No More “Boys Will Be Boys”

No More “Boys Will Be Boys”

by | Jul 7, 2022 | Why I'm Running

Like most middle-aged people, I have some gauzy memories of summer. You know, playing kickball in the street, catching fireflies in jars, riding bikes until the streetlights came on.

But here’s another summer memory that’s stuck with me: my neighbor Mark sitting in the grass in his front yard, wasted legs to one side, tossing a ball into a pitching net a few feet in front of him. Mark had a neuromuscular disease; he could barely stand, much less play kickball with the other boys. So that’s how he spent his summer days—sitting in the grass for hours, throwing and catching, alone.

Mark was invisible to the other boys. His family—the only Jewish family on our street—was invisible to the other families in our neighborhood.

Mark was invisible until the day he wasn’t. That day, my mom glanced out our front window and saw what someone had scrawled on his family’s driveway the night before: Mark is a r******* jew. I watched out the window as my soft-spoken mom marched across the street to the neighborhood bully’s house and knocked on the door. The bully’s dad—also a bully—answered.
I’d like to tell you that the dad was appalled, that he forced his son to apologize. No, the dad laughed and said, “Boys will be boys.”

Mom didn’t change the dad or the bully. She didn’t change the culture of our neighborhood, where kicking down was another popular sport. But seeing Mom stand up to the bullies changed me, and I saw that change reflected in my children, whose generation has largely rejected bully culture.

But over the space of just a few years, bully culture has roared back, having been promoted from the bully pulpit. Kicking down to excite the base has been part of the Republican playbook for decades. Now it’s the only play they have, especially in Tennessee.

If we’re going to leave a better Tennessee for our children and their children, we must stand up to bullies, whether they’re on the street or in the State House.