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Bullies on the Bus

 

by CHARLES M. BLOW

 

“Making the Bus Monitor Cry.”

That’s the name of the video. It’s more than 10 minutes long, but if you make it through more than three of them with your eyes not getting misty and your blood not boiling then you are a rock, or at least your heart is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Monitor Karen Klein (photo-WHAM & YouTube).

The video shows Karen Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother and bus monitor in upstate New York, being relentlessly tormented by a group of young boys.

They hurl profanities. One asks for her address because he says he wants to go urinate on her door. Others are more explicit about defiling her.

One boy tells her that she doesn’t have a family because “they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.” (Her eldest son committed suicide.)

One suggests that if he were to stab her, his knife would go through her “like butter.”

Since the video was posted to YouTube, there has been an outpouring of shock and outrage.

An online campaign set up to raise $5,000 to send Klein on a vacation had raised more than $500,000 by midday Friday, Klein has made the media circuit recounting her ordeal and some of the children have apologized.

But what, if anything, does this say about society at large? Many things one could argue, but, for me, it is a remarkably apt metaphor for this moment in the American discourse in which hostility has been drawn out into the sunlight.

Those boys are us, or at least too many of us: America at its ugliest. It is that part of society that sees the weak and vulnerable as worthy of derision and animus.

This kind of behavior is not isolated to children and school buses and suburban communities. It stretches to the upper reaches of society — our politics and our pulpits and our public squares.

Whether it is a Republican debate audience booing a gay soldier or Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on a female Georgetown law student or Newt Gingrich’s salvos at the poor, bullying has become boilerplate. Hiss and taunt. Tease and intimidate. Target your enemies and torture them mercilessly. Maintain primacy through predation.

Traditionally inferior identity roles are registered in a variety of ways. For Klein, she was elderly and female and not thin or rich. For others, it is skin color, country of origin, object of affection or some other accident of birth.

The country is changing, and that change is creating friction: between the traditional ruling classes and emerging ones; between traditional social structures and altered ones; between a long-held vision of an American ideal and growing reality that its time has passed.

And that change is coming with an unrelenting swiftness.

Last month, the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in the country’s history, minority births outnumbered those of whites. And The New York Times recently highlighted a Brookings Institution demographer’s calculations that, “minorities accounted for 92 percent of the nation’s population growth in the decade that ended in 2010.”

Furthermore, there are now more women in college than men, and a Pew Research Center poll published in April found that, “in a reversal of traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career or profession.”

A Gallup poll released Thursday found that a record number of people (54 percent) say that they would be willing to vote for an atheist for president, and a Gallup poll last month found that more people support same-sex marriage than oppose it.

These dramatic shifts are upending the majority-minority paradigm and are making many people uneasy.

The Republican-Democratic divide is increasingly becoming an all-white/multicultural divide, a male/female divide, and a more religious/less religious divide — the formers the traditional power classes, and the latters the emerging ones.

This has led to some increasingly unseemly attacks at traditionally marginalized groups, even as — and possibly particularly because — they grow more powerful.

Women are under attack. Hispanics are under attack. Minority voting rights are under attack. The poor are under attack. Unsurprisingly, those doing the attacking in every case are from the right.

Seldom is power freely passed and painlessly surrendered, particularly when the traditionally powerful see the realignment as an existential threat.

The bullying on that bus was awful, but so is the bullying in our politics. Those boys were trying to exert power over a person placed there to rein them in. But bullying is always about power — projecting more than you have in order to accrue more than your share.

Sounds like the frightened, insecure part of American society.

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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1 Comment on "Bullies on the Bus"

  1. Ken Hamilton | June 29, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply

    Yes; those little snot-noses are us, and we treat each other just like that; not because we are any race, religion or anything else that humans use to divide ourselves from other humans. Those boys did what they did because they had the power to do what they did — plainly and simply. It wasn’t because they were white — blacks kill far more than do whites, most often we kill ourselves and mark greater nuanced differences between ourselves than even whites: dark/light skin, long/short hair and political affiliations are among that list); it wasn’t because they are Republicans (they are not even registered to vote); it is not because they are rich (we don’t know that they are); and it isn’t even because they are boys (the school safety officers are breaking up more fights between girls than they are breaking up fights between boys). It is, again, simply because they have the power to do so.

    Notwithstanding the fact that there were likely girls on that bus who said nothing during this incident, the question that Klein answered as to why she did nothing was the most salient answer of answers to the entire problem: because she didn’t have the power to do so, and to keep her employment thereafter.

    Can’t you see that that is the problem?

    If she thought that her employers would have backed her if she stood up and physically slapped the snot out of the nose of that brat that poked her, do you think that she would have still had a job?

    Both she and the bus driver, who said nothing about what was going on, knew that it was best for them to just sit and take the crap because of a system whose brats were empowered, not by right-wing, rich, white guys; but by the left-wing, goody two-shoes who wrote legislation that protected these brats to the point that they had more power than their school administrators and staff, teachers, parents, police and the like. It was the left that did that; and here is the sad part: that by the time we get to that America where blacks have real power, we still won’t have it — because with each step to the left, we continue to disempower ourselves and empower an upside-down society. Gay white men will have more power than even the esteemed Mr. Blow.

    And we do this, all for the purposes of looking magnanimous, and because, so it would appear, and that we hate our political enemies so much more than we love our own children — at least too little to chastise those children so that they have order in their adult lives. And I cannot understand why people don’t see this.

    Those students have since been suspended; but what about those who have empowered them? We will vote for them again because we don’t want to seem wrong in the perceived perfection that we had performed in the past, and that we have that straw man to blame for all of our problems — it was him, the guy that looks and thinks least like me, whoever he is.

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