Getty Images Entertainment/Kris Connor
By Enrique Grijalva

“Niggas know the rules in my hood:
If you touch me, you get murked…”
— “Chiraq,” Meek Mill


Not the most eloquent lyrics ever spoken in the history of hip-hop, but it gets the point across. Meek Mill’s words on Chicago-based rapper Lil’ Durk’s song “Chiraq reveals a real truth: This is life in Chicago. That’s nothing new, though. This has been life across all of America’s poverty-stricken communities. These aren’t communities you want to grow up in; they’re maliciously conditioned areas you learn to survive in. That’s life for the underprivileged youth.

You can’t show signs of weakness; doing so can get you killed. That’s why the rules that Meek Mills mentioned clearly state that you will no longer exist in this world if you “touch me.” A bit extreme, I admit, but would you suppress your instinct to react violently when your own life is on the line? Reputation is everything. It’s life.

If you appear weak — physically or mentally — people will believe you are, and they’ll take advantage of you. It’s necessary to be strong. It’s admittedly a primitive way of living life, even childlike. But that’s how we overcame bullying…well, most of us.

As you’ve grown older, I’m sure bullying has become less of a physical ordeal and more of an emotionally distressing part of your life (Not that that’s any better. In fact, it could be worse). Nope! Not for me. I never felt that the bullying I was exposed to in New York’s public schools fully reached the sophisticated torment of high society that I witnessed in the 1999 drama film, Cruel Intentions. I was too busy trying to sneak in knives into high school as a junior.

The situation that forced me to bring the knives to school didn’t involve me personally. I wasn’t scared, nor did I feel the need to protect myself. I was assured I wouldn’t be touched, and I wasn’t. Most of my male classmates, though too prideful to admit it at the time, thought I’d be crazy enough to actually murder them if push came to shove. He’s too quiet. He could be dangerous. That was my rep.

It was a reputation I coveted, and I needed to maintain it at all times. Primarily, it kept guys from bothering me, whether it was in school or on the streets. And that’s all I needed. It was a survival tactic in the beginning. Appear tougher, or be tougher, so you don’t get picked on, right? I already dressed like the typical teenage thug. I blended in. Just as The Suits on Wall Street need to be uniformed to evade classist bullying, my clothing deterred attacks on my burgeoning manhood. It’s survival. Such camouflage helps us blend us into our social classes.

I didn’t need the knives for self-defense; they were merely tools I was fully intending on using to help my friend, Paul.

Paul had no enemies. He was a mild-mannered kid from Harlem. He led a straight life, listened to his parents, obeyed the rules, and never strayed away from the right path. He wasn’t feared, although due to his strength and physique, no one dared to test him. He was respected for his rough exterior. Rarely was he the victim of a verbal lashing, and it only escalated into a physical altercation once.

Paul had got into an argument in class, based on appearance, with Bianca, a girl who rarely showed up to school…and things got personal. Both were escorted from the classroom by security. Later, I’d discover that the girl contacted her then boyfriend to come to our school with a few friends to see Paul.

I was with Paul when he was assaulted. It could have been worse for him. Luckily, he was only punched a few times. As the guilty parties ran, they promised to come back. So despite the immunity in this situation, I decided to help Paul if they did come back. He was a good dude and I considered him a friend. He needed a friend, but more importantly, he needed an ally. And those knives I got past the school’s metal detectors the next day? Well I never got to use them; Bianca’s boyfriend never came back.

It would‘ve been embarrassing for an immature argument to have gotten bloody. And it would have, you see. I had already realized that you can’t just ignore bullying. In this environment, a façade is easily eroded with time. So you must push when shoved. Though I learned that as you grow older in the lower end of the economic hierarchy, it doesn’t stop there. If push comes to shove with the wrong person, pushing back is pointless and a senseless murder becomes sensible. When reputation is everything, including your life, the first sign of bullying presents a choice: life or death. Pick one. Now you know the only rule.

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