A phrase I keep finding over and over again while perusing social media, most commonly in response to the recent Oscars where Chris Rock discovered the concept of actions having consequences, is “violence is never the answer”. The disabled community found itself conflicted and outright divided as some expressed their disdain for any and all violence, while others like myself applauded the direct push-back against ableism and mysogynoir (the mix of sexism, misogyny, and racism that Black women deal with on a daily basis). The ensuing discussions kept coming back to the notion that violence is not an appropriate answer, and that led me to reflect on my own personal attitude to the appropriateness of violence.
Before I go any further, I’m going to preface what I have to say with this; most of time, I don’t condone violence. There are many circumstances where violence is completely unacceptable; children and animals should not be subjected to it, nor should those on the receiving end of a power imbalance. Violence that results in serious injury or death should be avoided at all costs, and if there is a non-violent resolution then ideally this is route to take. However, I still feel that the notion of violence never being the answer is a little off the mark.
To understand why I think this, we need to travel back in time to the late 90’s and early 00’s, long before I became disabled. As a quiet kid with large glasses, crooked teeth and unruly hair, you could find my photograph in the dictionary as the definition of the word “nerd”. I originally hated Harry Potter because I was constantly compared to Hermione, although now I hate Harry Potter for very different reasons. I struggled in social situations and my interests differed from those around me, and outside of school I often chose to spend my time alone rather than with other children my age. I was a prime target for bullying; name calling, pushing, kicking, and most commonly having my possessions taken and damaged. Reporting it to teachers simply meant that the bullies changed their tactics to avoid being discovered, and responding verbally myself tended to make things worse.
On multiple occasions with different people, the one thing that did make a positive impact (pun intended) was me turning round and decking the bully as hard as I could. I was deceptively strong and hit hard, once managing to silence an entire corridor of rowdy pre-teens for a brief moment as the sound of my slap resonated around the room. Due to the unexpected nature of my retaliation, it usually proved to be effective.
Say what you will, violence was very definitely an answer on those occasions.
I don’t blame people for believing that violence is never the answer; we’re taught this from a very early age, and there are countless stories of people being punished for retaliating against bullying in this way far more severely than any punishment the bullies received (the trick is not to get caught). I also completely understand where this opinion comes from; there is already so much violence in the world, with unjust causes and terrible consequences, that advocating for violence seems unthinkable.
I also believe that this notion of violence always being unacceptable is a tool of oppression, used to make oppressed groups feel less powerful than they should. The harm caused to marginalised groups by false stereotypes and outright lies is perfectly acceptable to society, but the second the oppressed groups turn around and retaliate, they are deemed to be out of line. So many people have suffered the terrible consequences of words used as weapons. Words told us it was OK to build an empire on the foundations laid by slaves. Words told us that some humans were worth less than others, or that they didn’t feel pain, or that they were prone to being overly dramatic, and those words have destroyed and taken lives. The impact of words spoken centuries ago are still felt to this day. Despite this, we perceive violence to always be direct and physical, allowing the violence of words to go unchecked.
So yes, when all is said and done, I believe that there are rare instances when giving a bully a good smack is perfectly justified, and that violence is occasionally the answer.