It took me a long time to call what happened to me in middle school bullying. Maybe it’s because like many millennials I grew up with cheesy portrayals of the ripped-denim-lunch-money-stealing stereotype, or because my teachers dismissed the behavior due to my obvious crush on one of the assailants and the “boys will be boys” mentality. What began as innocent enough sarcastic barbs hurled across the classroom and the occasional prank grew to objects being thrown, stealing of my personal property (a notebook filled with fanfiction and poetry) by an entire group, and even a graphic sexual reference to my mother. Even though a boundary had clearly been crossed, I felt helpless in stopping the slippery slope because I had so clearly consented to the previous interactions and that was how a boy showed you he liked you anyways. After all as Colton, a character featured in Sharean Morishita’s newest project School Memories quips, it was “just a harmless joke.”
We actually talk a great deal about bullying as a culture. From after school specials starring your favorite cartoon characters, to the success of riveting dramatic series like 13 Reasons Why or even comedic movies such as Mean Girls, we’ve got media portrayals by the locker-load desperately trying to keep up with technology’s ever shifting potential to emotionally (and even physically) scar other human beings. And yet, despite living at the crushing intersection of misogyny and anti-Blackness where our entire society maintains its power structure through bullying us, it feels like there are so rarely pop culture depictions of Black women and girls surviving these kinds of attacks without quickly shoehorning in the impervious power of the Strong Black Woman™ or focusing on extreme hate crimes rather than the far more common subtlety of day-to-day interactions.
Thankfully the newest project by Sharean Morishita of S-Morishita Studios, entitled School Memories, provides the necessary illumination to this glaring gap. I’ve talked a little in the past about my love for Morishita’s work and how refreshing her slice of life manga can feel to fans who have been starved for representation in this genre, but reading this story in particular felt like the relief I hadn’t realized my younger self (and hopefully any Black girls living through this torture right now) needed.
What stands out first and foremost about this story is that Echo, our gentle, curly-haired new student, is not the main character as you might expect. Instead, we view the world from the eyes of the young prankster Colton, a boy whose unfortunate sense of humor ends up harming more than he bargains for. One of the mistakes many bully narratives make is to create a caricature rather than a complex human being which not only is unrealistic but can lead to victims being gaslit or even gaslighting ourselves into believing our emotions aren’t legitimate because the injuries aren’t “that bad.” Colton is neither a monster nor a blameless victim of sensitive “special snowflakes,” but a person who has the choice to make his wrong right or ignore his responsibility to another person.
The second most important detail about this story is the focus on hair. Without adding spoilers, as a Black woman with natural hair, I could feel this comic speaking to me and my experience directly, both the frustrations in hunting for products and the joys of beauty. In some ways, this holds as the visual novel’s key narrative: that while each of us is shaped by our triumphs and trauma, we always have room to grow and change for the better, no matter how gnarled we may feel or seem to other people.
Not all of us are able to speak about or even stop bullying from happening. But we can make sure no one has to feel alone with these feelings, and that starts by supporting representation like School Memories. You can stay up-to-date on the official release by supporting the patreon here or joining her newsletter here.