carl joseph walker hoover, jaheem harrera and the unnecessary cycle of hate
this is about carl joseph walker hoover and jaheem harrera, two 11 year olds who committed suicide after a barrage of homophobic abuse from students at their schools, and the schools' refusal to intervene with all of their power.
my heart sinks whenever i hear of another story about a child succumbing by his or her own hand... it sinks, largely due to some sort of familiarity through my own experiences of suicide attempts over the years as a teenager; these thoughts are something i still struggle with to this day.
my heart also sinks, due to the still overlying assumption (written in many recent commentaries on this subject) that 'youthful exuberance' will or seemingly, eventually overcome that pesky depression; children overcome and outgrow the words hurled at them, because they are simply words.
as we can see, this is not the case. as someone who grew up in a household where a whole lot of words were thrown about essentially at a daily rate- sometimes several times a day- ('ugly', 'worthless' and the like), i can guarantee you that those words stay with you for life, unless you make more than a conscious effort to unlearn them. and anyone who's grown up in an abusive household or endured any sort of abusive relationship can attest, it's one of the most difficult things to do. most likely, those who grew up in that environment perpetuates the behavior in some other ways- be it vocally, or physically.
i am not insinuating that the students who taunted or threatened both jaheem or carl with violence have lived with violence themselves; however, i find validity in wondering if this is the case. as so many of us have been conditioned with the cliche of education beginning in the home, is it possible that the children who abused the two young boys who are no longer physically here with us, were faced with a barage of comments that shaped their attitudes about sex (the biological account) and gender (the socio-behavioral account)? did one of the girls climb trees, and she was repetedly told that 'girls don't do that'? was one of the boys told that 'only gay boys do theatre'?
were the boys told that girls are 'the weaker sex', and that any effort to not assert yourself vocally or physically results in automatic homosexual tendencies- because of course, girls are not supposed to assert themselves...?
here is where sex (the biology) and sexuality (the behavior) coincide in ways which are ultimately damaging... there is an ease in which to point to 'the youth of today' for being apathetic and materialistic; however, just as we cannot simply blame the last eight years' presidency for the current state of the country; we can't just look at the immoral nature of today's entertainment industry for corrupting our children. it is imperative to look at the previous cycle which got us to the point where we're at now. and there is a long and drawn out history of the sexualization of our children. just as we had michael jackson performing in adult clubs after strippers and singing about the joys and troubles of sex before the age of nine (and his sister janet performed as mae west as a baby herself); just as we shrieked in shock and anger at the murder of jon benet ramsey; and just as, in the age of youtube, we see five year old girls shaking their rumps to beyonce's 'single ladies' song... children have always been sexualized, whether in poetry, painting, dance or song.
let's face it- we can discuss the fact that 'gay' is a euphemism for 'bad' (and that ain't good); but the true question is: would all these children (and adults) who use the word 'gay' as an insult (or opine that something is 'gay') find necessity in using it, if the purpose was not to feminize or diminish a person or thing?
i used to volunteer with a group of predominately black and brown high school students, and i used to have to check some of these kids for using the use of 'gay' (and of course, the infamous 'n-word').
and let's face another thing: despite the fact that the term 'gay' has been, at this point, used by people of various ethnicities, its popularity in musical genres like hip hop cannot be denied. 'white' popular culture, for all intents and purposes, has defined itself by its variety; the 'hair metal' and 'new wave' bands of the 1980s could wear caked on make-up and teased hair, wear tight clothing and high heels and prance around flamboyantly, and STILL claim heterosexuality. artists like little richard and esquerita were embraced by black people- to a point- due to the gospel roots of their sound, but ultimately, white audiences supported them more, as well as rock and roll in general. artists like sylvester crossed over to both gay and straight audiences, but remained forever locked in a gay subculture.
in hip hop culture (which still remains overwhelmingly seen as 'black') we are confronted with debates about who is a gay rapper and which rapper owes how much money on child support. these attitudes about how many children you sire or how many women you bed dominates north american male culture on all sides; but the focus (from a media perspective) tends to be on black men. there is also the language of 'no homo' (and its successor 'pause') which permeates the culture so much that parodies of the phrase have mushroomed. still, it is 'gay' to compliment another man on his looks, even if there is no sexual connotation, so you must use a 'no homo' prologue... of course, it is permissable for women to compliment each other. is this because women do not ultimately count in the scheme of things? that's not easy to say, because that requires the assumption that women are not important, and i refuse to say that.
once again, the children who taunted jaheem and carl may have considered the lack of importance of women or girls, and equated their speech, body language or demeanor as being 'not male'- therefore 'gay'.
even though children who are taunted in this way are of varying ethnicities, the fact that these two children are of african descent hold some significance. apparently, jaheem, who was from the virgin islands, was reminded of this fact by constantly being told that he was 'a virgin' (once again, returning to the sexualization issue... i mean, hello? the kid was 11 YEARS OLD!!! i remember being told when i was 12 years old that i was gay, because i didn't like boys in the way that all the other girls liked the boys...)
the significance of sexual orientation carries weight in communities of african descent, because it's been commonly perceived for the longest time that being gay was not something that 'we' did. aside from the spiritual/religious bearing on sexual codes, respectfully; homosexuality (or anything other than heterosexuality) in the black community, in a cultural sense, represented a sign of weakness, and white influence. once again, i am talking about men here. because, even though it's frowned upon as a whole, 'two women' is culturally more accepted. does that mean women do not count? see the statement on that question above...
even though jaheem and carl did not identify as gay (and may not have even processed their sexuality without social pressures); however, whether or not they did identify as gay should not even matter- hatred is hatred, regardless of where it comes from. the constant abuse from students, the silence and complacency of the administrations of the schools they attended, and (most likely) the thought that they could never blossom to be the people they truly wanted to be without being harassed or stifled, tormented them so much that they felt they could no longer exist on this plane.
and that is a testiment to how much healing we need.
my heart goes out to their families in this time... i know they are in a much better place now, where they can be the people they always wanted to be.