Friday, May 1, 2009

"Zero Tolerance" is going to make spineless pussies out of my entire generation.

From the Globe and Mail:

Black belt teen strikes back at bully, and rallies community against racism

KESWICK, ONT. — The 15-year-old black belt thought he was doing his tormentor a favour when he elected to fight back with his weaker left hand.

He had heard his white classmate throw an angry racial slur in his direction after an argument during a gym class game of speedball, and now the student was shoving him backward, refusing to retract the smear.

The white student swung first, hitting the 15-year-old with a punch to the mouth.

The 15-year-old heard his father's voice running through his head: Fight only as a last resort, only in self-defence, only if given no choice, and only with the left hand.


This happened in a small rural town just north of Toronto - a town that already had problems with anti-Asian racism and hate crimes. Long story short, the Korean boy broke the bully's nose. While both students are under suspension, it is the Korean student that faces expulsion for ending a fight that he didn't start.

Nearly the entire student body staged a walk-out in a demonstration against racism.

I've been in exactly two real fights in my entire life: only once have I ever thrown the first punch.

This wasn't a friend, or even a friend of a friend. It was somebody that I had no choice but to deal with at work on a regular basis. The man had a tendency to make Jew jokes. Only they weren't said in jest, and since I was the only person there with any Jewish background, they were clearly directed at me. It didn't take too long before I began to be bothered by it.

I thought back to what my parents told me about dealing with bullies: "Walk away," "tell him to stop," "ignore him," "tell the teacher." I was always told to walk softly, but never told to carry a big stick. I don't think my parents were just preaching platitudes: they probably would have followed their own advice. I didn't.

If I failed to stand up for myself, I risked communicating to everyone else that his behaviour was tolerable. It was a short-term summer job in a small town where minorities are rare, and his example wasn't the one that I wanted to see set for the dynamic of the rest of the summer.

So at one point I'd had enough, and I let him know: "One more like that and I'm going to break your nose. "

A simple "Dude, that's enough" may have sufficed, but it could just as easily have been interpreted as me registering lip-service objection. Telling the guy that it bothered me enough to want to hit him left no room for interpretation: I wanted him to stop.

The thing was, he didn't.

A few minutes later, he made a crack about how to arrange the seating for a short drive around the corner. (Something about fitting me in the ashtray.)

A few seconds after that, he was on the floor.

Then I levelled my anger at the other men in the room: "Thanks for all the help, guys."

And it exactly then that I learned something. They hadn't been letting our concussed co-worker get away with racism because they were okay with it. Far from it, they were giving him a pass because they were following my lead. The only surprise that anyone had registered was at the fact that I had waited so long to do anything. They had been noticing it the entire time, and simply responding with the same passivity that they saw me display.

In the end, we both got fired. Here's how my boss explained it to me in private:

"We have zero tolerance for violence here. If there's a problem with racism, you're supposed to file a harassment complaint."

He paused for a while.

"You're supposed to file a harassment complaint. Off the record, though, the prick had it coming. Sometimes it's better to be pragmatic, and sometimes you've just got to draw the line. I'd have done the same thing.... Off the record, mind you."

Sometimes it's better to be pragmatic, and sometimes you've just got to draw the line.

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