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The Boys in the Bubble

Photo Source Clinton Steeds | CC BY 2.0

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on Thursday was brave, emotional, heroic, inspiring. She shared her truth and bared her soul in front of old white men who didn’t even have the guts to talk to her directly.

Brett Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was mad-sad. It’s that emotion white people sometimes have when they can’t believe they’re being wronged, see themselves as the victim, get red in the face and are lashing out. Think early John McEnroe.

That he can speak like that and still be taken seriously speaks to an immense privilege that he’s had all his life. “Hard work” alone did not get him into Yale; we now know he had a grandfather who was an alumnus.

I grew up with people like Brett Kavanaugh. Elite DC all-boys private schools, whether Georgetown Prep or Saint Albans (where I attended from 1985-1994), have much in common.

While I took pride in attending, “STA” as a kid, 24 years later, I view things (myself, race, gender) through a different lens. If you teach 10 year-olds that they are “the best and the brightest,” there’s a danger they’ll forever believe it.

Saint Albans boys have been taught that they are exceptional, which too often means unaccountable. They will be bailed out again and again if they crash their BMW, cheat on a test, or get a girl pregnant. The vast majority have whiteness, a network of influential parents and school institutional power, invested and complicit. Success is virtually guaranteed, for it has already been bought and paid for. It is extraordinary power, this exclusive, lifelong fraternity.

***

I wish we had been taught consent. In 9th grade, I witnessed a girl from our sister school, National Cathedral School (NCS), break into tears when she learned she was raped. She had gotten blackout drunk at a party and had returned to the house the next day to find out what happened. A senior had “taken her virginity.” This did not become public, was only whispered, and it’s unlikely that he suffered consequences.

Is he a successful judge too? Does he ever have to think of the harm he did?

My memories of high school are painful, in that I recall how consistently disrespectful and mean the language was towards not only girls at NCS, but women teachers and staff. Talk of kneepads and blowjobs was as common as talking about the weather. The school librarian was routinely called, “Flatness,” even to her face. At our student lounge, SAM’s bar, a Latina employee had to endure all kinds of abuse, from boys making fun of her accent, to times when bagels were kicked at her.

In hindsight, this culture was disgusting. Where were the adults? Parents paid $20,000 a year for this?

I’d like to believe that in 2018 a lot has changed within DC prep schools. I know that St. Albans has a gay student alliance and is doing diversity work. I know that like Georgetown University, Georgetown Prep is openly discussing its slave-owning past.

It isn’t enough.

1,100 women from Holton Arms have written their names in support of Dr. Ford, yet where are we as men? Have you been reading the devastating truths, the courage of survivors, with the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport? In these #MeToo times, why is it so difficult for men to believe and value women?

It is easier for men like Brett Kavanaugh to feel persecuted, than to look in the mirror to face the harm he’s done; to begin to interrogate his own white male privilege. When you’ve never been held accountable for your actions, accountability feels like oppression. Yet this isn’t even holding him accountable for what he’s done. It’s a high stakes job interview and the American people have largely said, “No.You don’t deserve this job.”

This story is far bigger than him and isn’t over. I hope to encourage men to step up this week (and beyond), to use your voice and power to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Who is doing the work to ensure that our alma maters are taking rape culture seriously?

Does showing up for women mean being a traitor to a patriarchy that advantages us in countless ways?

In this historical moment my hope is for us to begin to reckon with our silence and complicity; with the harm that we have caused, and received, within a toxic culture that was not designed for us to be fully healthy, empathetic and accountable.

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Jason W. Biehl teaches history at MYSA micro-school in Washington, DC and is a founder of Change the Narrative, facilitating workshops on race and equity for DC area students.  He graduated from St. Albans School for Boys in 1994.

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