Cleveland Teen Uppercut by Bus Driver, One of Many Examples of Kiese Laymon’s Writings

I debated with myself for a day or two, trying to decide whether or not I should post this. But, after seeing some dialogue online, I decided it was worth me adding my voice to the rational forum on this video. Watch the video and see below for my comments.

kiese laymonIn August, we posted an article about Kiese Laymon. His essay How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance details his experience or his version of the “Black Experience.” I thought it prudent to revisit here because this video reminded me of my “Black Experience.”

The young girl in this video represents so many young Black women who’s identities are wrapped up in who they can conquer either sexually or physically. Social messaging and conditioning has taught many of these girls that being smart really isn’t good enough. Having good behavior and good grades makes you a target for bullying and intimidation. So, what does that mean? Everything is a fight.

I remember growing up when I would get ready for school. My Jordan’s had to be clean, scuffless, and brand new cause I had to make sure everyone knew I was a baller. My jeans had to be just the right cut, couldn’t flood on my 6’4″ inch frame or I’d get made fun of and have to fight someone. And, my hair, oooh, my hair and my nails. Hair had to be laid, braided, weaved, cornrowed or whatever or I was “bootsy.” And my nails stayed done. Ultra curve with metallic polish that changed based on how hot or cold it was. And, what I lacked in substance and depth, I made up for in street cred.

I remember riding the 57 line down MacArthur Avenue in East Oakland every school day for years. I had to have witnessed at least 20 fights on that bus or from that bus. I witnessed at least two shootings. And, they always involved people I knew. One of the fights involved me and another girl I went to junior high school with. I never hit her, being that I was almost twice her size, but she thought I wanted to fight her and that was enough. We both had something to prove. Neither of us knew what it was but it had to be done or we’d lose “respect.”

I say all this for a couple of reasons. Beyond the psycho-social aspects of this story that have no doubt caused many a Black person to post this video in laughter and pure giddiness, there is a very very scary message in this story. A young woman, who happens to be Black, is in a challenging altercation with an adult male, who also happens to be Black, and no one on that bus thought it a good idea to step in before it became so heated. There is another adult male standing there for the entire altercation. He is wearing what looks to be a crossing guard’s uniform or some type of vest that makes it easier to see him in high traffic areas. How is it that he thought the altercation appropriate when his job probably deals with safety?

Every single person on that bus, the person taping it and the people watching it like a movie, were condoning this young girl’s Black experience. They were saying, “this is exactly what you are meant to do and we appreciate you for helping us do what we are meant to do.” This, my friends, is “how to slowly kill yourself and others in America.”

Someday, everyone on that bus will learn that everything is not a fight. That poor girl will learn that she doesn’t have to hit a man when he disrespects her. And, that bus driver will learn that how someone acts doesn’t illustrate who they really are. And those bus riders, who only thought to step in after a girl was physically assaulted, humiliated, and brutalized by a man, will learn that watching is just as bad as doing. Both are legally guilty of assault and battery now. And everyone who made this video viral, added music, remixed it to popular video game audio, and laughed at this girl’s pain, will learn that what they are really laughing at is themselves.

Someday, we’ll all learn that we aren’t really in a fight. A fight requires two people. We are fighting ourselves. And that, is not a fight. It is a failure. It is our failure to raise our children with respect and reverence. It is our failure to lead our peers toward good and away from bad. It is our failure to stand up for people in need. It is our failure to recognize our worth. This video represents our failure. And, I can only feel embarassed and saddened when I think of what those before us endured for us to do this to ourselves.

Don’t mistake this post as a lecture or a “higher-than-though” tirade. Quite the contrary. This is a good old-fashioned reflection on my Black experience. There was good but there was always an undercurrent of failure. I imagine when that bus driver made fun of this young girl’s scars, he struck something in her that hurt. He found her failure. And she had to fight it away. And when that young girl put her hands on him, she struck something. She found his failure. He had to do the same. And on and on and on it went and still goes. All of us seeing our own failure. We may mask it with laughter but it’s still there. And it hurts. And it is killing us slowly and everythone else around us.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

2 Responses

  1. November 13, 2012

    […] audience. This altercation is no different. We’ve covered Chicago before and we’ve also covered Cleveland. But, here we are, back in Chicago again with a much deeper story to tell. In August, we […]

  2. December 30, 2012

    […] when others display more aggressive demeanors for similar issues. It makes a bus driver physically beating a young black woman a minor celebrity on YouTube. And it shames black women who strive to carve out their true space in […]