Op/Ed By Gloria Winston-Al-Sarag
Please tell me, whatever happened to clean fighting? Whatever happened to getting into a dispute, arguing, tempers flaring, and then fists becoming the weapon of choice? Whatever happened to getting your butt kicked, going away with hurt pride, and friends teasing you, but getting up the next day to talk about it? Are murders, and black-on-black violence, in particular, a symptom of something we have not yet discovered?
There were few who had thrown down and fought like me as a kid. But, I don’t recall EVER wanting to kill anyone who may have beaten my butt. Nor do I remember wanting to pick up anything to equalize, or protect myself. No sticks, no stones, and certainly no knives, razors, or guns had ever factored into clean fighting.
Rivalries, whether they had been gender-related, club, or gang-related were not new. Before I had been kicked out of Madison for fighting, the north side of town had the boys the girls from the west side were attracted to. And, there were turf wars then, but none I can recall which resulted in someone not making it home to be with his or her family.
What is WRONG?
Values have no doubt played a BIG part. When we fought back in the days; first of all, it had not been in front of ADULTS. We didn’t curse, yell, or act like anything but angels when ADULTS were looking, or in the near vicinity. We used to take our fights into the alley, or meet directly after school to settle whatever disagreement had been on the table.
But, I can’t recall anyone getting killed, or any of my friends getting mad enough to want to murder anyone.
Yeah, I had been a fighter from elementary to high school, and beyond if pushed hard enough. I had also been a victim of bullying, for sure. But, I didn’t whine about it. I fought about it. People always had me mistaken for a nerd, and had no idea I had friends like Clydie Mae Ellis, and Clothilda Fields, who had taught me how to box, and settle disagreements with the best of them. I was 5 ft. 8 inches tall in the sixth grade, and taller than everyone at Nathaniel Rochester School No. 3, with one exception. My best friend Janice Mars, the first American Indian I had met on record, was taller than me.
I think that had a lot to do with our becoming kindred spirits.
And, not only had I been I tall, but I had played the violin, and worn glasses since kindergarten. When I first started wearing glasses they had been called “flesh tone” in color, and were PINK.
I ain’t even close to having, and never have had, pink flesh.
I weighed all of 50 pounds soaking wet. And, I had been SO skinny, even my mother called me six o’clock, because I was straight up and down. I was also the oldest child, and, even though my brothers will NEVER admit to it; when they had problems, they would come and get their big sister to settle the matter. And, most of the time, it was with my fists. I remember beating up an entire family of brothers who had been messing with my brothers. They had been called the Jones’ boys. Yep, I beat up Flynn, Curtis and Tyrone in one day, back in the days, for messing with my brothers.
I had a gang too. We called ourselves the “Adams Street Gang.” However, I now refer to it as the “Special Needs Gang,” because, in addition to Janice Mars, Midgie Clark, and myself, there had been Carol Alexander, who had one leg longer than the other, and Rose Washington, who was born with one arm. But, trust me, the Special Needs members could throw down. If Carol kicked you with that big shoe she wore, you would have been done. The sole on that shoe, at the time, was solid wood. And, Rose had more strength in her one arm than some did not have in two.
We were extortionists, too. When we were kids, there was a bridge you had to come across in order to get to Harts Food Stores, if you lived past Ford St. We would tax kids who had been sent to the store, and who lived outside of our block. Those we caught trying to get to the store had to pay us a nickel, a dime, or a quarter to pass; then they would make their journey free of a butt-whipping. But, we never wanted to, nor tried to, KILL anyone, and, we would have no doubt paid dearly, with sore behinds, if our parents had any idea what we were up to, collectively. All of us, except Janice, lived on Adams St.
Janice’s father was the pastor of a church on Clarissa St. at the time.
However, I digress.
We had been BAD; used to fight anything and anybody, but, NEVER did any of us want to KILL someone. And, we had not always won our fights, but, we at least woke up the next day to do it again. When I got kicked out of Madison, and put in the shelter (SPCC), it had then been on Plymouth Ave. We called it the Special Place for Cool Cats. I had not been a juvenile delinquent, but managed to become a PINS (Person In Need of Supervision).
I had great parents. They taught me right from wrong. But, my decision to fight was my own. I had not come from a violent home, or had any examples of the violence we now regularly see on TV. I just liked to fight; especially when I lost very few of them. I had gotten my respect, especially from the bullies.
I will assume the fights occurring these days have been for the same reason; someone looking for respect. But, where does this killing, and murdering, factor in? Where does that depraved sense of not respecting someone’s life become a line some people choose to cross? Where does human dignity end, and a thirst for blood begin? When does taking another human being’s life not appear to come with consequences for those who have decided to do it? When did this SICKNESS come into my community, with seemingly no cure?
We used to fight. But, what must it have been that was instilled in us, that did not make us try to KILL anyone? Was it because we all had parents, and guardians, in our houses when we got home? Was it because we could count on three balanced meals per day? Or, was it because there had been no crack being smoked in our homes?
Was it because violence, and drugs, had not been running rampant in our streets? Was it because we had been taught to respect and appreciate life? Or, was it because we had been taught to respect adults?
Was it because our parents led by example, and did not visit the schools to curse at, or beat up, teachers? Was it because not going to church had not been an option? We went!
I wish I had the answers, so the killings could stop. I often wonder, whatever happened to clean fighting?