An anti-Semitic comment was posted on one of my YouTube videos. That’s nothing new for the Internet, but it’s something new for my particular corner. I felt like I’d feel if someone sprayed graffiti on the side of my house.
The point of the comment was to hurt, to elicit an angry response. And I was angry. I wanted to respond angrily, but I replied with humor, affecting obliviousness and a modicum of civility. At the very least, I cooled down enough to proofread and correct my spelling and grammar.
But it still hurt.
So, having something of a detective’s obsessiveness and a masochist’s self-abuse, I explored his profile. There were few surprises. Anti-white polemics, Zionist conspiracy theories, pornographic videos…a cover of “Moon River.”
I realized – with the exception of “Moon River” – the comment he left on my profile was but one of many low dips in the topography of his Internet path. And while I still harbor some resentment toward being marked, I understand being marked had nothing to do with me and everything to do with an anonymous, adolescent assertion of power.
And it was adolescent, which points toward a more important concern.
People are not born bigots, racists, or anti-Semites; they become these things. They learn to be bigoted, racist, and anti-Semitic from the adults surrounding them. Indoctrinated by the misinformed, instructed by the narrow-minded, and without anyone in possession of a stronger counter-argument, people risk becoming mere mouthpieces for hate-speech.
Which is why, once more, having come words-to-words with one of these mouthpieces, I am reminded of why it is a necessity to appoint dedicated and educated teachers at the front of every classroom: not to brainwash our students into tolerance, but to encourage them to be critical and to question. Not to tell them what to think, but to tell them to think.
We can’t, and ought not to, control what happens within a family’s home, but we owe it to our students of every race, color, and creed to create an environment wherein they feel comfortable and safe, and where they have ample room to inquire, to learn, and to solidify their own foundational values.
I teach because I have hope.
I hope my subject is worthy of investigation and that I’m worthy enough to guide my students through.
I hope my students will create a better future for themselves and for their children than the present we’ve left to them.
I hope my next day’s lesson will be more challenging, more engaging, and more rewarding for my students than the one they’d just experienced.
I hope I have not wasted their time.
And even on the days when my hopes are reduced to flickering candles threatened by the winds of apathy and dejection, I hold on to them because at least one student will walk out of my classroom with a smile on his face and questions on his mind.
Saying a woman deserves to be raped because of where she was or what she was wearing is like saying a deer deserved to be shot because it was in the forest and because it was a deer.
I’ll be getting married in a few weeks’ time, so – as one can imagine – marriage has been on my mind. Here, now, standing at the threshold of this great, domestic adventure, I’m filled with a sense of excitement unlike any I have known before. I’m where so many men and women have been and will continue to be, and – though I cannot pretend to know what lies in store – I am emboldened knowing that the woman who has chosen to spend her life with me will inspire me to be the man she has always deserved.
Yet one shadow darkens my celebratory mood. Its shape is clearly defined. It is the figure of two grooms – or two brides – holding hands. As it passes over me, I see it split in half; and I see its two parts, once so happily conjoined, now in their solitary sorrows, forbidden to reunite.
There is no doubt: a loving marriage is a bright and beautiful union. The fact that two consenting adults cannot share this union is utterly wrong.
There was a time when I thought this issue could have been resolved in such a way that would have pleased both sides. I asked myself, “Why not make same-sex marriage equal before the law and leave it at that?” Let the churches and the synagogues and the temples and the mosques decide for themselves whether or not to marry men to men or women to women. That way, our government will keep its respectful distance from religion and the all-too-important separation between Church and State will be preserved.
From a legal perspective, I saw nothing wrong with this conclusion. Nevertheless, I did not feel right with myself. I thought back to our country’s recent past. I saw faithful black men and virtuous white women, filled with love for each other and love for their god, turned away from the altar because of, what was then thought to be, an unholy union of races.
Today, to most Americans, that segregation is a shame we’d rather forget. Today, the right and wrong of that issue is as clear-cut as black and white. So why is it that the right and the wrong of same-sex marriage is not?
Our country was founded on self-evident truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Few would argue with Life and Liberty, but I’m sure that many folks, including myself, would prefer to qualify the third. We have the right to pursue our happiness, so long as it does not cause undue suffering to others. And if an institution takes it upon itself to prevent the free exercise of these rights, it is up to the law to ensure that that institution changes its ways.
It’s time for us to transcend our squeamishness and our short-sightedness, to say what we know to be true. Same-sex marriage harms no one. It is an affirmation of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of a just Happiness. Its supporters have no insidious purposes, nor any desires to subvert the institutions and values that make our country so great, or that make marriage so noble. Committing one’s self fully to another person, be it man-to-woman, man-to-man, or woman-to-woman, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health,” for “all the days of [one’s] life” is as selfless as one can be.
Marriage is one of the highest expressions of human decency, and it is a right that ought to be recognized and upheld by our government. Not a single obstacle, not a single stubborn, prehistoric, and unyielding relic of the past, should stand between two people in love and the journey of marriage ahead of them.
Being bullied is awful.
