HFA’s Take: A Nation Incognito

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Wilfredo Lee

Richie Incognito (left) has been under fire publicly for bullying accusations (Photo Credit: CNN)

I was a fish out of water throughout middle school and most of high school in Brunswick, Md. A liberal, open-minded, somewhat shy Jewish city boy, without a square of camo-gear on my wardrobe.

 

I found the “southern” (or redneck, or hillbilly, or whatever you prefer) culture of life in Brunswick to be funny or odd at its best, and trivial and narrow-minded at its worst. However, it goes without much saying that I wouldn’t make that opinion known.

 

(The even funnier irony was that we were barely in the “south”, just below the Mason-Dixon, yet the town had the begrudging, grumpy southern look of just recently losing the civil war).

 

In the first few early years of my Brunswick, Md. life, I made a decent amount of friends. I wasn’t “popular” per-say, but I was well known and well liked. I was somewhat of a class clown who knew everyone. It’s always been an instinct of mine to relate to every ‘type’ of person in school and out of school, or at least try to do so.

 

That being said, I was still somewhat shy. I never tried to be mean to someone, even if they gave me a very strong reason to do so. I can even remember a specific speech our school’s guidance counselor made one day–he basically asked the class why it was “uncool to be nice to people these days”. I’m not sure why, but that question really stuck with me, even today.

 

However, none of my classmates seemed to see it that way, and I thereby became a victim of my own peaceful mentality. I became a ‘pushover’, insecure, and anxious. That is the personality I grew into.

During a random basement house party on a usual night in eighth grade, the fact that I was Jewish came to be known amongst my peers. Ordinarily, this would not be an issue in any way. Yet, “southern” culture raised its ugly head. Quickly. I became the ultimate target of redneck bullies. It was the perfect storm.

 

Over the course of four years or so, I was the subject of beatings, harassment, and embarrassment. That, I could take. The emotional toll was what became horrific:  There was a main “alpha-dog” if you will, leading this anti-Semitic charge. Coincidentally, his name was Richard. Not making that up. Richard.

 

For a more detailed idea of what I endured on a daily basis, I’ll highlight some of the more recognizable moments:  When I was working my first job at a fast-food restaurant, Richard came in with his mother. “Don’t burn my fries like your family, Jew.”  His mom smiled and nodded along side him. Then, it hit me–these dudes have been sucking racism from their mother’s breasts since a young age. Nonetheless, being the descendant of a holocaust survivor, I was rattled by this kind of stuff. “You killed Jesus,” twice a day wasn’t too pleasant, either.

 

Among the other stories, I was once hit till immobilized, and held down by two football players as they wrote a row of numbers on my arm, such as that of a prison identification number in the concentration camp. Couldn’t wash it off. I had endless shame when my mother saw it at home.

 

The “hail Hitler” gestures were a staple, as was anti-Semitic graffiti on my locker. However, the breaking point came in an auto mechanics class. Another wannabe southerner, Adam, sucker-punched me from my right. I didn’t hit him back. Not one swing. To used the aforementioned word, I had been molded into a pushover. I couldn’t win. I was too outnumbered, and any authorities chalked wrongdoings by the bullies up to typical high school behavior. I was used to being bullied. My self-esteem had been lowered to the point where I was convinced it was a crime to be non-christian.

(The most ironic aspect within all of this was that I was far from an orthodox, practicing Jew.)

I was indeed an insecure wreck. I’m sometimes still affected from those days: I take comments or jokes far too personally, especially from those closest to me. I have stayed a bit guarded. I am sometimes a pushover, though I work hard to be the contrary, and I think I’ve improved. I am, however, still truly a people pleaser.

 

My empathy and passion for this particular topic of bullying lay within the transparent, eerie similarities to one of Jonathan Martin’s deeper texts to his mother that have been sited in the investigation: (Hat tip to NyDailyNews.com for the text evidence)

 

Martin: “I figured out a major source of my anxiety. I’m a pushover, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to, which fostered within me a feeling that I’m a huge p—-, as I never got into fights. I used to get verbally bullied every day in middle school and high school, by kids that are half my size. I would never fight back, just get sad & feel like no one wanted to be my friend, when in fact I was just being socially awkward.”

I was a Jonathan Martin out there–almost an exact mental and emotional replica. Richard was a Richie Incognito. I was stunned by the symmetry here.

