Rage Against The Machine "Testify"

What Bullying Teaches Us About Oppression

“Who controls the past now controls the future. Who controls the present now controls the past. Who controls the past now controls the future. Who controls the present now?”

Rage Against The Machine – “Testify”

Between the ages of 14 – 18 I didn’t have many white friends.

I remember the transition vividly.

The first year or so at middle school sucked.

I was just starting to get used to the fact that I wasn’t being bullied as much.

Most kids were now leaving me alone. Which is what I wanted at the time. When everyday sucks as a human, there’s not much to look forward to.

So being alone and relishing not being stepped all over on by guys who were either too fast to chase or too strong for me to defend myself from gave me some relief.

But slowly things changed. I started playing basketball during breaks at school. And besides one or two white friends, everyone else was either latinx or asian.

Wait… why is this so important?

Because after no interaction with school administrators before I suddenly attracted their attention.

Why would they take an interest in me, now?

They could care less that I existed before. I was just a depressed kid in a lot of pain and tried my best to deal with it how I could — by dissociating from my body and experiences. I was sort of half in this world and half somewhere else. A semi permanent daze.

I was also infatuated with a beautiful girl at school. We had no classes together and I rarely saw her on campus. I did eventually find a way to let her know I was interested but she wasn’t. This killed me emotionally for nearly a year.

Oh yeah and I had bad hygiene back then. Outside of some angry flare ups, my parents stopped pretending to be adults who weren’t miserable with each other well before then.

There was a dominant story line internally of not caring about a lot of things. It was a constant narrative for me that lasted well into adulthood.

So one day the vice principal asks to talk to me during recess. He doesn’t ask anything of substance, just small talk — which makes me confused.

But the other kids see it all go down.

A few of them come up to me right after. They’re not as naive as me so they know just based on context what happened. They knew that I was now being tracked by administrators because I was hanging out with a different group of students — the “wrong” kind.

Kinda weird right?

I have no further conversations with administrators at that school. I don’t get good grades but I’m on pace to graduate and move onto high school.

In high school things being to accelerate.

Within two months, I’m sitting in an office in Los Altos High School. People are concerned.

I haven’t been going to class, I just stop going. My best friend and I hang out playing basketball, smoking cigarettes and watching trash TV while his mom is at work all day.

Jerry Springer much?

Despite spending most of the summer in football practice, double days (x2 practices per day) I barely even register the feeling of… potential consequences?

Now here I am, I feel the snaring stares of the adults. They offer me an option that sounds interesting. Since I’m far behind, they tell me I can go to a different school altogether.

Not Mountain View High, where my brother had graduated from. The local alternative high school, Alta Vista. Not seeing a better option I take it.

It’s my freshman year and to the school’s credit there are a few good things. I don’t meet too many people since the entire school was barely over 100 people — not bad for a fearful introvert.

In science class, we have one lesson where the teacher uses portions of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS for a lecture. I get confused thinking COSMOS is NOVA because they were both on public television.

In the later half of the year I get invited to join a few other students to volunteer at Mountain View’s local television station. We get to see and operate cameras. Meet the staff who work at the station. The entire project is to put a few teams together and make short films.

For some reason, the team I’m on is a bit smaller and towards the end of the project it’s mostly me and one other dude. He sees how innocent and clueless I am as a young white kid and teaches me a little slang. Just enough so that I can understand him in conversation.

He does most of the work, he shoots footage of DJs who are taking the artform to new levels in underground clubs. He films turntables at record stores. He interviews a close friend (who is white btw) and they have raw conversations about hip hop and how they envision their lifestyle and the meaning behind it.

I never view “graffiti” as vandalism after seeing how stunning some street art is. Tagging might not look as pretty but it’s still a voice of the voiceless in society.

It’s hard work, I see how long it takes to edit the piece. I’m still a little hesitant at learning video editing to this day.

I always wish I could have a copy of the documentary he made.

He’s a senior about to go to community college at Foothill College.

I only run into him once for the rest of my life. It was a year later at Keystone. A small local chain of arcade stores in town. Conveniently, there is one location between school and home no matter where I live or go to school in the ’90s I remember going in one day and bumping into him. I asked him how things are going.

He quit school.

As I get older, I carry many of the beliefs of my non white friends from growing up. At one point I go out of the way to read about black news and experiences written from their perspective. It’s good to have the awareness. I find a lot of white folks just don’t want to think about injustice. There’s almost this sense that hey we won the lottery, the state just isn’t going to fuck with us that badly.

