Snitch is probably one of the dirtiest words in the American English lexicon. It’s right up there with Taxes and Past Due. It used to imply involvement with some sort of foul activity, but then telling on the people you were doing these foul things with. At some point it evolved to simply telling anything regardless of involvement or victimization. One time, long ago, my brother was in trouble for something, and my mother told him “Don’t come out of this room” then she left the apartment. I think he took a quick nap before and sat there until she got back. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, so he was roughly 7 or 8. Relax, this was Chicago in the 1980’s, kids were left alone all the time. When my mother returned, she asked me if he left the room and I said yeah. He got a whooping off the strength of the words of a 3 maybe 4-year-old kid. That was funny to me at the time. To be fair, it’s still funny to me, just saying. However, that wasn’t truly snitching, that was just me being a jerk. Sorry for that.
Several years before the “Me Too” movement got into full effect, I was working on the flight line as an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. As one would assume, it was an overwhelming amount of guys doing and saying guy stuff, no care or concern for feelings or appropriate speech. One evening, there was a young lady, older than me, but new to the field, that was on the truck with us. The conversations that came after “hi my name is” were all enough to take down any guy in the current state of affairs, but par for the course at the time. This evening though, the guy in charge was laying it on thick. He was asking about what she enjoyed sexually, how many guys had she been with and what it would take for her to fellate him on the truck. I wasn’t the most politically correct human being, but I felt uncomfortable with this part of the conversation, as well as my guy on the truck with me, so we decided to hop off. This kind of stuff went on for months, but she took it like a G and never really seemed to be bothered by it.
About a year later, that same guy who we’ll call Gabe, since I don’t know anyone named Gabe, was leading my shift, but the young lady who we’ll call A Boogie, was on the shift after ours. The process for us maintainers was to check out these big toolboxes, about the size of a guest bathroom sink, and do an inventory on it before the shift starts and position it so we can get straight to work when we’re on the clock. I was turning in my box one day when A Boogie was checking hers out. She asked me if I could position her box because she was running late and already under a lot of pressure. Not a problem to me, I agreed and began pushing the box. Gabe sees me pushing this box and asks who I’m doing it for, I tell him, and he gives me this ultimatum, leave her box there or I’ll have to walk back to the office and check out, and inventory ALL the toolboxes for ALL the crews on our shift until further notice. It wasn’t a tough choice for me, but after about 3 weeks of checking out all these boxes and staying late, I was rather annoyed with it. He was known for being a bully, so a lot of his treatment of others was senseless and without cause. I chalked his treatment of her up to that and thought nothing of it. I was due to transfer to a different unit in a couple weeks so his treatment towards me stopped and we actually got cool again. Not friends, but far from enemies.
The Snitching Starts
A couple months later I was in my new unit, I rarely saw Gabe or A Boogie to know how their situation was going. One week though, the Base was doing an exercise to determine our “operational readiness”, which is a fancy way of saying we were pretending to be at war, even though in reality, we were at war, and the real process is not much like how we pretended, but I digress on that. There are a lot of waiting periods in exercises, during one of the wait periods, I was speaking to the guy in charge of my old unit, we’ll call him G. Low. He was giving me updates on everything going on and he mentioned that A Boogie was having a tough time and was probably going to get kicked out of the Air Force for constantly disrespecting Gabe. I said “hold up, dude sexually harassed her for like 2 years, she has a reason to disrespect him” which seemed to shock him. I went on to tell him all the stuff I knew first hand in hopes he would just take it into consideration and not kick her out. I wasn’t trying to get anyone in trouble, I was trying to prevent a good person from losing her job over dumb shit. He did, which was cool, but he also kicked off an official investigation. I had to swear in, sit in this small room with this stone faced military investigator, and tell him everything I knew. There were constant reminders that if I lied or omitted information, I’d get in trouble. The result was A Boogie remained in the Air Force, Gabe was penalized, and I was labeled a snitch by a few folks.
Don’t get me wrong, I slept perfectly fine, and the people I cared about weren’t truly mad at me. Gabe was and probably still is mad about it, and I understand that. He has a family too and his military career never met its full potential. It’s easy to paint him as the bad guy, but I see him as a flawed human too. I hope he learned something in the process other than being salty with me. I’ve seen him a few times since…all sodium still. No one else really cared besides A Boogie maybe, and considering how chill she was when it happened, she probably doesn’t really give it much thought these days either. That situation mostly worked out the way that it was supposed to, but for a lot of women, especially Black women, it doesn’t.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”Maya Angelou
Reputation or Responsibility
One of the reasons it doesn’t work out though, is because people aren’t willing to come forward out of fear of being labeled a snitch or turning on their guys. I blame rap music and mob flicks. All of these “tough guys” worrying about how other “tough guys” will perceive them. I understand the desire to be accepted, but I can’t relate to it at the expense of my peace of mind, there’s nothing tough about that. I won’t lie though, it felt weird to tell all the stuff I knew about the situation to this investigator. It was very uncomfortable actually, especially with the tricky questioning and constant reminder of the penalty I’d be facing for leaving anything out. However, I believe we all carry the responsibility to do what’s right when we know what right is. The alternative to doing what I knew to be right, was standing by while a mother of I believe 4 kids was kicked out of the military…because she stood up for herself.
Doing what’s right doesn’t always feel good at the time, and sometimes the “cool” people will clown you for it. F*ck’em though! That has been my approach for the bulk of my life. I never allow my conscience to be manipulated by others to do what I know or feel is wrong. I speak my mind now because I may not always get a second chance like I did in this situation. It comes with a price, I’ve lost out on some things solely for being true to myself or doing what seemed to be right. On the flip side, doing what’s right can save a career, prevent pain, encourage change, save a life and all that objectively good stuff we claim we want to see in the world. For me, this makes it easier when being blackballed. I’ve found that being true to myself is like bringing the beach with with me wherever I go.
All that to say, we need a little more snitching. Not on your buddies when y’all both did the same wrong thing…you should both tell the truth and take that heat. I mean when people are being mistreated, threatened, or whatever, as you witness. Standing by and doing nothing is just as bad as helping them do it. You are never 100% powerless in a situation as long as you have a means of communicating. In those cases, if possible, let someone know the details of what happened. It sometimes comes with consequence and you won’t be popular, well, maybe you will be popular these days, but you will definitely have peace of mind, which is far better than being liked by assholes.