Monday, January 18, 2010
A while back, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and there was a line in it that stuck out in my memory. At the time, I wasn't sure why it had such an impact, but I think I just figured it out.
In his hustler days, Malcolm was taught to straighten his hair with a mess of gunk including lye. And he mentioned - this was the line that stuck out - that no one ever complimented any black man on his hair for being straightened, but they all just did it anyway. This painful, aggravating process, and they just did it.
Something about Pam's article made me think of an earlier part of my life. I was a frequent victim of bullies as a child, and I also suffered from chronic depression. (Note: these two are not as closely related as you might think.)
I had my share of people point out that I acted in ways that helped invite the bullying, and, to be honest, those people were not entirely wrong. (However, let's keep in mind that bullying is entirely within the control of the bully.) But I have always been a bit rebellious in that way, and I wouldn't change how I acted on behalf of the bullies. To me, it would be letting them control me, and I wouldn't do that.
I think that was a very healthy adaption, for the most part. Imagine if I'd tried to act in a way that didn't set off the bullies. I'd be constantly monitoring myself to see if I got teased or attacked, and decide whatever I'd done that led up to being bullied was a bad thing. I'd be letting myself be controlled, not just by other people's opinion, but by other people's cruelty. I'd be doing all that work, I'd be that self-conscious, and what reward would I get out of it? I wouldn't have to deal with some crap that I'd have had to deal with otherwise.
I wouldn't get complimented for not talking about weird stuff, or bringing in an off-topic idea, or for learning a bit more about sports or the latest kid-fad in my neighborhood. I just wouldn't be hurt as badly. At least, as long as I didn't slip up, and as long as the bullies didn't decide it was more fun to make up a reason to attack me.
And that's what hit me, about Pam's post, and about Malcolm's observation, and
skin lightening, and hair straightening, and hell, let's add the eternal quest for thinness, and I'm sure we could find some other examples.
I wonder how many of those things are people who feel forced to give up, and let their actions be controlled, not even by other people's opinions, but other people's cruelty? Knowing they may never be complimented for having lighter skin or straighter hair or the eternal quest to lose enough weight, but only avoiding some of the crap they might face otherwise.
It changed my perspective a bit on the whole issue of artificial ideals. I'm not sure that these artificial ideas are bullying; I can't prove they're driven by cruelty.
But I also can't prove that they're not. And that's a bit scary.