When I was in eighth grade, I got in trouble for bullying. A group of about twelve of us eighth grade girls made a circle around a sixth grader. While we chanted, “Tie my shoe. Comb my hair,” she attempted to escape like Red Rover but we wouldn’t let her through.
This is all the principal was told when the crime was reported.
What the young girl had left out of her story was how she bossed around her two friends to do those same things we were taunting her for. The friends had come to us, telling us of the poor treatment by their so-called “friend,” when — as undesignated rulers of our small K-8th grade school — we took matters into our own hands. Having been raised under the common phrase, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?,” it made sense to give her a small taste of her own medicine. It seemed harmless since it was impulsive, and definitely not drastic enough for all of us to be issued referrals, to attend a mandatory, all-girl, eighth grade intervention where the headmaster — who only spoke at important all-school events — commandeered the teaching moment, and for the sixth-grade girl to switch schools. It was not a case by case basis, with many moving parts, that wasn’t “clear cut.” She was a victim and we were her unjust offenders because, for the administrators, bullying was wrong no matter whether it could be justified or not.
Today, while enjoying coffee in a large outdoor space with a friend, sans a mask, a group of two girls in their late-teens approached us with masks on.
“Hi. I just wanted to say that you really should be wearing masks and not sitting here enjoying your coffee. It’s disrespectful to other people who are waiting for theirs.”
I was frozen, much like I am sure the sixth grader was before she could no longer stomach the channeled beams of harassment and tried to break through.
I simply said, “OK.”
She proceeded, “It’s not coming from a bad place. I just have lost people to this.”
“We are sorry to hear that,” my friend responded.
They repeated themselves that they weren’t coming from a bad place, suggesting that we leave instead of stay and sip, before posing a question, “So, why don’t you wear masks?”
It felt like the opposite of what she had initially asked of us because, in order for me to explain my belief system to a stranger, it would require a lot more time sitting over a lot more coffee.
All I could think of was: “Because I believe it should be my choice.”
It’s funny how when you’re caught on the spot that your body shuts down and you can’t summon the proper resources to the frontline; eloquence, well-formulated arguments, or even kindness. All you feel is attacked. You feel defenseless and, therefore, reach for defensiveness.
She and her friend walked away leaving us stunned (stung?).
A wonder over whether she would walk up to anyone smoking a cigarette and say, “Hey, you know, you really shouldn’t be doing that because my uncle died from lung cancer,” arose. Or, if she would approach an obese person at Jack in the Box and offer to buy them a smoothie from across the street instead. Why was it OK for her to interrupt our social distanced coffee this morning? Why was it OK for her to express her opinion without invitation or even acknowledgment prior from us?
When you type into Google, “covid-19 wear a mask,” it generates 947,000,000 results in .50 seconds. Under the news section, there are 149,000,000 results for the same query. We have been under quarantine for almost 7 weeks in California. Whereas, when I type “school shootings,” into Google, it only generates 40,400,000 results and 9,490,000 results in news. When I type in “anti-vaccine,” into Google it generates 140,000,000 results and only 91,500 news results (Note: “covid-19 vaccine” generates 330,000,000 results). Even when I type in “black shootings,” it generates 30,000,000 results and 4,250,000 news results (Note: when typing in “black shooting,” it generates 5,300,000,000 results. This also occurred after I re-typed in my searches, which, strangely, gave me different numbers than my first round of searching).
Issues that have been around for hundreds of years (even school shootings) only account for 18 percent of the content outlined above (the notes were not included in the calculations).
82 percent of the content is related to the quarantine that only began 7 weeks ago here in Southern California.
18 percent of the issues I typed in have yet to be resolved. Furthermore, when they happen, we do not resolve them. Whereas, with “covid-19,” the strategy to conquer and defeat is widespread, concise, loud, and clear.
“Wear a mask. Save lives.”
When children die at school, the news isn’t suggesting that we surrender our guns because children are our future. When discussions about mandatory vaccines are issued via the media, they don’t also include a forum about whether or not the government has the right to tell us what we must do with our bodies or not. When African Americans are shot for no apparent reason, again, no one revokes guns as “the enemy that kills.” But, if I choose not to wear a mask during COVID-19, I am an enemy, no doubt about it. I am deadly, irresponsible, disrespectful, and selfish. When, prior to masks being deemed necessary protective gear, they were most commonly sported by burglars in the public sector, which has also been raised as a concern in this Guardian article, “I’m a black man in America. Entering a shop with a face mask might get me killed.”
So, then, why is this girl telling me I should wear a mask instead of asking me if I carry a firearm? Why is this girl interrupting me instead of the morbidly obese, the cigarette smoker, the drug dealer, or the pedophile?
Because she has been given the physical description of her enemy by those in charge.
The maskless, outside, living their lives as though nothing is happening. Just like in times of 9/11, when men who wore turbans were targeted and still are today. Just like in the south when someone is minding their own business, but someone else judges them because of the color of their skin.
Why is it OK, now, as adults, to bully people you don’t know because you seemingly don’t hold the same beliefs? Why is bullying all of a sudden justified?
Because we have been taught since we were kids that the people in charge know what’s best, and we are supposed to heed their counsel, suspending any further thought on the matter. Even though teachers told us not to bully then and government officials are encouraging us to become vigilantes now, we don’t get hung up on the details. We don’t do the research. We probably stopped at the numbers above because we do not know how to interpret data for ourselves and rely upon scientists to ensure us that wearing a mask is the safest way to live our lives. That this is simply the “new normal.”
But, it’s not.
This is an extension of the hate and bigotry that Google doesn’t offer you to search on their platform. This is the concealment of information by smearing anything against the hegemonic norm as misinformation. This is not thinking for ourselves. This is no longer 21st century America because this is civil war. Since all of us potentially have the virus, doesn’t that make all of us the enemy? I guess it depends upon who you talk (listen) to, or, more simply, if you aren’t wearing a mask.