When I was in sixth grade, I was tormented by an eighth grader on my bus ride to and from school. He would sit behind me and flick my ears. He would flick, chuckle, then flick again. Rinse and repeat. Every day, I prayed for the bus driver to change his route so I’d be dropped off sooner and be spared this simple, yet highly effective, torture.
But when I see all these anti-bullying campaigns, I’m surprised by my conflicted feelings. A part of me is glad they exist. Another part of me wishes they didn’t.
Let me clear something up before I continue. I’d like to draw a distinction between “Bullying” and “bullying.” The capital kind is the kind directed toward a person’s race, gender, religion, or sexuality. This isn’t bullying; this is discrimination, and folks who Bully should be chastened by members of the community and punished with the severity they deserve.
The second kind of bullying, the lowercase kind, is a catch-all for the types of taunts, gibes, and intimidations every child faces at some point in his or her life. “bullying” isn’t based on a person’s sexual orientation or on the color of her skin. It’s solely the result of bad luck. For some arbitrary reason, an unfortunate child has been chosen by a bully to be his human punching bag. My bus bully had no idea I was Jewish, he just plain didn’t like me.
And just as firmly as I believe uppercase Bullying ought to be be fought by parents and Anti-Bullying campaigns, I firmly believe lowercase bullying ought to be worked out between kids.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago, CNN aired a story about a kid being bullied while riding his school bus. At some point, he was tired of being insulted by two brothers and attempted to retaliate. He flailed his fists in the direction of the nearest brother and was promptly beaten up. Other passengers caught the fight on camera. Once the school administrators saw the video, the two brothers were suspended, but they didn’t apologize to the kid they’d bullied.
The victim’s mother made an appearance on the segment. She was horrified by what she’d seen, and she was angry that neither the children nor their parents had reached out to her and her son. The news anchor shook her head, demonstrating great empathy and pathos.
Now, this story should have tugged at my heartstrings. After all, I’d gone through a similar ordeal, hadn’t I?
You see, neither the bullied nor the bullies learned anything from this affair; or, if they had, they’d learned the wrong things.
Back on my school bus, so many years ago, I’d endured ear-flicks for three days. On the third day, I’d had enough. I stood up, turned around, and socked my bully in the mouth. It wasn’t a whopper of a punch, but it fattened his lip and it drew some blood.
Most importantly, it stopped him from flicking my ears.
Now, I’m not looking to be made into some kind of Goliath-toppling David, but I do invite you to compare this outcome to the outcome of the story featured on CNN.
The kid who’d been beaten up learned he can punish his peers by running to adults. Fine, but he didn’t receive an apology, and I suspect he’ll never get his apology.
The bullies learned that the children they perceive as weak have to rely on others to deliver justice. I’m sure they were sore about getting suspended, but I’m equally sure they’ll return to school with no more respect for their human punching bag than they’d had before.
A child can’t rely on authority figures forever. At some point, he has to toughen up and take ownership over his rights to decency and respect. Standing up to bullies is one way to affirm those rights. It’s a rite of passage. It’s an unpleasant and a painful one, but it’s essential for building a child’s fortitude. He doesn’t have to do this through punching or violence, but he has to take a stand, and his strength to do so has to come from within.
In the fall of 2005, at the height of the second Bush administration, I found myself in a London townhouse, engaged in a vigorous discussion with my expatriate classmates.
While spending their first weeks in England, many of them faced ridicule, derision, and flat-out rudeness from the locals simply for being American. Unwilling to endure such treatment any longer, my peers had decided to tell the locals they were Canadian: better to travel incognito, they reasoned, than to be effigies for our President and his policies.
Now, I was no great fan of President Bush, and I won’t pretend to believe America’s foreign conduct had been unimpeachable in 2005. Nevertheless, I was disappointed in my classmates. There I was, surrounded by young, bright, cosmopolitan Americans, who could have been excellent ambassadors for their country, reluctant to claim their citizenship.
They didn’t need America, but America needs them.
You see, I don’t look at American pride as something inherent, obvious, or guaranteed. I’m not proud to be an American because I live in the greatest country in the world. I’m proud to be an American because I live in a country that has offered me the responsibility of making our country the greatest country in the world. We have no grandfathered lords or nobilities. We have no lineages or family names. We have no old and tired antecedents on which to lay our laurels.
What we have is the responsibility of opportunity: the opportunity to forge our own way through this wilderness of cynicism and apathy; for we must, at all costs, remain driven with a pioneer’s resolve.
We have the responsibility of education. We must keep abreast of our government’s laws and machinations – both good and bad. Without an informed constituency, our society will not survive.
And we have the responsibility of participation: the responsibility of suffrage; for all of our resolve and all of our education will come to nothing if they are not put to use.
So next month, whomever you choose to elect, regardless of whether or not your peers will agree, or whether or not you believe your ballot is meaningful: get out there and vote. Our country and citizens are worthy of praise and pride only if they are free and brave. We have been given the freedom to vote, the freedom to speak and be heard. Now we must show our bravery by fulfilling our civic responsibility. Then, on that November day, we can walk out from behind the voting booths’ curtains and hold our heads high, for we all will be proud participants in this American drama.