This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Otis Hampton
When I was little, I was too afraid to speak up for myself. If I accidentally broke something, either my mom or my older brother would yell at me to “tell the truth.” When I tried to explain what happened, they’d tell me to “shut up” or “watch your mouth.” They’d also hit me with their hands, belts, and other objects. I did as I was told, but inside I was angry.
It wasn’t fair how I always got beat up for things that weren’t my fault. So many times I wanted to tell them that I hated them and that I wished they were dead, but I didn’t out of fear of being hit. Physical abuse always prevented me from speaking my mind to my mom and older brother.
To make matters worse, I was also getting beaten up by bullies at school, partly because I have cerebral palsy and walk with a limp. Middle school was the worst. A lot of anger built up inside of me. In my freshman year of high school, I decided I wouldn’t be quiet anymore.
A Fearless Persona
It was freshman year of high school, and a group of us who knew each other from middle school were sitting at a table in the cafeteria, joking around. This kid Harry made a crack about my limp, and all the other kids started laughing. So I pointed out that he was missing a lot of teeth and added, “hole-y sh-t!”.
Everyone at the table laughed, and Harry wrapped his hands around my throat and choked me. I looked in his eyes and I knew he wasn’t going to kill me, and I smiled an evil smile. I endured the pain and fear because I knew at some point, he was gonna let go.
After he let go, I laughed, and everybody in the cafeteria looked at me like I was crazy. Laughing while being choked gave me a “never say die” persona. I began to present myself as fearless and outspoken, someone who wouldn’t take anyone’s nonsense.
Throwing Insults Like Punches
I would throw insults like punches and I got into a lot of verbal sparring. I never showed that people’s disses hurt my feelings, but the “cripple” jokes and taunting did hurt. Ignorant high school freshmen would ask “What’s wrong with you?” like they were asking if I was retarded. How was I to explain why I walked with a limp?
If someone tried to bully or belittle me, I’d go in for the kill. My weapons ranged from the classic “Yo Momma” jokes to personal attacks about their performance in school or their appearance (like their weight or race). I wanted to make them feel the same way they were making me feel.
My favorite thing to pick on were the bullies’ bad grammar. Once a kid said to me, “Yo, yous a ugly n-gga, son. My dog look better den you,” then laughed. I laughed with him for a few seconds and then said, “Maybe, but I bet your dog is smarter than YOU. I guess proper English isn’t your thing.” It seemed like it struck a nerve because he threatened to beat me up.
Sometimes I was sticking up for other kids, and that made me feel righteous. I told myself I was just being honest when I said mean things. But what was really going on, usually, was that I wanted to make my insults hit close to the chest and hurt. I was behaving like a bully, too.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.