How do you respond to violence?

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?

10 thoughts on “How do you respond to violence?

  1. I was verbally assaulted, as in “we should cut you” by two racist thugs on a train in Sweden, some 13 years ago.

    And it’s awful that I consider that lucky, cause, you know, no one actually laid a hand on me.

    But with Finnish politics being what they are at the moment I admit I feel much, much safer just going grocery shopping wearing my steel-tipped boots.

  2. This is a question that I struggle with a lot! Another coping mechanism I think is the things we say we would do.

    “Man, if that was me I’d…” or the black version ” I wish a mofo WOULD do that to me/try that on me”. It’s all BS bravado that we display to cope and preserve our dignity.

    I’m not big by any means, and I shamefully lower my head when I think about this, but I often back away from conflict if it isn’t serious (like people who smoke inside the subway station and annoy the hell out of me).

    This is the reason I try to look hard (black-speak for looking angry or tough), to deter fools from trying some bull*hit.

    But I like to believe that if anybody actually stepped to me, my family or someone I see I’d speak out and even attack physically if need be. I don’t think I could handle the moral death I would suffer if I said and did nothing. I’m more scared of that… you know?

    But mostly, underneath the mental and external bravado, I’m a little scared too when I walk alone. This is why I’m signing up for the gym and eventually a self-defense class!

    Thanks for sharing, resistance. What a tender topic. This blog is great.

  3. PinkieG, weird, I had somebody tell me “I’m going to cut you,” once.

    Chimaobi, I no longer feel bad about walking away. Although I am a little surprised not to feel bad, if that makes any sense. But I don’t/can’t walk away when it involves other victims.

    The reality is (and this surprises me too) that I don’t like hurting other people. Even when they deserve it. And rather than feeling triumphant, I feel bad. Freaked out.

    Going to write a post about self-defense eventually.

  4. I hear you resistance, as I was once a pacifist I always get scared of conflicts and they will leave me feeling terrible if I actually hurt someone. But won’t I feel worse if I just take abuse, if I just remain inactive and cowardly? And what kind of example am I making for the rest of the community, not to mentino the youth/children. If someone pushes you, you better push back – or they’ll go and push someone else. If you let them fallacious flip you and you don’t prove them wrong, they will fallacious flip someone else!

    And zopie is right, you don’t know what they might do unless you handle it first. Malcolm was right too, if someone starts acting stoopid just but them in the cemetery/beat they ass.

  5. I am not an advocate of violence, for I feel it only begets more. However, what racial slurs and threats I took growing up, now as a mother, I will not take. There is a lot to be said for taking a stand.

  6. Sadly, I’m way too much of a coward to stand up for myself or anyone else, verbally, let alone physically (social anxiety will do that). I’m working on it, and am thinking about taking MA classes like others have said. I’ve finally started going to the gym, so at least I’ll have some brawn behind my frame to make me less ‘ripe for the picking’.

  7. But it isn’t necessarily about cowardice, is it? I mean, we all know what can happen. We all know that the outcome could be fatal.

    Post about self-defense classes on the way, I think.

  8. It galls me to write this but I think if some stranger had punched me on the street, I would just keep walking. I figure that if he’s crazy or dumb enough to do such a thing, he’s unhinged enough to beat me into the curb if I hit him back.

    I’d like to think that I’d duck into a nearby business and call the police, but I don’t know for sure.

  9. If someone assaults you first, then you have the right to defend yourself, legally and morally I would think. I understand your hesitation as well, but as a trained martial artist you should also have a measure of control of how much you hurt an attacker. That is something that works in your favor. You don’t have to kill the guy, but you can put a little hurt on him too.

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