I spent yesterday evening cyber-stalking my childhood bully. To be more precise: I spent the wee hours of this morning, from around 3am to 4am, looking him up online.
It wasn’t hard to find him on Facebook. I recognized his face instantly.
I’ll call him Tommy Scholl, although he is not deserving of cover. He was a horrid boy who grew up (presumably) to be an even more horrid man.
He bullied and picked on four neighborhood kids of color – four that I know of.
- Me: He called me n-gger. That term he designated to any non-White, apparently, since I am of Korean ethnicity. He beat me up on multiple occasions, including following me home with a “friend” five years his junior so they could tag-team landing punches and shin kicks. (Chivalry of the day dictated that boys didn’t beat up girls, but this didn’t apply to n-ggers.) He would interject himself in the outdoor games I played with other kids (Tag, Hide & Go Seek, 500) in order to humiliate me. Uncle Sam was his favorite. “Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam, may we cross the river dam…?” He took pleasure in being Uncle Sam and saying “peach” was the only color allowed to cross. All the other kids were White and wore “peach” skin. Without “peach skin”, Uncle Sam said I was trespassing and had to go home.
- Other Kids: Took rougher beatings. “Jerry” was called N-gger for being half-White and half-Korean and spat on and beaten up regularly. Tommy berated and beat up another Korean adoptee, including instructing other kids to hold him down so he could land punches in the groin and stomach. Tommy brutally attacked his next door neighbor, a foster kid. I’ll call him “Luke”. I don’t recall Luke’s non-White, racially ambiguous ethnicity. But I do know that Tommy kicked Luke in the testicles and one of his testicles had to be removed. Nothing happened to Tommy for this, not legally anyway. Not that I recall.
What I do recall is that Tommy’s actions did not seem extraordinary. It was not a spectacular thing that he removed another boy’s testicle or beat other kids black and blue for being half N-gger.
In fact, my neighborhood best friend “Melissa” held down Luke so Tommy could kick him in the testicles.
Melissa didn’t know that surgical intervention would be required.
But I suspect she would have done it anyway.
She did it because Tommy told her to. Melissa was afraid to not go along with Tommy. Telling him to stop wouldn’t change anything, she explained. And he would just start picking on her.
I didn’t see Melissa as an accessory to assault, or participating in a hate crime.
As kids then, we weren’t trained to speak up.
Maybe they aren’t now, because every White person I know now in my adult life is Melissa. Even as they shake their head in disgust, I know they would have done the same.
It didn’t really occur to me Melissa should have been piping up. Or that Tommy was engaging in an abnormally sociopathic level of bullying.
Tommy was just a bully that other White kids, non-targeted, wanted to appease.
Tommy was just a bully that other adults encouraged me (indirectly) to avoid.
A Tommy like that nowadays would (I hope) be classified as a sociopath. His actions would be considered hate crimes. He would face criminal charges for removing another kid’s testicle.
Then: racism was just considered bullying.
In school, teachers taught us that kids were “mean to one another because of differences” like “wearing glasses” or “being fat” or “having a different color skin”.
Yep. Bullying because of skin color was likened to calling someone “freckle face” or “metal mouth”.
How the hell was name-calling for braces considered on the same plane as name-calling for race?
I didn’t push back.
It didn’t occur to me to do so.
I didn’t know how to.
Even if I did, I certainly would not have wanted to. I didn’t want to publicize, more broadly, my humiliation.
But last night, I found myself thinking of Tommy Scholl for the first time in decades.
I felt awash in shame and guilt, but above all disbelief. How was he allowed to get away with those acts, and why did the bystander adults (neighbors who later said they watched it happen and “felt so bad”) fail to interpose themselves?
Even now, well-meaning “Allies” don’t know what to say or do when they are live witnesses to racism unfolding in real-time. So they don’t step in. Because it’s uncomfortable, I suppose, dressing down another adult in public.
But Tommy was a child a few years older than me. Terrorizing me from age 6 to age 9 or 10.
How the Hell did he get a free pass? Are “Ally” adults afraid to confront a child-racist?
Surely, Tommy was not an anomaly. I never heard anyone else in my neighborhood openly use the term “N-gger”, let alone call me that. But it came out in other remarks.
- “The problem with Black people is that they always seem to _____________.”
- “I hope a Black family doesn’t move in. I was around enough of them in the Army.”
- “I’m not against a Black family moving in, but other people are, so it would hurt the property value.”
And I’d venture a guess that Tommy learned the word N-gger at home.
Where does a child learn he should beat up, spit on, and remove testicles from other children because they are not White? Why was he not in a mental institution for sociopathy?
Psychology Today says sociopathy refers to a “pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes, including manipulation, deceit, aggression, and a lack of empathy for others”.
And MHA (Mental Health America) distinguishes sociopaths from psychopaths: Psychopaths tend to be manipulative and charming and lead the semblance of a normal life. Sociopaths are more erratic and rage-prone and unable to lead a normal life.
Tommy: Did you lead a normal life as a child? He lived on a quiet, middle-class, tree-lined street in the suburbs with neighbors who “kept up” their lawns. He had an older brother, Johnny, and stay-at-home mom. His parents were married. He ate stalks of rhubarb. He played, without incident, with other White kids in the neighborhood. He collected baseball cards. He was like me, minus the racist world views.
Tommy: Do you lead a normal life now as a grown man?
Researching Facebook and other public records, I’ve found these details.
- He’s filed for bankruptcy at least once.
- He’s married to an exceedingly blonde woman.
- He’s rural now. He lives about an hour outside of the Twin Cities metro area in a town that’s 90% White.
- He’s a renter. He rents an apartment.
- He hates entitlement programs.
- He believes the presidential election was stolen.
- He’s probably a Proud Boy.
- He can’t spell.
- He enjoys drinking heavily.
- He has no non-White “friends” on Facebook.
My mind is cobbling together an unflattering portrait. And yet, I think of all the deeper things he cherishes.
- He loves bonfires and poking at fires with sticks.
- He loves camping and seeing the stars outside of the city.
- He finds meaning in wilderness.
- He enjoys the satisfaction of eating food you grow in your garden.
- He is inspired by the words of Thoreau.
- He encourages people to show love and gratitude daily — at least among his Facebook connections.
- He applauds “open-minded” people who can change their mind after being presented with new information.
And still, he is my enemy. Not just in the liberal machinations of my brain. But because this is how he views me: a N-gger who should go back to Korea.
Is this how every Proud Boy started? A blond-haired, cherub-cheeked suburban kid with a mom and dad and brother at home? A kid who ate rhubarb stalks and collected baseball cards and kicked N-ggers in the testicles – just because?
My mind is in a whirl.
In the game of life, Tommy, I’ve won. I went to college and I’ve traveled the world (well Western Europe) and I own my house. But I don’t care about these distinctions or ways I one-up him. One-upping him takes no effort.
I’m trying to grapple with the specter of Tommy. How does someone like that come into existence, and how many other people has he haunted?
Does he still openly berate people of color in person?
Would he recognize me if I saw him on the street?
What would he do if I said hello?
Or if I called him the N-word?
I don’t know.
I want a true sentence to say, one true sentence to write. So tonight, here’s true sentence no. 18: Tommy Scholl, wherever you are and wherever life takes you, you’ll always be a racist c-nt.
Not an elegant sentence. But the goal is to write one true sentence a day, and today, this is the only for-sure, certain truth I’ve got.