I try to do what I can… but politics just doesn’t make sense. There was always a lot of baiting and switching and promises and betrayals.

The work for change in society is hard. It’s long term. This isn’t an issue that can be fixed with education or data or pure logic. It’s an emotional argument we need to have.

I get laid off during the last recession… going without work for a year and a half. Coincidentally I get to read and see a lot about the Occupy movement in NYC and locally in the bay area. For me it’s always inspiring to see people fight for their rights.

It gives me hope for the future.

I was finishing up an associates degree in liberal arts (because it was the closest I can get to a degree in psychology at that school).

De Anza has some tolerant sounding policies allowing students to express themselves but you can feel the tension. There is a small tent community on campus. And I’m jealous! The excitement and hope for change is real.

Our obsession with private property rights has big consequences. That’s why public displays of dissent are so frowned upon by business and government “leadership”. They know that if the public knows how much agency they actually have… shit would change.

The tents are in the middle of campus near the library and cafeteria. I take classes at night so I can look for a job during the day and take care of my dad whose health is a few years into serious decline.

It’s a dark, cool and peaceful night and a few other students are making their way to evening classes or going home. It’s just then that I hear…

“GET A FUCKING JOB!”

Some d-bag was yelling at the students in the tents.

My heart sinks.

Today — I think the word tolerant is something we should examine closer. Because what we REALLY need is something that goes beyond that word.

Richard Dawkins used to wear a t-shirt that said “We Are All Africans”.

Richard Dawkins wearing "We Are All Africans" t-shirt
Richard Dawkins wearing “We Are All Africans” t-shirt

Why did he do that? The UK isn’t the most welcoming of places. It’s still one of the more hyper class focused territories in the world.

He wore the shirt to illustrate an important point.

The remains of humanity’s OLDEST known ancestors, were found in Africa.

Read that sentence again.

This is what I mean: All of humanity can be traced back to Africa. Sure some tribes survived by traveling and eventually settling in very different climates. But we can’t espace the fact that yes — we are all connected in a deep way.

So why is our day to day experience so different?

Some people fear change. Some people are committed to tribalism and tradition.

Rick Sanchez
Rick Sanchez

I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that we NEED to change.

I still have a long ways to go. I always think of myself as sensitive to the needs of others. Yet there are times when I reject change. There are times when I judge people and opinions.

If it was easy to have no judgment of people and ideas — we would all do it.

It’s obviously a much happier place to be. Imagine no blaming ever, we’re all responsible and in it together.

The conditions are fucked up out there.

"They got money for wars but cant feed the poor" TuPac
TuPac

Politicians and non profit / business leaders are selling their own people out in cowardly acts of careerism. They do it for money. They sell shiny packaging that says: “none of our ideas are diverse but we look diverse”.

These conditions are hundreds of years in the making. We know there will continue to be pockets of resistance to change. Our hope must be invested in the younger generations. They have the most to lose, they always have.

It’s the older folks who kind of shrug off the injustice with a “meh” response that need clarity. They may not find it in their lifetimes.

Many people are in denial over their arrogance and greed, among other ills. We won’t be able to reach all of them.

People change in strange ways. Krist Noveslic (former bassist of Nirvana), who once supported the WTO protests in Seattle in the 1990s (an early preview of militarized police force)… now backs authoritarian oppression. To be fair, he still considers himself politically independent and his initial comments were a little meandering and hypocritical. Cancel culture is something we’ll be looking into later — he suspended or cancelled his social media accounts since going on the record.

So if ANY of this moves you. Do what you can. Speak out, reach out to community organizations that can help.

Use your google fu to find groups you feel good about supporting.

Realize though, that mere charity isn’t enough. The best thing we can all do is do the hard work to move beyond our political and social prejudices.

Mainstream news organizations and tech firms will continue to profit off of our discord — it’s profitable. This is how they make money.

We have to move closer to brotherhood and sisterhood.

We have to begin to see that all tribes are part of a much grander tribe of humanity.

P.S. While not comprehensive, this list of creators and organizations is a good place to start.

Tristan Donofrio is a writer who coaches creatives and aspiring creatives to make progress on unleashing your creative force on the world. Create art and create your vision of change in your life. Free ebook "Unmindfuck Your Creativity" for all new subscribers!