Bullying is the New Normal in America

by Olurotimi Osha

From its inception, the United States Presidency has been considered a noble office and its occupant, has been correspondingly as noble in character. But something went wrong in 2016, and its underpinning, perhaps, may be found in the pervasive bully culture.

Bullying may be masked in many different forms. In fact, bullying is quite common in American society and some of its institutions. One does not have to conduct oneself as opprobriously as one of the presidential candidates to be a bully. Bullies thrive in many of those “groups” we are familiar with (being in a group does not necessarily make one a bully) where group-think coincides with the looming cloud of seeking acceptance, peer pressure and validation – all wrapped up in a persistent vicious cycle.

A cursory look at the background of one of the candidates, would show that he was quite possibly a member of all the acceptable groups, fraternities and clubs. He was probably a team player, and got on well with the guys; and believe it or not, despite what we know now, he may have been cheered on by some girls too. He is even Ivy League educated, where grace and magnanimity in seeking the good of mankind are cornerstones. But he turned out to be an outright bully. What went wrong?

This buttresses my point: many of these groups, where the need to be among is the common denominator, have been transmogrified into finishing/masking schools for bullies. They tend to become feeders for corporations, schools, and other facets of our revered institutions.

When I first came to the United States to study many years ago, I encountered an American with the seeds of valor: my roommate, Joe. His father was ex-military and of German ancestry while his mother was Chinese. Joe liked to startle new students from China, when they saw an almost auburn-haired (if not blonde) American speaking perfect Mandarin. Joe immediately made himself my defacto Sensei to becoming an American, as he helped break me into my new culture.

Joe would volunteer a laundry list of dos and don’ts to being an American. For instance, when he heard that I loved Nirvana, REM, Metallica, he was like, “you mustn’t sing those in public, otherwise you will be accused of being a white wannabe!” When a friend of his in my class told him that I had scored a 100% on an exam, (his friend knew because the Professor announced it in class) he exclaimed, “oh no! The professor was totally setting you up, so the other kids hate you!” Not understanding the logic, I asked for clarification, and Joe said, “most kids do not expect blacks to outscore them, much more get a perfect score on an exam. What makes it even worse for them would be because you are even African.” He explained that it was like calling them really dumb that an African could score higher. As Joe guided me through the idiosyncrasies and social minefields of my new environment, he was being heroic by standing separate from the crowd and objectively analyzing his terrain and identifying its shortcomings, without the colored duplicity of emotion or favoritism. Quite propitiously, my friend Joe became an officer of the United States Military.

Many African students know the familiar culture shocks in their first uncomfortable assimilation process and the understanding that they now must negotiate their humanity under at least unfamiliar, if not threatening systems. The polyglot girl raised in Lagos, where she was taught to speak the Queen’s English with the appropriate diction, is suddenly called out by groups that claim to represent authentic black, as an “Oreo.” But these groups should be scrutinized.

Groups that were meant to engender character, were paradoxically sterile for character building, because their characteristic unquestioning blind obedience and conformity were built on their desperate need for acceptance. They don’t take the hard position of standing up for the weak and doing no harm themselves. They are not reflective. They crave popularity or at least acceptance by any means. In his article, “What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity,” Jay Caspian Kang reveals the tragic death of Michael Deng through a hazing, and the pusillanimous actions of his fraternity brothers, which cost him his life.

When such initiates see a kid being beaten up by their bullying members, they uncritically add their blows, because anything less would elicit rejection. They are petrified of standing alone – even for what is right and decent. When a human being is being ridiculed, they cheer the loudest at the scorn rained on him by their brothers/sisters.

Understandably, they conjecture the proposition is an “either-or” forum, or one in which only two options exist: either support the bullies, or do not show support for the bullies. Consequently, be a bully, or be the victim of a bully. They unimaginatively subscribe to a false argument, and most certainly live a lie. They are really paralyzed by fear of being bullied themselves that they do not seek principle or scruple, as unmistakable elements in their makeup or character. Thus, they are draped in pusillanimity.

Describing how obnoxious one of the candidates is, apparently is the flavor of the month. Unsurprisingly, many of those who manifest some form of bullying, one way or the other, are hiding in this milieu that disparages the obnoxious behavior of a candidate, because it is the popular thing to do.

Undoubtedly, this candidate deserves the censure. And I am so proud of the America we have today that he has been rightly identified as ignoble. But remember he belonged in America’s most revered institutions and groups. How did he come to be a bully? When did the metamorphosis occur? Was he morphed or was he really prepared to be this way, by the very groups and institutions he passed through that were meant to build character? It is unclear, as others have passed through some of them and turned out to be decent – Barack Obama passed through Ivy Leagues himself.

After most have cast their vote for the candidate – the admirable woman – with character, vote your conscience. Be introspective, check yourself, and say no to bullying, and YES, to character.




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