An Open Letter to Chet “Haze” Hanks

Dear Chet,

I can only imagine how amazing it must feel to be an infamous up-and-coming rapper consistently mocked in pop culture as an ambassador of NU. I’m sure you enjoy all the press, both good and bad. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

That’s until I read your tweet about bullied youth on Gawker Wednesday morning. It has left a taste in my mouth more sour than any rhyme you’ve ever written.

Chet, seeing this tweet from you yesterday was troubling to say the least: “Ayo I don’t condone bullying but anyone who offs themselves cuz they got picked on is weak.”

Heartless and cruel don’t even begin to describe the tragic nature of your statement. But rather than pick on you as many have done in response, I instead forgive you and feel for you, Chet.

It’s saddening that you seem to lack empathy with victims of bullying, and their friends and families, especially the young people who took their own lives after capitulating to the constant pain and pressure of facing it every single day; all for simply being themselves.

You value individuality and free-expression, do you not? Those “weak” people you mocked in your tweet did too. But because they were nerds, or ugly, or fat, or gay, many sought to denigrate and deny them that ability to be who they are. It takes courage to face your foes, let alone to do so on a daily basis in an educational setting. While bullies slept at night not thinking about what they said or how badly they beat another member of their community, some of those bullied youth lay awake in fear of facing the next day, often with no one to depend on for love and support.

I know that feeling all too well, Chet. And, thankfully, I survived.

I was subject to incessant bullying and harassment during my formative years, Chet. I didn’t enjoy being ostracized at school by friends and acquaintances because I was perceived as a gay man. I remember often dreading to attend classes during freshman year of high school, not wishing to be called “faggot,” “stupid queer,” or “sissy” as I went about my daily schedule. I didn’t look forward to being treated differently as an athlete because others thought I was gay, and feeling like I had to prove myself even more because of it.

Those years weren’t fun, let alone the anxiety of not being out to family. I was often isolated and dealt with the hurt and anger by myself, struggling to make friends I could trust who would accept me for who I am.

Yes, I felt weak often. Yes, I felt powerless. And what got me through were the few teachers and friends willing to reach out, supporting and affirming me despite all the negativity. Even my faith in God helped me to persevere, despite hearing church sermons about gays “burning eternally in hell” for going against God’s supposed plan for me to be hetero.

I didn’t commit suicide, but I can only imagine the outcome had there not been support for me. And, unfortunately, the pain and pressure has been too much for many children and young adults to endure; even in years prior to swells of media attention when people like 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer or Rutgers student Tyler Clementi took their own lives.

Think of all the young people, gay or otherwise, who read tweets like yours and have their experiences and emotions dismissed as “weak” and “stupid.” Not that you’ve ever claimed to be a role model, and I certainly do not consider you one, but your words have much more impact than you may think. With sites like Gawker, TMZ and Jezebel chronicling your time here at NU, you have a platform that you have barely earned simply because of your family name. While many other famous children use that for good, your tweet reflects the worst of intentions and callous disregard for your community.

I’m not sure if you know this, Chet, but many here on campus know you less for the nice person you actually may be. I don’t know you, but perhaps deep down you’re a good-hearted and good-natured person. Though here at NU, you’re not even known for your rhymes, even if “White and Purple” might have been a little cute at first. Instead, Chet, I’ve only heard you regarded as a privileged, lazy, unintelligent jester for whom many lack a shred of respect. And that tweet didn’t help your cause.

It appears you’ve deleted the tweet, but you clearly have no remorse for your actions. Instead, Chet, you decided to tweet Wednesday afternoon “I say real shit and I always speak my mind if you don’t like it I could give a fuck less” and “no regrets and no apologies.”

Really, Chet? I wonder if you would ever have the gall to tell the parents of bullied children who took their own lives that their kids were “weak” and that you don’t regret or apologize for believing it. Yet with your tweet spreading across social media and news sites, your words impact many who have been personally affected by a friend or family member who committed suicide after trying so hard to be strong for so long while dealing with bullying.

Your words may very well have opened up old wounds, or ones that were being healed through time, patience, support and even prayer. And with all that you’ve been given in your privilege and wealth as the son of a legendary actor, you can do much better than this and you know it.

How are your actions at all in line with what you’ve proclaimed on your Facebook fan page as an artist who acknowledges “with fame comes responsibility,” and that you are “ no stranger to giving back to his community?”

Truth is, they aren’t. Real talk.

I’d encourage you to take a cue from your father this time around. I remember back in 2006 when an artist I admire and enjoy, Sheryl Crow, was cheered by her friends at an LA event just a week following her surgery for breast cancer. They supported and encouraged her will to survive. Your father, along with many other A-list celebrities, sent his well wishes to Crow at the event, generously expressing “There’s millions of survivors out there; make it one million and one.”

While bullying and cancer are different struggles, they share a common thread. The will to overcome, the power of the human spirit, and the love and support of others are aspects of both experiences. Most want to survive and succeed in doing so, but there are many that succumb.

Chet, perhaps you could reach out and give back to your community by reaching out to bullied youngsters. Affirm them. Support them. Let them know there are people out there who care. Tweet about a program like Trevor Project or the Suicide Prevention Hotline and voice your support to encourage your fans to do the same.

Instead of shaming victims, perhaps you can help other youth survive incessant bullying.

In the end, Chet, a little consideration and empathy goes a long way in evolving into a successful person. It’s a lesson we all must learn, and one I hope you learn along the way.

Sincerely,
Derrick

P.S.: I say “real shit” too and I always speak my mind. But, more often than not, I think before I talk.

