Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Perils of Adolescence, My High School and Mitt Romney

I know everyone has heard, by now, about Romney The Homophobe who bullied a young, effeminate boy many, many years ago, sadistically pushing him to the ground and cutting off his hair, that he didn't like because it was bleached and someone had to stop him. Evidently, Romney The Prankster also laughed when a near-blind teacher almost walked into a plate glass door. Those are the two instances that several people described as indications that the all-perfect presidential contender isn't the moral paragon he claims.

I'll jump into the Romney Fray with just that note: the man as boy mocked a disabled person.

Let's talk about junior high and high school. Let's talk about the cliques: the bullies, the popular people and the jocks, the nerds, the band members, the rich ones, the blacks, the Jews, the Christian Young Lifers, the drama and theater kids, the weird, the trashy, the smokers. These were just some of the groups that existed at my relatively small, very exclusive private prep school in Atlanta, Georgia. I spent six years at that school in probably several of those groups over the years: the nerds, the band members, and the popular (eventually). During the nerd years, I was made fun of, periodically, for being ugly, for wearing large glasses, for being smart and for being flat-chested. I remember in the seventh grade, walking down the hallway after an honors program where I'd received an honor for every subject and hearing some of the cooler people whispering brain, brain, brain and giggling together. That I was smart, even brainy, was something to be ashamed of, and I felt ashamed that year. Ashamed and ugly and flat-chested. As the years went by and the braces came off and I got contacts and learned to tamp down the brain until it was cool to be smart, I gained more confidence, but I never forgot, obviously, those who said those things and those who laughed. I wonder if they remember. I imagine that if I were to accuse them, they'd remember and for the most part they'd apologize or, at the very least, feel chagrin, maybe embarrassment.

Evidently, Mitt Romney doesn't remember a lot of those incidents, and if he does, he has deftly relegated them to the hi-jinks of adolescence.

Here's another thing. I can't remember specific instances, but I imagine that when the tide turned for me, when I began to emerge from the nerd cocoon and become more accepted and popular, I must have snubbed someone, must have hurt someone, along the way, because the pressures of adolescence and the grappling for place almost came down to a sort of psychic survival. If someone were to approach me today and tell me that I'd hurt them once, long ago, I'd believe them and I'd probably cringe and feel terrible.

I'd be ashamed, and I'd say that I was sorry and I wouldn't make excuses.

Mitt Romney bullied and mocked a different person. He forcefully cut off that person's hair. He mocked a disabled person. O.K. It was forty years ago, and we know that he wouldn't do the same today. But when accused, a person of character will apologize for his behavior in the past. A person whose character has been forged by immense privilege and repression -- well, he'll act like Mitt Romney did this week. He's a tool and an asshole, and he's running for the presidency.


  1. It's sad that we have to "tamp down the brain" as young people. That's been one of my pet peeves since school -- that in order to be cool, kids can't afford to look smart. I hate that.

    As for Mitt, I'd say these revelations are pretty consistent with the opinion I'd already formed of him -- which is consistent with your last sentence.

  2. Yes, yes yes...and then when a perp who is confronted by his abusive behavior says, "I'm sorry IF anyone was hurt or offended..." is a moron. Of course, anyone would be hurt by these "hijinks". The man with the silver spoon doesn't get it and never will...

  3. I can relate to a lot of what you're remembering here and I certainly think that I'd remember if I'd done something so outrageous to a classmate no matter how long ago. I don't believe for a moment that Romney doesn't remember the incident. I had not heard about his being entertained by the teacher almost walking into a plate glass window. He makes me cringe!


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Yeah, he remembers. But politics demands that he can't apologize, right? I think it would be such an important act if he'd break the political rules, admit what he did, and apologize in a sincere way. He doesn't want his children to be treated that way, or to treat others that way, right?

    My most generous reading is that he knows and does cringe, but he does it privately because he believes he's not allowed to speak honestly about this and still have a chance to be President.

  6. As Mitt's people said, "We all have some things to be ashamed of from our high school days." Me included. I may have slighted someone, I may have not invited someone to a birthday party. I may have excluded someone from another activity. These are the "hi-jinks" or high school years.

    I never assaulted or tormented anyone in high school, before or since. I have never discriminated against or acted out against a person because of their sexual orientation, I have never laughed at a disabled individual unless they were actually funny. These things are not normal in high school or anytime. These things are cruel and hugely disturbing.

    He is lacking in character. He should be man enough to admit it, and be shamed publicly. That would go a long way to stopping the acceptance of such behavior, that we all know still exists.

    In fact it might even make his look presidential. (eek!)

    This one cannot be swept under the rug. It must stay in the forefront for a long while.

  7. Yikes. I hadn't heard anything about this. It doesn't surprise me, however, to hear that Ken and Barbie actually act like. . . Ken and Barbie.

  8. Earlier this week I heard a radio interview with S.E. Hinton, the author of The Outsiders (I remember high school as a greaser) .... Then Romney was in the news with this story and I thought about what a soc he was and still is.

  9. Of course he didn't recall the incident. Who wants to remember things about ourselves that we don't choose to embrace? Man up, Mitt. Admit it and apologize and make some meaningful gesture that shows you've changed if you can (support gay rights? support funding for disabled persons?)

    Except that a leopard can't change his spots, so it's a moot point.

  10. Here's the problem- the people who are going to vote Republican are going to vote Republican no matter what the candidate does, did, or might do.
    I swear to you. This is the truth.

  11. He apologized. Whether he remembers or not, who can tell for sure? All of us have had youthful foibles. At my class reunions there were many who remained jerks, but also many who have truly grown up and become wonderful people. I would not judge Romney by these stories.

    There are plenty of other examples of Romney's intolerance and lack of sympathy for those less able. No need to go back to his middle school, high school or college days.

  12. I love this post, and I'm so glad I've found your blog. And your last sentence summarizes so efficiently what so many of us are thinking -- or at the very least, what I am thinking.

    If you haven't already seen it, you might want to check out Steve Almond's piece on the same subject. It's definitely worth reading, and complements your post very nicely:

    - Adina

  13. Catherine,

    Thanks for your comment. I have to disagree that we should overlook someone's past -- his high school years in this case. I think Maggie World said it best in the comments. These were acts of cruelty that Romney is specifically whitewashing.

  14. Adina:

    Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment! I read that Almond article -- I'm a regular Rumpus reader and really liked it.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...