What the Michael B. Jordan Red Carpet Moment Taught Me About Bullying
A clip of Michael B. Jordan “owning” a childhood bully on the red carpet instantly went viral recently. Here’s what the encounter tells us about confronting your inner bully.
Michael B. Jordan looks and acts like a superhero. His eye-popping turns as Marvel heavies, and sterling record as a vulnerable, relatable action jock come from the Will Smith blueprint of likable-yet-unattainable stardom. Last weekend, when he took to the red carpet to promote the just-released Creed III — a franchise he’s directed, starred in, and made his own — a salient moment simmered.
Lore’l, co-host of Atlanta’s Morning Hustle radio show, approached to interview him. They’ve known each other since childhood. Jordan looked miffed and terse, as internet body language tittered on about it. The questioner mentioned, perhaps proudly, that they’d gone to school in Newark together, at Chad Science Academy. After she dropped that inviting morsel, Jordan ate.
“The corny kid, right?” She wouldn’t budge on this point, insisting she was misquoted. Jordan replied, stronger than her name drop, ‘Naw, I heard it.’ She tried to cover it up by fawning over the actor, giving him his flowers as he stood over her peering suspiciously.
It was an innocent enough exchange until the labored interview went on, at points stiff and unforgiving, or worse, flat. The video instantly went viral. The gallery rejoiced. Michael B. Jordan had “owned” his bully, put her in her place. But the vitriolic outpouring felt absurd. Had we all been bullied at some point? Who among us wasn’t weird, trembled and fit in at any cost? I thought it might be many, but that’s wrong. Adolescence is hell on identity, even for the slickest types. Those of us with innate abilities and talents might feel enormous pressure to make good. Everyone else goes overlooked, underestimated, dismissed, and misunderstood. The linoleum hallways are a breeding ground for mean comedians, regional judges, entitled critics, and miserly trolls.
Still, Jordan had a right to feel triumphant and annoyed that a one-time detractor was hunting for a come-up on his watch. The mere mention of this story in the Okayplayer office evoked the bullying madness in each of our lives. An editor revealed that he got picked on for going to boarding school in a foreign country and not knowing the language. A writer said, as teenager, she felt ostracized by locals in her state who couldn’t give her metropolitan ambitions space to grow. Another heard all manner of jokes about her small stature. She said the kids were “relentless” in mocking her height. Through tight smiles and laughs, we talked about bullying with uneasy fervor.
“Isn’t it great that he was there in that position, totally ready to flex on her?”
“It just goes to show: being kind to people is free.”
“Enh, it’s just high school. Kids will find ways to be mean to each other.”
And while our hindsight wisdom spouted from us, we knew the secret shame of this moment. Bullying requires you to grow up faster than you want to. It demands patience and compassion for an abuser, or the will to fight, or an unflagging belief that this won’t be the end.
That’s the best case scenario. The worst case is the world we live in. Bullies turn presidents and dictators. Bullies become abusers and murderers. Bullies operate like we’re still in our most primal state, relying on the normal silence of our coping mechanisms.
The constant marauding of our bullies has burnt us out and worn us down. On the inside, we’ve constructed housing for our bullies in the cozy quarters of the psyche, unleashing them only to berate ourselves. Lore’l — who has since downplayed some of the bullying accusations — did nothing much different from other high schoolers and that’s the problem. No matter how present anti-bullying campaigns appear now, society has a deep niche for bullies. Most of us don’t go around parroting our first enemies, but we do keep the language in our bodies, eroding walls of empathy drop by drop. The gleeful collective yell from those bullied and left out …created a similar echo. And though Lore’l is no victim, the pile-on hasn’t ennobled our stance either.
When 1 in 4 Black trans and nonbinary young people are attempting suicide and Black children are deciding now, more than ever, that enduring life is worse than not, the daring, difficult resistance looks like embracing more than bullying. For me to conquer that nagging inner voice that downs me, I have to give it room to bust out and get busy. Denying the reality of malicious bullies somehow makes them stronger. So does shaking them back. We won’t all get our comeuppance like Michael B. Jordan so we’ll have to first calm those past bullies living in our head.
Andrew Ricketts is a writer from New York. He wants to tell the story you share with a friend.