WARNING: SERIOUS CONTENT AHEAD
I was talking with my friend today and the topic of bullying came up, and it brought to the surface so much shit from my childhood and adolescence that I thought was long since buried, but apparently not...so I figured I'd self-therapize and do a bit of a thoughtdump here.
My experience with bullying has almost exclusively been racially-based. Looking back, I can't believe how incredibly naive I was. When I was little, I didn't know about racism, I didn't realize that making fun of someone because of their race was even a thing. It was just like, why would you even?? At ten, moving to Mississippi set my head straight and rectified all of that ignorance.
One of my most vivid early memories of starting school in MS was, other than all the standard new kid gauntlet, was essentially being interrogated about my eyes. One classmate asked something to the effect of, "Why are your eyes so weird?!" And I was trying to explain, to the best of my limited, 10-year-old ability, about monolids and how they were pretty common in Asia, etc. It was vaguely uncomfortable to be gawked at by the other kids -- I usually liked to be at the center of attention, so at the time I had a hard time trying to pinpoint exactly why I felt so uncomfortable. The big moment was when our teacher joined in on our conversation, and she'd apparently been just as ignorant about the monolid as the kids. So she came up at me, literally three inches away from my face, inspecting my eyelids. At one point she actually freaking poked my eye.
I had never felt like less of a human being than in that moment, being poked at like a specimen and talked about like I wasn't even fucking there. You know, I've been whistled/honked at when I wear short skirts, I've been hit on by creepy drunk guys -- and we women aren't supposed to tolerate that because it objectifies us. But those experiences of being an objectified woman will never compare to that moment in which I didn't even feel truly human. I was being objectified at ten years old. At one point I would have leapt up to my classmates' and teacher's defense: they didn't know any better, they thought it was completely normal to say/do that, they were just curious, etc. But now I realize that what's truly disturbing is the fact that it is so normalized...it escapes criticism.
I also got the standard "Ching-chong" mocking shit, but I also had cruel chants made up about me. "Open your eyes!" "Flat face, tight eyes!" It makes me want to cry even thinking about it now, how utterly careless kids can be in their cruelty, like their momentary amusement was worth the permanent emotional scarring of another human being. Maybe it sounds like I'm overreacting, you know like all kids are like that, you should just ignore them, etc. But for me it was near-daily abuse, and it lasted fucking years. They taunted me in front of teachers, who never did anything about it. They taunted me in front of someone who I considered my very best friend, who never stood up for me. It got to the point where I dreaded going to school in the mornings, and I was looking forward to weekends with such an intense desperation because it was a couple days of respite from constant insults.
My experiences made me ashamed to be Chinese. It's so difficult to type that out, like writing it legitimizes it. I remember never wanting to share my middle name, because it was Chinese and therefore shameful. I remember never wanting to talk about what I had for dinner the night before, because it was Chinese rather than 'normal people food' (as my sister called it), and therefore it was shameful. I remember refusing to speak Chinese in front of my friends because I was ashamed of it. I remember praying to God, "Please, I wish I was white...please, make me white." I didn't even believe in God, but if praying was what it took, then I was willing to do it.
I'm not entirely sure what kind of conclusions I want to draw from this. I'm not going to say that "It gets better," because who am I to promise something like that? I can't even say that it's made me a better person; like I'm more courageous, more likely to stand up for other bullying victims because I know exactly what they're going through. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never stood up for anyone in that situation, even when I could have. My sense of self-preservation dominates, and I just can't bring myself to rise above the mentality of "as long as it isn't me." Maybe it's the self-hatred that's been instilled in me or the self-worth that's been stolen from me, but I find it so hard to believe that a broken girl who's been beaten down to the very edge of sanity has even the remotest chance of making a difference. What saddens me most is the fact that there are so many kids who have gone through exactly what I've gone through, that none of my experiences are unique.
There's so much that I haven't talked about, all these fragmented thoughts floating around in my mind that don't really make sense on their own. I can't hate the kids who bullied me because they're not evil people, they're a product of a particular socio-economic, and culturally homogeneous, environment. How can I feel bitter about kids who'd claw their way into social acceptance by pushing somebody else out? I would've done exactly the same. And exploiting physical differences, there's honestly nothing easier. It's an absolutely vicious reality....all you can do is try to survive it.
Forever New tights