I just watched Ellen Page's speech and I was deeply moved by her honesty and vulnerability. Truth is, I do not know what it is like to be bullied as a teenager, or to be made fun of because of who you are. I was largely spared from it. I was more invisible than anything, and it served my selfish interests well to blend into the background. Listening to her speech and seeing how nervous she was made me think of the significance of her actions. How courageous, I thought.
It made me think of my peers when I was growing up, the ones who were bullied and made fun of, the ones who were cast aside. I realized I never once stood up for any one of them. I was a bystander who merely watched. I was a spectator who- I am not proud to say- took some amusement to watching things unfold, as if I were watching a TV show instead of being part of real life. Why did I never intervene? Why did I never say stop, that's enough? Why did I watch bullies torment others because of their weight or sexuality or the way they look or the way they speak? Why did I not think it mattered? Why didn't I see it caused so much anguish?
The other day, I was visiting family and I was playing with my grade-school age niece. We were at the bunk bed when her younger brother wanted to climb up and join us. She said, "No boys allowed" which would have been fine, but then she followed it up with "If you came up here, it means you're bakla (gay)". There was ridicule in that statement, as though being gay was an undesirable outcome. The question lingered in my mind: how did we learn to hate?
How is it that young children think nothing of the discrimination that they already put upon others? I think we learn to hate when we accept things that are not okay as okay. We learn to hate with social conditioning, when a large majority of our society accepts things that are not okay as okay. We learn to hate when we watch our parents and family and relatives and teachers and friends put down others because they are different. We learn to hate when those around us act as though those who are different from us are inferior. We learn to hate when those around us choose to do nothing, because choosing to do nothing is choosing the side of the oppressor.
How did we learn to hate and how can we unlearn it? We unlearn hate by being courageous. We unlearn hate by questioning the so-called norms of society. We unlearn hate by empathy, by putting ourselves in others' shoes, by seeing others as equal. We unlearn hate by listening and watching and observing. We unlearn hate by embracing love. We unlearn hate by forgiving others. We unlearn hate by trusting ourselves and surrounding ourselves with people who can lift us up. We unlearn hate by showing others love.
My nephew decided to climb up the bunk bed anyway, unafraid of his sister's so-called threat. I told my niece, whose only interest is perhaps to keep the space to herself, "There would be nothing wrong if he were gay." I may be too late to speak up for my peers in school, but I am going to start now.