Racism is just another reason to be a bully… and it needs to stop. A true story written by Byron Hamel
THE ROOK by Byron Hamel
Did I ever tell you about the time I protected two black children from a Neo-Nazi skinhead who was crazy angry and getting violent because their mother was white? No? Well sit back and get ready for a good story.
But first I want to make something clear. I’m not some douche bag here trying to take credit for merely doing what is right. Just because I came to the rescue of two kids and a mom in harm’s way doesn’t make me a hero. Yes, I would, and have, put my life on the line to protect strangers. Sometimes I take private credit as a hero for something I do. You’ll never know those stories, because they’re mine and mine alone. I’m also no stranger to the absurdity of litigation. But this time, I was not a hero. For this story, I fucking owed this to the world. Here are three detailed reasons why:
1. A long time ago, before I understood the world and myself, I was a racist scum bag. As a pale skinned person, that meant I developed a very misdirected sense of white privilege, and even a white supremacist mind-set. I had a racist mother too. And her parents before her, and so on. We were damn ignorant. We were hurting the world. My mother is still unforgivably racist. But for my part, I’m so absolutely sorry I was a person actively engaged in dividing people by race. I do feel terrible about this. I continue to let it cut me deep, so that I never forget my responsibility to destroy racism in all of its forms. But my history is my history. I’m not going to deny it because it’s ugly. And now it’s my job to not only repair the damage I caused every single day I spent as a racist, but also to push further. To fight hard for the ideals of equality, unity, and love across the board.
2. In California, where I grew up, the social climate was extremely racist. Shoot on sight type stuff. Very territorial. In the late 1980’s, for about two years, we lived in the projects in San Bernardino. This is basically where many of the city’s poor find themselves. The slums. Drugs, drive-by shootings, gang wars. And I mean wars. Fully automatics, and bombs exploding, and innocent casualties. I never met a single kid there who hadn’t seen a dead body. Still, nothing that happened in our hood ever even made the news because the news didn’t give a shit about black people. By social design and social circumstance, it’s no surprise that in California many of the poor people in the 80’s were black. In that place, I was a white minority. One of three white kids in a year-round school of (the way I remember it) 3000 students. But dude, these were the best friends I EVER had in school. White people never treated me that good. White kids always beat the shit out of me constantly. But my black friends and I got along famously. The first girl ever to crush on me, Ayisha, was black. The first friend to ever promise to protect me with his life, Kenny, was black. The first kid ever to stand up for me and defend me from a bully, Mondel, was black. So yes, I have an extraordinary love on for black people. I was part of that world and part of that culture. They took me in. Imagine the sting then, how it hurts my heart, when I consider that I ever held up the frame of hatred in front of my black brothers and sisters.
3. And this is the kicker: I’m multiracial. Even though I once abused my white privilege, I was hiding the fact that I myself am not all “white”. My heritage at large is French, Irish, German, and Inuit. (For anybody wondering, Inuit are the people typically called “Eskimo” throughout the English speaking world, though many Inuit find the term “Eskimo” to be insulting, as it’s attached to so much history of oppression at the hands of white settlers) There are other ethnic origins in the mix too, but suffice it to say that even though I’m more pale than anybody I know, I’m about a quarter brown person. And upon meeting so much of my family when I moved to Labrador Canada, the place of my birth, I came to realize that a huge part of my family are brown people. Oh the irony! What I’m saying here is that I owe it to myself to fight racism. I was literally racist… against myself. Because I’m a fucking rainbow. Some of my ancestors were oppressors. Some of them were oppressed. Me? I kneel to no one. And in return, I refuse to let anybody kneel before me, my kind, or any oppressive force. I want to end it all. I want to bring it down. I owe it to all my people, from all sides.
I’m not looking for forgiveness or fame or good graces. I’ll accept the insults and the reprimands. I have it coming. But I know what I’m doing now is good. And I do this for me. The world is better when anybody and everybody can be accepted and loved by anybody and everybody else. This is about care, justice, and reparation. But it’s mostly about improving the world so that my own personal life will be better.
Now on to the story.
It was April of 2008 that I found myself in Montreal, Quebec. I was there to attend the very first UFC event held in Canada. Two days before that event took place, I was browsing the bargain DVD bin at a Futureshop when I heard a man violently screaming “Fuckin dumb n**gers! Shut the fuck up you little monkeys!”
It was coming from the front of the store. I dropped everything and focused intently on the sound. I felt my eyes narrow and my ears tune. I felt my blood harden. My adrenaline racing. I smelled danger, if that makes sense to you. So I approached it. (That probably makes less sense.) Whatever was happening up by the checkout, it wasn’t good. I walked calmly to the source of the disturbance, which was at first hidden by a divider at the front of the store.
Rounding the divider, I emerged onto a scene of a white woman kneeling on the floor in shock, wide-eyed. She was holding two black children in her arms. They were both boys, probably around 5 and 7. They didn’t look frightened, but definitely confused. I think they were brave little kids who were going to protect their mom if they needed to.
Across from them was a red-faced angry looking man in his twenties. His head was shaved, a large Nazi swastika tattoo proudly emblazoned on the side of his head, emphasizing the popping veins on his temples. He was dressed in leather with urban steel toe shit-kicker boots, and looked like he could possibly be armed. “Fuckin’ monkeys!” He yelled again.
