“Interview with My Bully” Sticks Up For Your Inner Child

Whitney’s Team Pick:

Bullying sucks. Between elementary school and high school (or sometimes even college), nearly all of us have seen bullying happen, and most of us have been bullied ourselves. I was bullied a lot as a kid — particularly in elementary school and junior high — and I still harbor a lot of anger at and resentment of the people who ridiculed me for my clothes, my race, my appearance and my body. Sometimes I wish I could find these people today, sit them down and ask them, “What happened? Why did you do those things?”

In “Interview with My Bully,” an essay series on Salon, writers do just that. In the series, writers discuss the bullying they experienced, and then, often with the connecting powers of Facebook, they find the people who made fun of or humiliated them as children and talk to them now, as adults. Sometimes writers Skype or Facebook message with their bullies and sometimes they talk to them in person, and each writer’s experience of directly looking at the bullying they experienced as a child and then confronting the bully is different.

Sometimes the experience yields insight and mutual understanding — there’s Sue Sanders’ experience of confronting that childhood “mean girl,” called Jane in her essay, a bully who tormented Sanders on the bus and constantly made fun of Sanders’ appearance. Jane later explained that she had been bullied herself in fifth grade and described how she had craved attention, both good and bad, and was genuinely apologetic for what she had done.

But sometimes the stories aren’t as redemptive. In Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s essay, Lee describes how her bully, called Mary in the essay, used to pull her eyes into slits and would dance around, singing racist epithets like “ching-ching a ling” at Lee. After Lee decided to get in contact with Mary years later, Mary said she didn’t remember bullying Lee at all, but kept insisting that she was “a good person” — however, later on Facebook, Mary blocked Lee from seeing her newest status update that revealed that she did remember how she had bullied Lee as a child: “I’m tired and weary of people making everything about their race,” Mary wrote. “… Perhaps they don’t give a rats [sic] ass what your race is…maybe your [sic] just a bitch, with a giant chip on your shoulder!!”

via achildgrows.com

The essay series hits the complicated power issues that happen in bullying — while you might remember being bullied daily, the bully might remember something entirely different; while you might remember being a hurt, powerless child, here you are, initiating the uncomfortable conversation with the person who bullied you. It’s a look into how bullying changes and affects us, and in the series we also get the benefit of seeing where the bullied individuals are today — Sanders is a published writer and journalist, and Lee is an essayist whose writing has appeared in places like The New York Times. It’s a message of hope for the people who have survived bullying, and it sends a message of agency: remember that child you were? Here she is, confronting the people she never thought she could.

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Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 51 articles for us.

19 Comments

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    This is very interesting read, but I don’t think I would want to put it into practice. I was bullied by who had been my best friend since the age of 7 for no apparent reason. She was mean and vindictive and was really fixated in me and in reducing my personality to zero, which she managed successfully and it took many years to recover. I found out “why” she bullied me years ago, if there’s ever a reason, and I’m a very forgiving person, but without something as simple as “sorry” she doesn’t deserve even a second of my time.

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      I’ve thought the same thing too with my bullies — I ended up friending some old classmates from middle school on FB (not a good idea) and wound up seeing my bullies talking about me and another girl they bullied a great deal in middle school publicly on FB. Keep in mind that this exchange was happening in COLLEGE and these people were several years older than I was, so I’m assuming they were probably 25 or 26 at the time, and they still reminisced about middle school (seriously, who does that?) and made cracks about how I probably turned out really ugly, etc. While I could have confronted them on FB, I decided it wasn’t worth my time either — I de-friended all of my middle school acquaintances and then went on with my life. While I do sometimes think about talking to them, I still have the reassurance that they’re horrible people that aren’t worth confronting. I see the “Interview with My Bully” series as empowering, though — choosing to confront or not confront your old bullies is a choice of agency, and I think it’s important to read about and discuss.

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      I agree, I don’t think I will ever choose to confront my bully, partially because I also learned the reason why my bully made my life reasonable, and it was the sort of stupid stuff that no “sorry”, no matter how sincere (or, more likely, insincere) could ever make better. Vindication doesn’t help heal the heart, and insincere apologies just draw you back into the cycle of destruction.

      I’ve spent the past couple of years working on forgiving my bully without the apology and, while it’s so, so difficult, it’s worth it to let go of the pain. Trauma will always define me, but it doesn’t have to constrain me, and forgiving my bully is less about saying that her actions were ok and more about saying that I choose not to carry those actions anymore.

