically bullied. So why didn’t I fight back? Isn’t that what they say? If someone bullies you, fight back. So why not fight back? Because I was tiny, and I didn’t know how to fight. I didn’t start growing as an adolescent until a couple months before graduating high school. I didn’t have a prayer of being able to defend myself. I was so scared. It was easier to give up, or comply, no matter how wrong the bully was, so that the torment would end quicker, than it was to fight back.
When you are repeatedly and intensely bullied, the thing you begin to feel is “hopeless.” Especially when you have no one supporting you. Hopeless. It’s a dark feeling, and one that many people never truly feel in their lives.
But one day, I’d had enough. After years of the abuse, I didn’t care anymore. I couldn’t take it. I reached my end. I picked the fight, over something so trivial and stupid, I don’t even remember what it was. In that isolated moment, I was in the wrong. AndI knew I was going to lose, but I didn’t care.
The feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, depression, and helplessness… for a minute, they all faded, and for the first time, I felt something else, something very, very different. For a minute, they were all replaced by raw, uncontained rage. I blacked out. I don’t even remember very much about the next few minutes.
I got my ass kicked. Soundly. I was no match for the size and skill advantage of the bully, and it wasn’t long before a break in the fighting caused me to get up, dust myself off, and then run away. There was no question that I had lost the fight, completely and totally. That night, all the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness returned, and I cried myself to sleep.
But something had changed. I had used violence for the first time in my defense, and I was confused by it. For a few brief moments, I hadn’t felt worthless. This was confusing to me, because I grew up going to church and being taught that violence was always wrong. But now, something about it felt… different. It didn’t feel good, but it also didn’t feel as bad as I’d been taught it was. There was an allure to it now, it felt tempting. It felt productive. I felt alive.
I look back over the last 19 years of my life since that night, and i have regrets about using anger and violence to solve my problems. It set a dangerous precedent for me that has become one of my biggest struggles (mainly anger, not as much violence), one that I’ve only begun to truly control and deal with in the last year or two.
But something else happened that night. It was the beginning of the end of the bully. I may have lost the fight, but the spell of control and power was broken. Word got out that I had stood up to the bully, and others began to rebel as well. I never allowed that power to be wielded over me again, and it wasn’t long before the bully was powerless and alone for a change, as no one would even talk to the bully, eventually. The bully became depressed.
But why do I share this story? Because it’s the same thing that is happening in America right now. Black people have been bullied, in ways that white people can’t possibly comprehend, for hundreds of years, and they have run out of rational ways to react to it. The bullying is still happening, often on full display of the public (but exponentially more commonly in very subtle ways that you can’t see unless it is happening to you), and the reaction is emotional, it’s physical, and at the moment, it is violent. Sure, there are some people stealing TVs and breaking windows and escalating the aggression, but that in no way diminishes the point that protesters are trying to make.
They have tried to enact change in every other way possible, and none of it has worked.
I am not promoting the burning of buildings and looting of stores.
But would you criticize me for using violence to stand up to my bully? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. Do I regret it? Yes, a little. Would I use violence today to stand up to my bully? Honestly, probably not, when I think about it. But did things change for me? Yes they did, in many ways. So it is a difficult conundrum for me to consider.
So during the madness occurring on the streets of our cities right now, when you ask “Why do they have to use violence to get their point across?”
I will answer your question with the same question directed back at you:
“Why do they have to use violence to get their point across?”