Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. –Malcolm X
It has long been my belief that it is easiest to learn to drive when you are fifteen or sixteen and have no fear of death. Often people who learn to drive late in life are nervous drivers. Because they know what can happen. They’re aware of five-car pileups when there’s a little bit of ice on the road. DUIs that lead to head-on crashes. The momentary lapse of attention that might prove fatal.
Sometimes I wonder if that is why I am more cautious in responding to violence. Because I am aware of the Absolute Worst Thing.
Because I know what hate looks like. And because I know what can happen.
I’ve been thinking about my response to violence since this incident last year. At one time in my life, I think that guy would have been on the receiving end of a well-placed kick. But now? I walk away and pretend nothing happened.
I understand systemic racism because of the many ways I have experienced it. So I understand my reluctance to call the police. And I understand my lack of willingness to engage. Because not only would I risk being seriously harmed, I would risk arrest.
In the past that did not always stop me. In the past the assault-for-fun didn’t always turn out the way the perpetrator intended. This is because for many years I trained in various martial arts. I am stronger than I would appear; my reflexes are pretty good even now. (I was over at my cousin’s when she opened a cabinet and a bowl fell out. I turned and caught the bowl before it hit the ground.) But I’m slower than I used to be, which is why last year a stranger was able to punch me in the arm.
Pair a larger untrained person with a smaller trained individual and the latter’s got a good chance of doing serious harm. Especially if the smaller person is enraged by the basic chicken-shittery of it all. Is it fair for a heavyweight to engage a bantam?
I started to write “In the past I did not think. In the past I reacted.” But I think the reality is that I do not think now either; I have internalized.
If he puts his hand on you, what is your response?