I’ve only been in one fist fight in my life.
It was with a boy named Levelle - I think he was in 5th grade and I was in grade 3. Levelle and his younger sister rode the same school bus that my sister and I rode to a predominantly white elementary school 15.3 miles away from our poor and working class Black neighborhood in Houston, Texas. When my sister and I got on the bus in the dark at 6:10 am, Levelle and his sister were already on, fast asleep in the uncomfortably stiff seats and we would often quickly join them in slumber. As the bus rumbled around Houston picking up its miniature passengers, the light would rise outside and Levelle would come alive.
Levelle was a bully. When he awoke and more kids were on the bus, Levelle would ruthlessly (in my 8 year old eyes) taunt children, call them names, sit on them, fart in their face - it was disturbing and disgusting. I was frustrated at watching this boy, morning after morning cause havoc. Silently seething, I sat in my seat hoping not to be noticed and feeling at the same time completely powerless. I’d watch from the seat that I often took towards the front of the bus - the quiet child hoping to stay out of the fray - but also wanting to hopefully avoid Levelle’s rath. My sister, older - and I think bolder than me - sat towards the back of the bus and one day I saw her catch some of Levelle’s bullying. I don’t remember what he did, I just knew I didn’t like it. He might have even directed something at me - but I don’t remember that part - I just knew he did something to my sister and that was not ok. The seething became righteous anger and when Levelle stepped off that bus, when we arrived at school, I was right behind him wailing pounding fists upon his back. If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Christmas Story” and the scene where Ralphie lets the bully have it - turn Ralphie into a too tall for her age, dark skinned, Black girl with pigtails and (Scut Farkus) into a slightly pudgy, Black boy child, often disheveled and ashy. Before I knew what I was doing, I was letting my fury and rath out on this boy - who I now can reason was probably being bullied himself.…Levelle probably got the snickers, the ostracism, the othering as much, if not more than I did in our elementary school. But in my rage, that didn’t matter. I punched, kicked, and screamed my anger at him. I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to never do anything he was doing - particularly picking on my sister - again. I wanted to be rid of my feelings that were coursing though my body - the feelings of fear, anger, rage, disgust, powerlessness….I wanted them all out. And I let them all out on this boy who stood their crying - probably shocked that he experienced a surprise attack from this meek, quiet, nobody of a kid who sat in the front of the bus. Yes, he cried during that fight. Never throwing a punch. Never shoving me. Never pushing back. And somewhere in the midst of his tears, I found my own. There was no triumph in that fight for me, only more fear. I immediately became more afraid of being in trouble with my teacher. I cried because those feelings of fear, rage, disgust and powerlessness were still there. Tears well up in my eyes even now because I was raging on another human being.
To publish a piece like this right now in the midst of what our country is going through might have my motives feel unclear. And I actually don’t know what my motives are other than to share some thinking. I heard the word “rebellion” a couple of times during some zoom calls I had yesterday. It's a good word for what we are seeing on the news and experiencing in our cities. People are resisting and acting in defiance to an authority, control, or tradition. People are raging against the bully. The bully this time is white supremacy….always trailed by its minions racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, religious oppression, sizism and their tools of destruction - militarism, colonialism, capitalism, misogny, and shame. Sometimes the minions get to be front and center - propped up by white supremacy, but the beliefs of supremacy are always at play.
White supremacy is the bully. And we each are being run/directed/ordered by this bully.
Much like I didn’t really understand or know Levelle, most of us don’t really understand or know white supremacy. Heck, most of us really don’t even know or understand racism. Yes. They are different. What we know is reaction. What we know is fear. What we know is shame. What we know is story. What we know is over-thinking. What we know is paralyzation at doing the wrong thing. What we know is being stunned into silence. What we know is powerlessness. What we know is the internalization of lies about ourselves and others that look like us. What we know is pain. We think we know white supremacy because we’ve experienced it or we know how to form the words on our lips. That’s not knowing something - that being in relationship to it. I’m in relationship to the tomatoes that I have growing in my windowsill, but I have no idea how their growth works, why the growth happens, why their leaves look one way when the seed first emerges from the ground, and another way two weeks later. I have no idea why the fruit of the seed blooms first as a flower, then turns into something edible. Your guess is as good as mine about why the stalks of a tomato bush are hairy. I am infinitely curious about where the origin of the seed that these plants are growing from started. To know something, you gotta get up all into its grill. To know something you’ve got to let it reveal itself to you. To know something you’ve got to dig deeply, get curious about it - let it wrestle you to the ground, then turn around and wrestle it to the ground. You’ve got to study it not by just reading about it from a distance, but by asking it to come visit and getting practiced at telling it when it is time to leave.
I’m on a first name basis with white supremacy. And not just because I have a lot of white people in my life. I’m on a first name basis because it freaking snuck into my existence early, early…probably even during the first breath of my life and it refuses to leave. I’m on a first name basis with white supremacy because I’ve noticed it in myself - yes, even as a Black person and work constantly at seeing how it tries to use me. I’m on a first name basis with white supremacy because I stared it down and said “you’re unwelcome here”, but I know its my responsibility to get up and get it out. Daily. Moment by moment. Conversation by conversation. Policy by policy. Thought by thought.
Rebellion is absolutely necessary. And the rebellion against an energy outside of yourself is only a part of the truth of change. The rebellion has to occur inside as well. What are the ways that I allowed myself to be used by white supremacy? What are the conversations that I have failed or were too afraid to have? What are the thoughts that I think that I just shove down rather than get out and examine for fear that it will be too painful to heal? What are the ways that white supremacy has hijacked my thoughts? My time? My feelings? My perspective on what is beautiful? My opinions? My energy? My opinions about my body? What I choose to watch on a screen? It has hijacked ALL of that (and so much more) and because we’re too afraid to look and really know it - we throw our hands up and instead choose to know fear, pain, powerlessness and hopelessness.
You’ll notice that I haven’t at all talked about who my audience for this piece is. Because it's for all of us. Because it’s for me. Find your place in it. What are the questions you need to ask? What are the conversations you need to start? If you know me, you know the exploration and emergence is a constant and it’s because I want my liberation more than I want anything in the world. And it's not a liberation from any one thing - and not liberation to any one thing. I want liberation. I want to think for myself. I want to feel for myself. I want to act for myself. I want a connection to the All That Is that is not gunked up by systems and struggles that actually have nothing to do with my true nature. White supremacy confuses people about my true nature. And it confuses me about my own and others’ true nature, also. I want free. I desire to be free. I can be free. I will be free. I am free. Even if for a moment.
I don’t know what became of Levelle and his sister. I don’t even remember what happened the next day - whether he continued his torment or his bullying continued on, but I know I somehow went about seeking my peace and my power in other ways. And I’ve been seeking it ever since.