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Image Credit: Gawker

18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Chet “Haze” Hanks

  1. Hey Derrick,

    Very well-written piece. However, I question your intention. You state “…rather than pick on you as many have done in response, I instead forgive you and feel for you, Chet.” You then go on to do quite the opposite: “…I’ve only heard you regarded as a privileged, lazy, unintelligent jester for whom many lack a shred of respect.” That doesn’t sound very forgiving to me.

    In high school you were picked on for being gay. That really, really sucks and I don’t envy you at all for having to go through that experience. But we’re not in high school anymore, we’re at Northwestern. Things are different here. Here, those who fit the “frat-boy” stereotype face the same kind of disdain and exclusion that you experienced in high school. The weapons of choice are different, no doubt. In high school they were harsh, piercing slurs; here at NU they come in the form of judgements and pretensions uttered in hushed tones. But it’s the same process and it leads to the same result.

    Your peers in high school made the mistake of isolating you through their collective actions. Be careful not to make that same mistake now that you are part of the collective.

    Cheers :)

    • Thanks for your comment. As you could read, the overall tone of the letter was very conversational, heartfelt and conciliatory. There is a huge difference between the observation I highlight – which isn’t my own judgment, because I do note that Chet may very well be a “good-natured” and “good-hearted” person, but I don’t know him personally. By including the line you pulled out, I highlighted that people at NU don’t know him for who he really is (if indeed he’s genuinely a great guy) because all they see/hear is rudeness, laziness, callousness all reflective of a privileged attitude.

      I make every effort to see the good in people, even in those who are not as generous with me. That was the tone and intent of the letter as a whole, so I feel the quote being questioned is not being contextualized correctly.

      Also, things are not much different at colleges and universities. Some of the suicide cases have arisen from some college students behaving in a very high school manner with bullying, harassment and even beating. I’d be careful not to make such a large generalization on this one.

  2. Previous comment. To compare the “disdain” and “exclusion” faced by rich, privileged “frat boys” to the bigoted discrimination faced by minorities is disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself. The qualities of a “frat boy”–i.e. whiteness, wealth, maleness–are parsed by society. The qualities of a queer male are not. You need a reality check if you think that any male has been pushed to suicide for being called a “frat boy.”

    • I agree completely: also, isn’t it a considerable factor that these “frat boys” have earned their horrendous reputation?

    • I imagine that some members of fraternities do experience discrimination in some forms, but perhaps those a bit removed of the “frat boy” stereotype highlighted. From my personal experience being in a fraternity, there are queer men who otherwise fit the “frat boy” stereotype that are subject to bigotry because of who they are. Or perhaps they are not rich and must confront class privilege in their social circle, since some may assume everyone can afford the same weekend activities, etc. without needing to budget carefully.

      Thanks again for reading and for your thoughts, MHB :)

  3. Completely true, never heard a positive word spoken about the slavering imbecile on campus. Most often, in fact, heard terrible things, especially from fellow girls… and ladies, to be honest, why on earth would you go there? He may be ‘famous,’ but for what? Incompetent rhymes and unabashed musical plagiarism? Combined with, let’s face it, less than average looks?

    Whyyyyy?????

  4. The truth seems to lie somewhere between the two sides represented in these comments.

    I am sure it is sometimes hard to be Chet Hanks or “Chet Haze” or whatever name he wants to go by. I bet there are times when he feels beaten down, frustrated, and depressed over the things that are said about him. Come on – the kid isn’t stupid, or he wouldn’t have gotten into Northwestern (even if we acknowledge that coming from famous stock didn’t exactly hurt.) Since we can probably conclude he is not an idiot, I think Chet’s refusal to apologize or back down from his Twitter comments shows how cornered and defensive the poor boy is. He has been gossiped about, mocked, and denigrated both on campus and in media outlets. I’m not saying some of it isn’t deserved (heck, probably a lot of it), but I sure wouldn’t want to be him.

    That said, anyone who thinks what Chet has experienced (or the experiences of any “frat boy” facing discrimination for simply being a “frat boy”) is congruent with the experiences of minorities, those of different sexual orientations or genders, etc. is totally out of touch with reality. People choose to join fraternities or become white rappers who use their Twitter accounts to mock buillied students. Chet and other frat boys may face judgment, skepticism, and sometimes even disrespect, but that’s a far cry from being tortured on a daily basis, fear that they will not be accepted by society because of their identity, frequently are denied many basic civil (human) rights. It seems that most people that dislike what they know about men in fraternities (or Chet in particular) have a stereotype built up about what those people are like. They may have snap judgments, but it’s about peoples’ behavior, and can thus be proven wrong. When someone calls someone a “faggot” or other derogatory words, they are hating someone for their identity. It is not judgment that’s earned, and it can’t be changed. It is pure hate that seeks to destroy. Comparing the two is ignorant and quite offensive.

    • AT, I absolutely agree. Anyone can be subject to bullying regardless of their social location. If many online sites are any indication, Chet himself is subject to taunts and even unfair mockery (though, sometimes, his seemingly thoughtless actions spur it on… doesn’t necessarily make it right).

      At the end of the day, it’s all about fostering empathy and building bridges of understanding with people who are different from us. Thank you for reading and sharing your powerful thoughts!

  5. Pingback: Victim Blaming: It’s Not About ‘Weakness’ | Daily Derrick

  6. Pingback: Victim Blaming: It’s Not About Weakness « In Our Words

  7. Pingback: Chet Hanks, Victim Blaming, and the “Weakness” of Suicide | Brute Reason

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