I’ve come to dislike the term “bully”. Because of its common association with the playground antics of children, the seriousness of its impact and harm is often understated or lost. Whether addressing genuinely harmful mistreatment of a child by another or naming similar dynamics among adults, we seem conditioned to interpret “bullying” as less severe than it actually is. Other terms hold more weight, such as tormenting, harassing, and even oppressing.
Oppression By Any Other Name
It is this last term, “oppression”, that I believe needs to be reasserted. This can be tricky, however, because it suffers from the opposite problem that “bullying faces”, namely that people think it is too strong a term to use in most day-to-day situations, suited only for large-scale, systemic issues. However, it is defined as ongoing cruelty and mistreatment, and/or forcible control. Ask kids who have been subject to unaddressed “bullying” and they will tell you that the shoe fits.
Author and activist DeRay Mckesson explains that the intentions of the bully/oppressor are:
“…to harm you and then convince you that no damage was done or that you deserved it. He aims to strip you of your power, to normalize the interaction so that you are simultaneously traumatized and left questioning if what you experienced actually happened, if what you felt was real.”
This description powerfully describes my own experience of being subject to oppressive treatment within the Christian organization I used to work because of my commitment to being out as a bisexual man and being fully LGBTQ+ affirming in my theological convictions. It was reassuring to see my experience so clearly understood and articulated.
Oppressors Are Deniers
However, the oppressor doesn’t experience their side of the equation through that same lens. In my case, they genuinely did/do believe that they did no harm to me- that, in fact, they were trying to save me from the self-inflicted harm of “unbiblical beliefs and practices”. They…