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        I agree with you. I felt the same for such a long time, as if without an apology I wouldn’t be able to let go and move on, and I certainly wasn’t able to move on for a long time, I transfered schools and was unable to even talk to my classmates, who were really nice and inclusive, I was just so scared to say something that would make them mad at me. Somehow, finding out that all there was to it was that my bully had a crush on me made me really angry, then made me laugh, and then I got over it. It’s just too ridiculous and too clichey for me to even hold it as a grudge anymore. That doesn’t mean I want to talk to her ever again, though.

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    That Mary chick sounds like she’s still a bully. People should take bullying more seriously because now kids will shoot their bully. Maybe this latest school shooting will be a wake-up call about how serious bullying really is. Especially since when it was kids committing suicide because they were bullied it wasn’t a big deal. I do know that after Columbine some of the bullying had gone down at my school. Especially when certain kids made certain gun gestures to their bullies.

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    my middle school tormenter grew up to be a high school stoner who finally mellowed out enough to spend most of senior year apologizing. it was glorious. drugs!

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    I was an asshole when I was in elementary school. I mellowed out considerably in middle school, but I still feel terrible about the stuff I did, so much so that I went in the opposite direction. I’m pretty damn nice now. I’ve apologized to most of the people, but I still feel awful about how I was. I’m sorry.

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    I can see how this could be good for some people, I don’t think it would work for me! I met people over the years that I was in school with, who bullied me (I’m from a small place where everyone knows each other). They were still horrible, 10 years later. Some people are small minded and will never grow into decent adults.

    On the plus side, a lot of those people have done basically nothing with their lives. So, hey, karma’s a bitch!

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    is it just me or does mary still sound like an asshole, who could use a good old fashioned ass beating as an adult? what a racist piece of shit! anyway, i was bullied horribly in elementary and middle school, and i really don’t want to speak to any of those people again. i don’t need an apology and i don’t need any of them to be in my life either. if they turn out to be assholes in adulthood as well i’d just start feeling rageful, and i don’t like them anyway. who needs that stress?

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    Thanks for sharing this with us Whitney! I think it’s amazing that they came up with this project and acted upon it, it’s empowering. I have also been bullied and wouldn’t even think of confronting, much less give a fuck about what they’re doing now. Reason being that, if I were Ms. Lee and confronted that Mary person, I probably would’ve just sat there and digested the awful words she said; I probably wouldn’t even have been able to speak my mind because it’s all too much. It’s like reopening a wound and dashing salt on it. That Mary person is still an asshat as an adult.

    I do wish that bullying stops. I mean, on the upside it kind of gives a person that fire to make them do what it takes to show these bullies that he/she can win in life. But then sometimes, too, it only makes them burn and prefer to be gone. Still it’s a horrible thing and a traumatic experience that can only be healed with love, understanding and support. I hope these things are easy to find.

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    I don’t think that I’d want to hear what 99% of my childhood bullies would have to say about me. I was (and still am) fat and have always acted a little beyond my years so I stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevermind the fact that I was really sensitive.

    I would, however, want to speak to one bully who ostracized me as a “dyke” years before I even acknowledged that I was attracted to women. Apparently I had accidentally grabbed her on a toboggan ride and she thought that I did it on purpose to take advantage of her. Huge drama broke out, and she said and did some horrible things to me until we graduated from eighth grade. We went to different high schools, and eventually someone told me that she was queer. I know very well all the turmoil you go through when you are questioning your sexuality/in the closet, and I wonder if she took out that frustration on me, if she actually thought I was gay, and how she was feeling.

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    I confronted every single one of my bullies on facebook…most of them are still running in the same group and they are fat and ugly and have no lives. I also wrote a blog and sent them all a link…It was the best closure ever…I basically told them if i had half of the balls I had today…I’d never let them beat me up and put me down. I put together a S**t List and there were over 40 people that tormented me.That sucks when the list is that long. When I look back it still amazes me that so many people hated me…for no reason…every time I turned around I was either getting beat up or talked about and put down…20 years later…i was fed up with how much pain it left me with and was not able to really do anything with my life because my self esteem was destroyed. That’s over now…I am totally free of all of that hanging over me…And I got plans for my future now. I also look 10 years younger than all of them…the popular girls are fat and old from tanning and the jocks have beer guts and have lost all their hair.Hey what can I say Karma sucks… for them. Confronting your bully’s is liberating…just make sure you do it only one time…say what you mean and then wash your hands of the past and never look back…

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