The mother was terrified and trying to cover all four of her two kids’ ears by sort of wrapping her forearms around their heads. I’d seen enough. I knew what this was about. This piece of shit Neo-Nazi couldn’t stand the fact that a white woman had black kids.
SIDE NOTE if you’re a Neo-Nazi and you’re reading this:
Fuck you. Stop being a shithead and become a better person. You’re only doing this because you can’t think of a single thing about yourself -or your friends- to be proud of. Why can’t you think of anything? Because there isn’t anything! There is not one solitary detail worth loving. All you have is skin color, which wasn’t even your doing! That’s right, the thing about yourself you’re most proud of has absolutely dick-all to do with anything you’ve actually done. It was an accident of nature. The whole core of your pride is an accident. Think about that. It’s not a real point of pride at all. It’s a whoopsie. You sold your whole being to a ridiculously shallow idea which I’d be amazed if even you can believe with your whole heart. Proud of your skin color? Really? That’s the thing that matters to you? Newsflash: Your skin looks like hell since you started using meth! But enough about appearances. Let’s talk about your character. You’re a predictable, generic, stupid and angry ball of hate with no individual purpose. There is nothing good about you. And there won’t be until you give up the bullshit. So seriously, turn your life around. Because you’re worthless right now. And you could be so much more. Find something actual and worthwhile to be proud of. Make something. Be something. Do ONE fucking thing right. Because right now you’re just a tool. You’re part of a cult, idiot. You drank the Kool-Aid. And now you’re just an advertisement for shitty beer, leather clothes, crotch rot, and the dumbest organization in the universe.
Sorry to the rest of you. That needed to be said. I know I feel better. Now on with the story…
I watched the children’s mother flinch backward as he yelled at them again, spitting this time. He was tweeking on some drug or another. Agitated. I saw his fingers tapping rapidly on the counter as he waited for the check out lady. Confused and very nervous, she fumbled with the register, eyes on the floor and struggling to continue processing his purchase. It was something small in a bag. Maybe batteries. He looked down at the mother and children again, staring hatefully.
And that’s when I stepped in front of him. I placed myself between him and the children. My arms were folded and I flexed what I could. His body was lean and muscular. At the time, mine was not. This was also before I started learning Judo. I don’t think I realized, before moving in to defend, what I was getting into.
But then it hit me. In a fight, this guy would win. My strategy then became to try to occupy him as much as possible if he moved at the kids or the mom. I knew I’d lose the fight. But I could buy those kids some time to run. Or at least they would know this asshole and the unresponsive crowd gathering around us didn’t represent the face of all white people outside of their family.
I felt scared. He was fucking terrifying. But I stood my ground. He looked me up and down. I looked him straight in the eye. I had tunnel vision. I channeled my will to kill, and I felt like a predator. I slowly shook my head back and forth, saying nothing. My message was “I won’t let you do this.” I really didn’t want to humiliate the Neo-Nazi, or challenge him verbally, because I knew his ego couldn’t take it. I was sure he’d attack.
My will to kill was fading as the adrenaline wore. The angry stare I’d managed to fake through my fear was beginning to break. He was a rock. I felt so much like backing down. I did not. But before I broke, all of the sudden, he did! I watched his eyes widen in terror. He grabbed his stuff and ran from the store like the devil was on his heels.
I stood there, surprised. Baffled. He ran from me!? At the time I didn’t look threatening like I sometimes can now with all the weights and martial arts and stuff. Back then I was a doughboy for crying out loud! What the hell just happened? I turned to the kids and knelt. “That guy was messed up. Nothing he said was true, okay? I’m going to make sure he can’t hurt you.” The older kid nodded and buried his head into his mom’s shoulder. Both the children hugged her silently. More to comfort her than to receive comfort.
“Are you going to be alright?” I asked her. Her eyes were glass. She was shaking. She nodded yes. “You’re safe now. I’ll make sure he’s not hanging around outside” I said. She nodded again, letting her tears roll over her narrow cheeks this time. People around us were whispering. I stood up from the scene.
I felt pride. I felt a sense like people were adoring me. I was getting ready to give some sort of silent acceptance speech. I let my eyes wander over the crowd to take in who had witnessed this amazing feat. This triumphant victory! And that’s when I saw him. The Rook.
He stood, a solid cast iron golem of a man. An absolute towering giant. Biceps as big as my head. Black and beautiful. I remember him as 8 feet tall. I’m sure I must be exaggerating that part. His eyes shined silver, like there was light behind them. He was as broad as three of me. His body was everything every boy in my generation wanted to be when he grew up. A black He-Man. An ebony god. He was so perfect, I nearly cried. I call him “The Rook” because he was the sturdiest piece on the chess board. Like, the whole chess board. That and I can’t bear the thought of him having an unheroic name like Marvin or something (sorry Marvin). The Rook! He wore a tight red polo shirt with “Futureshop” embroidered on the chest pocket. His shirt struggled hard to not rip.
“Oh” I said.
This entirely unlikely and angelic security guard was who the Neo-Nazi was afraid of. Not even close to me. If I wasn’t so utterly relieved by this man’s presence, I would have been embarrassed for trying to take credit. He looked down at me, gave me a once over, smiled the tiniest smirk, and then nodded approval.
I grew up hard and severely abused by a father figure who was convicted of infanticide, and is currently on death row. Left with a legacy of traumatic stress and an eating disorder, I’m determined to be the best dad I can possibly be to my two girls.