Just yesterday I came across the story of Brenton Peraita, the 11-year-old Californian boy who has been the target of anti-gay bullying and gender policing*. It seems when Brenton yearned for a gun to threaten and silence his bullies he was arrested by the city police department.
I noted how studies of boys who bring guns to school indicate that these boys have often (over 80% of the time) been the long-time targets of anti-gay harassment and harassment about their performance of masculinity in general. And how just as many studies show that this type of “be a man” harassment is normalized, ignored, or enacted by the faculty in schools.
No point in complaining really. If you can’t take care of it yourself, well, lets just be realistic in the words of Bruce Morton, there’s not much educators can do to help you.
So Brenton did his level best to take matters into his own hands against at least three aggressors. Fortunately for Brenton things came to a screeching halt when his parents found out how desperate he was to be free of daily homophobic and sexist torture. Did they really need to find this out from the police – – Well I guess according to Bruce Morton, the Riverbend Director of Student Welfare, the police are the best child advocates when it comes to dealing with bias, harassment, and intimidation in school.
In any case, I recap some of this story because of an article I saw today about Taylor Bell an 18-year-old senior in the Itawamaba County School District of Mississippi (Constance McMillen’s school district). It seems Taylor, like Brenton, decided to express his frustration, rage, and powerlessness against sexual harassment at school with a gun threat.
This time the wishful threat came in a rap song with references to rumored sexual predators among the faculty at Itawamba:
“Looking down girls’ shirts
drool running down your mouth
messing with the wrong one
going to get a pistol down your mouth.”
Thanks to that rap song potentially threatening two alleged sexual predators on faculty at Itawamaba Taylor was suspended for 5 weeks and sent to an alternative school.
When Bell was called in for questions he explained the lyrics in this way,
“What I was saying was, ‘You keep messing with the wrong person’s child, you never know who’s going to come after you,'” Bell said. “I didn’t say that I, personally, was going to do that; I don’t have any reason to. I’ve never harmed anybody. I don’t shoot people.” (source)
And here’s what happened next…
Nevertheless, school officials suspended Bell until a disciplinary hearing. At the Jan. 26 hearing, school-board members decided that “the issue of whether or not lyrics published by Taylor Bell constituted threats to school district teachers was vague,” according to a letter from School Board Attorney Michele Floyd to Bell’s mother, Dora Bell. “[H]owever, they determined that the publication of those lyrics did constitute harassment and intimidation of two school district teachers, which is a violation of School Board Policy and state law.”
Bell gave Floyd two written letters from students confirming the allegations that he mentioned, but the board did not discuss them further. The board then voted to suspend Bell for the remainder of the nine-week quarter.
Now for the sake of the schools position here – I think it’s time to be realistic about the potential that two of their coaches have been sexually harassing female students and are potential sexual predators.
I want to be realistic about why Taylor Bell thought the best way to address heterosexual sexual harassment at school was with a gun threat, either a threat from him or a threat that, ‘You keep messing with the wrong person’s child, you never know who’s going to come after you.’
Because here in reality there are entire web sites set up to track all of the heterosexual sexual harassment and sexual assault cases against teachers and coaches. Here in reality 83% of girls report being sexually harassed, intimidated, and humiliated in high school.
And the idea that teachers are not just silent witness, but are also participates in all of this sexual harassment was recently confirmed once again here in Oregon by our Teachers Standards and Practices Commission.
So I think it is important to point out to the Itawamba School Board Attorney Michele Floyd that it is the districts duty to look into the written letters Bell provided confirming the allegations that:
“Girls were saying, ‘The coach is looking down my shirt,’ or, ‘He’s saying that my butt is big,’ ” Bell said. “One girl, a gay girl, (said that one coach) was like, ‘If you wasn’t so gay, I would turn you out.’ Stuff like that you just don’t say to students–really, individuals period, but especially not to students.”
Because reality suggests the school has bigger problems that a wanna be rapper talking about pistols in a recording studio. Then again, the district could just suspend and criminalize the black boy who took up a mantle to say,
“Stuff like that you just don’t say to students–really, individuals period, but especially not to students.”
When boys feel they have to go full-tilt gun-toting macho in a stand-off against the violent sexual and gender talk in the school, when girls find the only outlet for their reports of sexual threats are their 18-year-old peers, when the only way to wave a red flag in our school system is with the word gun…
We have given over our youth to the daily violence of normalized misogyny, normalized homophobia, and normalized racism.
And now and again those at the bottom are going to fight back for survival.
Like I said yesterday, reality bites
and once in a while someone bites back.