45, A.B. Davis Middle School, Alex, American Narcissism, Bullies, Bullying, Captain Zimbabwe, Dayton, Demagogue, El Paso, Fascism, Humanities, Italian Club, Mass Murder, Mass Violence, Misogyny, President Donald J. Trump, Racism, Xenophobia
At least one person will undoubtedly find my latest post unfair and offensive this time around. My Humanities classmate Alex, whom I interviewed as part of my book Boy @ The Window, will likely not be too happy with me this week. So Alex, if you do find yourself feeling this is unfair and my post offensive, I apologize in advance.
But either way, that’s okay, because the comparison between the person he once was and the person who is 45, America’s usurper-in-chief, is apt. Not because Alex was ever a malignant narcissist in need of constant adulation from his entourage. But because even small-d demagoguery around putting down so-called others out of insecurity, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, religion, a sense of superiority, and/or willful ignorance will still lead to violence and bullying. On a societal level, that is mass violence, that is fascism within a democracy, and nation-state sanctioned. No matter what the College Board and ETS says.
The thing I didn’t really allow myself to understand, even after I interviewed Alex in 2007, even after writing my first eight drafts of Boy @ The Window regarding Alex and the “Italian Club,” was this. That people like having leaders, folks they can relate to, even as preteens. In our times, that means someone who’s cool, or at least, pulls off the cool aesthetic well. Alex did. Whether you liked him or despised him at A. B. Davis Middle School in Humanities in seventh or eighth grade, Alex had a certain prepubescent charm. He was playful, goofy, corny, and fully engaged in pop culture as an up-with-everything 12 and 13-year-old.
And that attracted a specific group of folks into Alex’s solar system. Some of them knew him from their mutual time together at Columbus ES, but several in his entourage were from other schools prior to Davis. All of them were disaffected boys in some way or another, mostly Italian (or at least in one case, half-Italian), but almost to a person, not comfortable with the multicultural pressure cooker of relative uncoolness that was our magnet middle school program.
Alex led his “Italian Club” in acting out. Like a wolf pack, they looked for prey in the classroom to pick on, to call the wittiest names, to occasionally get physical with. Many times, they messed around with corny lines for girls like Sandra and Marianna. But I ended up on their radar early on. Between my kufi, my big but slow-talking mouth, and my fight with Brandie, I was ripe for Alex and his band of predators.
On November 2, 1981, the bullying started in earnest, as Alex and his band jumped me after school in the area near the side door exit from Davis. About a third of my classmates watched as the “Italian Club” knocked me to the ground, punched and kicked me until I began to cry. Alex himself never put his hands on me, but watched with glee as his fanboys did the dirty work.
But that wasn’t all. I had to endure seven months of being “dumb,” “stupid,” and a “monkey” from Alex’s band of brothers. It was topped off by a month of “Captain Zimbabwe” chants in May and June 1982, typically in Mrs. Sesay’s homeroom, but after counter-protests from other classmates, it moved to Ms. Fleming’s Italian class.
Eighth grade was nowhere near as bad, partly because I grew four inches over the summer, and partly because they likely sensed my rage from my summer of abuse with my idiot stepfather. Still, this didn’t stop Alex from messing with me or other vulnerable classmates that year or in ninth grade. I remember him greeting Josh a couple of times with the refrain from The Beatles “Hey Jude,” except it was, “Na, Na, Na, Na-Na-Na-Na, Na-Na-Na-Na, Hey Jew.” I remember him and his entourage calling my other classmates “monkey.” He once went after our class’ eventual valedictorian, “she’s a brainiac, a brainiac,” adapting a song from the Flashdance soundtrack.
This was the Alex I knew between the ages of 12 and 15. Comparing him to a 73-year-old who has the impulse control of a nine-year-old hopped up on crystal meth is somewhat unfair, as Alex isn’t that teenager anymore. Still, what 45 has done on a far larger stage than Davis’ Humanities program is essentially the same thing. Except that there are millions of folks — especially White men — attracted to his intersectional message of “this is our [read, ‘A White Man’s’] country.” And anyone not for White men first, second, and always needs to get out, or at least, get out of the way.
There’s a video clip making its social media rounds via Bloomberg editor Tim O’Brien from 45’s rally in Panama City, Florida on May 9. In it, you have 45 and many in his audience laughing at the idea of shooting “illegals” coming in from Mexico as a solution for stemming the tide of “invasion” from Central America.
This is hardly the only blunt signal 45 has sent to his anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latinx fanboys and footsoldiers-for-the-patriarchy (thank you for the truth, Mona Eltahawy) fangirls over the years that their intersectional -isms are justified. But it is one direct example that those who really believe a race war is coming can use to take up arms and shoot to kill Black and Brown folks for existing in the US. That’s what Patrick Crusius and Connor Betts did this weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio to their dozens of dead and injured victims. That’s what 45’s entourage has been doing with increasing frequency over the past decade. This is what demagogue bullies do. They build a following. They jizz their racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia all over their followers. Those most predisposed to lap up such vitriol and act on it then do the not-so-subtle calls for violent action and take it out on truly random marginalized people.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which, attending a majority-Black-and-Brown high school and perhaps recognizing his own racism and misogyny, Alex wasn’t the same Billy Idol-worshipper I’d known in eighth grade. By our senior year, he even seemed like-able, and spend way more time with a group of Black and Latino friends than he did with his one-time entourage. I assumed he matured. Good for him. Really.
But it’s way too late for 45 to grow out of his -isms. It’s way too late for millions in his entourage to grow out of their violent fantasies for mastery over vulnerable others. We have to disarm them, with the repeal of the 2nd Amendment. We have to disarm them, by calling them out for the bullies and intersectional terrorists they are. We have to, if we’re going to survive them.