I thought I had dodged bullies when I entered high school. Elementary was a nice place until religion was introduced in class and paradise became the lair of Pluto. It began with my sanctimonious homeroom teacher who took a particular dislike to freethinkers (I was the only one in class) and it was buttressed by several of her spawns that eventually turned into the whole class. That was my first encounter with the word ostracized and pint-sized hectors that were later placed by humongous ones in high school.
The big ones (they were taller than me) came in a pair and accosted me on separate occasions but within the same day. Bully one had not attended class and blocked my way as I was about to leave the classroom. He was drunk and his eyes mirrored a man high on unnatural substances.
“Bakit lagi kang nagsasalita sa English?” he asked while trying to keep his balance.
“What’s your problem?” I retorted.
“Akala mo siguro kung sino ka, ha!” he said, his tone going an octave lower as a mist of aggressiveness wrapped his mien.
“Listen,” I said slowly and steadily. “No one is stopping you from speaking in English. But it’s not my fault you can’t speak English.”
I left him swaying, trying to stop the world from slipping under him.
Within an hour or so as I trooped to my locker, bully number 2 – hailed as one of the “pretty” girls in class – and her minion cornered me as I rounded the bend to my locker. It was déjà vu – same lines but different gender.
Those two bullies have never left my consciousness, surfacing when I see others being bullied like a student of mine who was teased Chinese Muslim that sent her bawling. What advice can you give a 12-year-old child who got plucked from the world she loves and thrown into another that she has trouble adjusting to? There will be other bullies and she can’t always be crying her eyes out but it’ll take a while for her to learn that nugget of wisdom, I thought to myself as a friend of mine consoled her.
Outside of high school, aside from the English-language bullies in my former workplaces, I’ve locked horn with fashion bullies – people with nothing in between their ears who pounce on those they deem grossly anachronistic in terms of fashion like me. I am not oblivious to high fashion but my wallet is comfortable with not-so-high-fashion and I make no pretensions about that unlike this fashion bully who made it a point to ridicule what she considered were my low-brow clothes. Her sense of fashion is a bit skewed thought – she thinks MNG and Zara are the benchmark of one’s sophisticated fashion taste. But didn’t I hear host Juliana of E- Entertainment classify such labels as affordable fashion – the ones you buy without breaking your wallet and looking like a second-rate copy cat of the celebrities wearing the real McCoy?
Then I crossed paths with religion bullies again – these were the ones who used religion to browbeat others and make themselves coming out smelling roses while hiding their own transgressions. These ones pop up every now and then when they see my tattoos (one told me it was a desecration of God’s temple in a serious tone but his eyes betrayed the envy), learn that I’m a freethinker, and believe I’m Muslim because I don’t drink or eat pork (go figure).
The biggest bullies I’ve been encountering intermittently are the skin bullies – these are the ones who chant the mantra “I’m fairer than you so I’m better”. Ironic as it may seem but they’re sometimes joined by compatriots and ilk who think they’re superior in every sense of the word simply because they’re married to the lighter ones.
My bullies brought out a part of me that steeled me for newer and meaner bullies in the stages of my life. I make no apologies for speaking in English but I don’t strut around like a peacock and tell people that I can’t understand monkey’s language when they try to engage me in a conversation albeit in broken English. My English skills are tools for my personal and professional development, communication and definitely not a weapon to perpetuate racial and class prejudices. As for fashion and religion bullies, I don’t need to conform to the latest fashion trends to stand out in a crowd and I know my relationship with my God.
Bullies will always be there – they’re like weeds popping up here, there and everywhere. You just need to weed them to get a break of several months, which is just enough for you to recharge for the next round of battle with – sigh – these insecure, emotionally-retarded, dim-witted individuals.