I am the proud auntie of a six year old skinny first grader. He’s a smart little kid, and funny, and wears glasses, and is still too young to know that flipping over a couch can cause serious injury. He’s having fun and is learning the boundaries of his body day by day, bruise by bruise. For the most part, his injuries are small and they heal quickly. At times, we step in to offer stern direction or even punishment, as running around the house with pointy objects isn’t an activity we can allow to be trial and error. Overall, we recognize there is only a small window of time to instill confidence and creativity before we send him off into the world, where for half the day he may learn things we’d rather him not learn, where someone may react to him in a way that doesn’t celebrate who he is, and where boundaries are set that aren’t easily removed. The importance of school in child development is no small thing. My mom transferred me year after year, seeking a healthy balance (and a decent education) that we never quite got right, and by the time I was in 7th grade, I’d transferred seven times. So I was always the new kid.
The new kid is always an easy target and bullies had their tries. But I had my fists; many Chicago children come out the womb with their dukes up. I spent a lot of time in the school office trying to explain my side of things and was often met with skepticism or was completely ignored. My fighting was not just an attempt to establish myself in an unknown world. I was a kid seeking some footing, some power in a world where I had none. Luckily, I had a sense of humor and it got my by. But unfortunately, young children bullying one another is often seen as a rite of passage, just part of growing up. It is rarely seen as an early form of marginalization, a place where potential people never become. We react with surprise when young gay children like Asher Brown kill themselves after years of ridicule. It is not just enough to say “it will get better.” But the question is, who will you be when it does get better?
When Dr. Cohen wrote “The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics” she highlighted an all-too-popular trend of leaving those who are different on the outskirts of life. In the book’s case, these boundaries resulted in a delayed response to the AIDS virus and reduced information and understanding about the virus. While it was a message tailored to fit the circumstances surrounding black political response to the AIDS virus, marginalization is not exclusive to our community.
Young children who are dying at their own hands or fighting back against those they see as threats are often times on the margins. Some want to escape and some do anything they can to get through to the other side. Over time, they are probably nothing like they were when they were six years old, when the last thing that came to mind is that they might get hurt. Instead, they are acutely aware of the dangers they face, the consequences of being different, and of the many boundaries they will face.