See, what I have chosen to mention toward the end of my victimization summary is one crucial fact:  Richard was a key player on the high school football team. There is your bias. Small town America at its finest. Penn State, anyone? The scariest part about small town America is that there are so few people willing to step out of their homely little realm and tell a true, scary story about regular Joe’s who become daily victims of bullying. That is the weak link in the chain. My high school buried the story, and sided with whom they know instead of what they see. We need more heroes. More truth-tellers.

 (Another note about small town America being far more dangerous:  When I couldn’t take the bullying anymore and changed high schools, I moved 25 miles away. Just 25 miles. No issues. No problems. No conflict. I didn’t move to Rockville, I didn’t move to D.C. or Baltimore. I move to the larger city within the same county. They knew who I was, and I loved that high school. It loved me back.)

 

In fact, journalism tells stories. True stories. It is always designed to, that is. On another level, investigative journalism is exactly what is sometimes needed in order to discover terrible truths, and then simply present it to proper authorities to correct that wrongness or damage. It’s not in the journalists’ hands, nor should it be. However, I do not believe it’s always as simple as solely the responsibilities of authorities. It is dangerous to think that way.

 

Certain people who do wrong can be (and very much are) in such good relationships and situations with people “in charge” (such as school principals) that they can get away with a great deal of that wrongdoing. Is the name Richie Incognito ringing any bells here?

 

It’s just something that has proven to be true over time in this country. Look at message boards. Listen to radio callers. Read other blogs and posts. Why on earth are there so many avid defenders of Richie Incognito when he and his minion linemen are the bullies? Here’s why:  The “good-ol-boy” network.

 

There is such a majority of white America that is an entity of what I call a “good-ol-boy” network. This network is used by informal members to protect white males, often of a “southern” culture, who commit immoral actions and wrongdoing.

 

There obviously isn’t any sort of membership program, or application documents. That would seem far too biased and perhaps evil (remind you of any racist organization with several consonants?).

 

Instead, there are often common exchanges of winks, elbow-nudges, and nods between “good-ol-boys”. These are mostly figurative in public settings, but one would assume literal behind closed doors.

 

Now, I am fully aware that racism is not at all exclusively white-on-black. Of course it isn’t. Out there right now are people of every ethnicity that are in some way cruel and racist to plenty of other ethnicities, sadly.

 

However, when controversies such as the Incognito/Martin case arise, there is a clear undercurrent of racism through favoritism of white individuals. Isn’t it odd how those who represent this favoritism only choose to express it through media when something like the Incognito/Martin case goes viral? Wow, interesting.

 

It is a product of racist bullies in America being incognito for most of their public lives. It is far too shunning of a repercussion in today’s open-minded society to be bluntly and obviously partial toward a group of wrongdoers, just because you have the same culture or skin color.

The petty incognito prejudice of Richie Incognito supporters and the like is actually an overwhelmingly good sign for the rest of innocent America. Oh, you know, the America that doesn’t bully one another based on religion, race, ethnicity, or timid personality. The reason it’s a good sign is because those Incognito supporters have to hide their support. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in the “Good-ol-boys” club. Sorry, not quite that sorry.

 

Go read the message boards on ProFootballTalk.com if you think I am being biased in my writing. Go listen to those callers who have the narrow-mindedness to call Jonathan Martin the wrongdoer, and the insensitive p****.  With what expectations are you raising your children when they get bullied? There are countless instances of acting like people are not victims when the truth is evident that they are.

 

There are so many defenseless Jonathan Martin’s out there, as there are so many ignorant, rampaging, narrow-minded Richie Incognito’s. There is right and wrong here. It is not a matter of opinion, like so many casual passerby’s are approaching it as. The right is simply a misunderstanding from Martin’s standpoint–being awkward, scared, timid, and defenseless isn’t a choice on a whim. it is a condition. Conversely, the wrong is defined by an earned rap sheet of Richie Incognito. Through decisions and blatant action, such as being kicked off a college and pro football team. Or being suspended for misconduct several times. And, oh yeah, that whole sexual assault thing.

 

It’s this simple: If you’re with Incognito on this and you truly are “just joking” (which seems to be a favorite term of “good-ol-boys” when convenient), than it should be so easy for you to just stop, right? Leave that dude alone. Is it a physical need for you to make them feel insecure and lower their self-esteem? Is it in any way that crucial that he is “one of the guys”?  Hell no. Incognito defenders know that.

But, you know something? I am better for what I have been through in the past–I have greater perspective of ways to treat humans, and how to raise my children. People such as Richie Incognito, Richard and their incognito defenders alike are not better for it. They’re worse off, because they don’t have that perspective and empathy when the chips hit the fan. As it so happens, Incognito had a lot of chips on his resume. They live amongst their own monster.