My bullies are not your bullies

When I was much younger and in elementary school, I got beaten up daily—or so it feels 40 years later. In reality it was probably regularly but not every day.

Having largely outgrown being bullied in my teens (which is a thing that ran parallel to the other kids outgrowing bullying, I have no illusions in that respect), I accepted an elementary school reunion invite when I was 18.

The reunion was a congenial affair with everybody getting along just fine, but I was struck by the absence of a group of people. So I asked the organiser, a woman who as a child seemed to have gotten along with pretty much everybody in school, why certain former class mates weren’t there. Hadn’t they been interested? “But they were bullies!” came the shocked reply. Why would they invite bullies? Why indeed? Several of the people that were present at the reunion had been my bullies.

The uninvited kids shared another distinction, in that they had appeared to come from poor and dysfunctional backgrounds. My ex-bullies at the party, on the other hand, came from better strata.

I am not saying the organiser discriminated consciously against class. Quite the contrary. The uninvited kids had done the unthinkable, they had bullied everybody. Which, and you may find this interesting, immediately turned them into better people in my eyes, because they had not just picked on me. It hadn’t been personal. Bullying had been just their thing.

This memory popped into my head when the whole Zwarte Piet debate first got underway, before it got hijacked by racists and Zwarte Piet haters alike.

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