Sunday, November 22, 2015

College Kids Need To Go Back To Elementary Schools From The Good Ol' Days

"Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me!".

When I was a child, I practiced that chant in unison with my classmates at the elementary school I attended.  I was all but oblivious to its purpose then, but as I grew older, I became more and more aware of my teachers' reasons for incorporating that powerful slogan into the lessons they'd prepared for us.  They knew the world could be an ugly place.  And they knew their job was to help prepare us to live in that world.  They did their jobs well in my case.

Let me explain.

I was around 9 the first time I was ever called a nigger.  It was at a park on the military base where my father was stationed.  A fat kid named Danny (I can't recall his last name) had gotten upset with me for not letting him go down the slide.  He blurted it out and I reflexively recited the chant I had learned a few years earlier as he ran away.  I, of course, didn't think of it this way at the time, but the chant that Mrs. Beasley and Mrs. Bradshaw, my kindergarten and first grade teachers, had drilled into me had stripped Danny of any power he thought he had over me.

As an aside, I'm glad Danny ran because had he stayed, I would have almost certainly hit him with my fist.  But rather than having revealed my own ignorance by resorting to violence at the mention of the word, I was able to hit him with some words instead, but only because he followed cowardice with cowardice by running away, not because I was some enlightened 9 year old.

I don't know if Danny ever got the lesson, but I eventually did. And that was a good thing.

About 5 years later, when I was a freshman in high school, ignorance struck again.  This time it was a little kid who lived across the street from me.  His parents called him Bubba, but I don't think that was his legal name.  Anyway, I had gone to the mailbox while Bubba was standing at the end of his driveway.  I looked up and waved at Bubba and out of nowhere he blurted it out, with the kind of hateful tone and expression that suggested knowledge and purpose.  I should note that he couldn't have been more than five years old.  Fighting him was out of the question, but I would also get no satisfaction from using the chant to establish my intellectual superiority either.  This was the ugly world I was being prepared for in kindergarten and first grade by two teachers who knew they couldn't keep it from me or me from it.  There was absolutely nothing I could do in that situation.  But I wasn't powerless.  I had complete control over how I reacted.

I shook my head and walked back into my house with the mail.  I wasn't traumatized.  There wasn't any lasting pain or anger.  There was only a heightened awareness and actually a bit of sadness for Bubba.  I thought about where he had learned the word more than I thought his having used it on me.  It occurred to me that Bubba's parents were the source of his ignorance and that he was likely to pass it on some day to his own children.  And there was nothing that could be done about that by anyone other than Bubba.

There are Bubbas (pardon the stereotypical moniker but that really was what they called him) all over the place.  Some of them attend Yale where particularly sensitive students are afraid to see them don sombreros on Halloween.  Some attend the University of Missouri where they ride across campus in trucks, discriminately shouting racial slurs. Some attend Princeton where the black students are so uncomfortable with the notion of having to confront a bigot (past or present) that they have asked for a safe space on campus, what ever the hell that means, and the removal of any mention of former president Woodrow Wilson, who was apparently a bigot in his time. Some go to USC where black girls are turned away from white frat parties and demand that the university hire a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  And some of them, believe it or not, are black, or at least non-white, despite the silly notion that "racism is prejudice with power" so blacks can't be racists.  That's nonsense.  Racism is racism and it is rooted in ignorance, which knows no color or ethnicity.

At least the five year old Bubba came by his ignorance honestly.  The so-called victims of racism on college campuses come by theirs dishonestly.  They've been led to believe they have a right to be protected from ever seeing or hearing Bubba.  When that mistaken notion gives way to reality, tantrums like the one in the video below, which occurred at Yale, are often the result.  

Then they demand that Bubba be silenced.  But what they don't get is that when Bubba speaks  'out of school', or even at school, the only power he has is the power his "victims" give him.  Now, if Bubba picks up a stick or a stone and threatens someone physically, that is quite a different matter.  But there are already laws that protect people against Bubba and anyone else who threatens them physical harm.

It may not seem right, but the same set of laws that protect people from violence or the threat of violence from the likes of Bubba, also protect his right to say things to and about them that they might disagree with or find offensive.

The world can indeed be an ugly place.  Trying to make it prettier by forcefully silencing Bubba will have the ironic effect of making it an even uglier place.

W.C Fields once said, "It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to."

I think it really is that simple.


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