When I was in freshman year of high school, I hung out with a lot of the kids from my bus stop. My mom bought a beauty parlor with money saved and moved us to a more affluent section of the Bronx from where I’d grown up. The neighborhood demo was very Italian and Polish. Nothing new for me since I already went to school with a very diverse mix of kids, but there was a fucking canyon between being in a school with these kids and living among them.
Anyway, I’d made friends. A bunch of twerpy nerds like me. We talked video games and sports. Standard 14-year old shit. I felt comfortable. High School wasn’t going to be so bad.
Then the “turn” happened.
If you’re part of a marginalized group, you might know what I’m talking about, but I’ll explain a little more because this piece is not for my fellow Latinx, POC, or LGBTQ+ peers.
I don’t remember the specifics, but a debate came up on the bus ride home. Since we were teenagers, it was probably something dumb, but it was boisterous and loud. Eventually, one person on the losing end of the argument starts getting their balls busted—in this case, we’ll go with “Greg”—and said loser gets heated. Where I’m from it’s no big deal. You bust balls back, it’s all done. Nobody offended mothers, and nobody threw hands.
But Greg was mad. Greg was especially mad at me because out of the goddamn blue, completely after all the arguing and ball busting was done, Greg turned to me and said:
“Why don’t you shut the fuck up, you stupid spic?”
Being on a bus, we could assume I was not the only spic in Greg’s vicinity, but guess what? I was.
I won’t get into the post script here. We’ll say Greg learned not to say that word ever again in earshot of me. My point is that turn.
You’ve overstepped an invisible line. You had the gall to treat them as an equal and debate them on a level playing field. You had the absolute balls to even discuss a thing, no matter what that thing is.
Hence, the “turn”. It’s the look of disdain as the drunk MAGA uncle “Clues you in on a few things.” or gives you a little bit of the old “Let me explain to you how the world works.”. It’s the Twitter thread where a mutual decides, “You’re misinformed.” or “I have plenty of ***** friends that don’t feel that way.” It’s the moments where you don’t know what you’re talking about or you’re not seeing both sides of the argument. You’re too emotional. Too political. Too other.
So the turn happens. And that turn isn’t always accompanied by toxic racial or ethnic epithets, as mentioned. It’s more than that, it’s a hidden arrogance, a sense of propriety that’s always been there waiting for the very moment “you” went out of your place. Because, see, it’s OK for you to exist in a way where you are always less than them, but if there’s a goddamn hint of that scale going level, oh no, time to cut you off at the legs.
Imagine needing to always be prepared for this. To know that every interaction in social circles can spin this way. The answer, in the turner’s mind, is for you to know your place and shut the fuck up. To merely exist as window dressing; piping in when appropriate and favorable to the turner’s experiences. Earn sympathy or empathy but never equity—that would be crazy!
The other choice? To stop caring. To stand by the principles you’ve set for yourself the same as anyone else.It’s difficult to get to that place, especially when you are trying to navigate your way through institutions built entirely around the premise that you are meant to be an outsider always; a light palate cleanser between courses of the exact same dish.
There’s the popular adage “be the change you want to see” that gets used against marginalized folks a lot these days. The phrase’s new meaning basically boils down to, “Shut up.” which is entirely dependent on everyone’s inclination to, well, not act. That said, speaking is an action as valid as anything (fuck’s sake, it’s the go to dialogue tag in writing) and speaking can be a larger motivator of change than any donation or punch. The very courage to speak, that IS the change some people need to be before the next step is made.
Ultimately, the turn will come either way. Let it be for something worth it.