Girl Gone Off: On Ending Abuse
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Content warning: language, descriptions of violence
I had a blog. I really did. But I’m not sure how to share it today, just like I wasn’t sure how to share it on Sunday when I tried to polish it up for my two week blogging deadline. (I have already botched this whole deadline situation, but what can I do now except write anyway?)
I wanted to kick start a series of posts, focusing on the dynamic of abuse. I believe that understanding abuse, how and why it perpetuates, is the key to grasping and understanding most of how our world and society functions. I believe that examining ourselves, our own experiences, the feelings we get in our bodies when we think back on them or have a moment that brings them back to us, the way those feelings push us to behave - is the key to grasping and understanding ourselves. I believe these are skills that we need - especially when we’re under pressure.
(As an aside and not coincidentally, I HAVE been playing the Queen/Bowie tune obsessively these days.)
I know this is a message we collectively need as a culture. I loved the second post in my series.
(The song Under Pressure is four minutes and nine seconds long. You could listen to it twice over and Derek Chauvin would still have had his knee on George Floyd’s neck another 28 agonizing seconds.)
Self-examination is hard. Sometimes we think it's terrifying. Especially if we’ve gone through trauma. It doesn’t have to be from abuse. Maybe you lost a loved one too soon, or in a scary way, or both.
(George Floyd’s children survive him. His youngest is six years old.)
Maybe you saw something bad happen to someone else.
(Nine year old Judeah Reynolds watched him die. She told the relative walking with her, “This is wrong, he can’t breathe,” and she was right. He wasn’t breathing.)
Maybe you needed someone to help keep you safe, and you were left alone.
(Even with witnesses and video, police sent the men who killed him home. Only today, weeks later, are all four in custody. Every black person in America saw this happen.)
Trauma changes us. From the inside out. It looks different in different people - maybe you’re depressed, maybe you are inflexible and tense, maybe you’re hypervigilant, maybe you’re anxious, maybe you use drugs or booze to get through your day, maybe you scream at your spouse or your kids, maybe you never speak up and don’t think anyone will care about what you have to say - but whatever it is, however it looks for you, if you’ve been through tough shit you know what I mean. It changes us.
We internalize the message that we’re somehow irreparably fucked up. We either pretend trauma isn’t real and doesn’t matter so we can avoid it entirely, or we feel intense shame and wallow in the knowledge that we aren’t who we want to be. We hide ourselves away. The fucked up part is true, maybe, so we shy away from even thinking, let alone talking, about how we got to where we are. But very little in this life is irreparable, so let’s make some reparations. Let’s talk about it.
I wanted to move through these ideas slowly, these connections that took me years to make, but who has the time for that right now?
Not me. Not you. Not us.
There’s a collective trauma in this country, and it is white supremacy. No, not KKK hoods. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let’s embrace a more fruitful definition, let’s think about all the ways it hides in plain sight. We white folks are taught a very narrow definition of racism and white supremacy in school, in our white families. We are taught it’s people screaming slurs, men in hoods burning crosses. Hate in your heart. This is part of it, yes, but a small part. This definition is not accurate or useful. It stifles conversation before it can start. It denies the trauma that still happens here, all the time, and the roles we play in it. Pretending racism is so limited, and anything less than a lynching is irrelevant, exempts myriad ways that anti-black racism and white supremacy continues to impact black people. It gives us white folks a pass.
My family taught me that everyone is equal, that our skin tones don’t matter. But on most holiday get togethers, my all white family would end up talking about what they thought was wrong with black people. My uncle, then a sergeant in the NYPD, would quote Chris Rock. “There are black people,” he would say, “and then, there are…”. You know how it ends. Or you can google it.
I remember how he grinned when he'd say it.
My family sincerely loved my bi-racial best friend, welcomed him warmly and treated him with regard. They proclaimed him brilliant, funny, talented. “One of the good ones”, my grandfather would say approvingly. I remember thinking this was good, that my grandfather was capable of seeing past his race. I didn’t consider how wrong it was for my grandfather to assume most black people weren’t good. To think that half of my friend’s very being was something bad to overcome, instead of something beautiful to celebrate. When my grandfather died, my best friend wrote a sweet tribute in his online memorial book, recalling him fondly.
I still feel agonizingly sorry I ever brought that precious person around them.
Today, I’m married to a police lieutenant. I love him. I’ve loved him desperately since I was nineteen years old. I’m proud of him. He and I are anti-racist, and we mean it. I want him to always be safe and to always come home to us, but this isn’t about that.
This is about the first time I went out with his colleagues. I had been relaying a work story of my own and mentioned my friend and closest coworker by his name. He is black, and his name is common in the black community. “Is he a…?” one of them asked me.
I had never even met the man before.
I’m telling you these stories - and these are far, far from the only stories I have - because I know racism is real, and it’s insidious, and it’s abusive. I’m telling you this because I bet you have stories, too. I bet you know what I’m talking about. And I’m telling you this because when we abuse, we rarely, almost never, understand that what we’re doing is wrong. We are just going through the motions of a trauma that started before us and will continue long after us if we don't work to stop it. We are doing what we’re taught to do. Maybe you read about my childhood. My mother never looked in the mirror and thought, “I am abusive.” I know that. I think she wanted to love me, in her way. She just acted out her own trauma. Rages. Screaming. Cruel words. Emotional manipulation. Withdrawing. Avoiding. It wasn’t about me, it was about her. I could just as easily be that person with my kids now. I have felt those rages swell up in me, sharp words like the ones I grew up hearing can slip from my tongue if I'm not careful. I am not like her only because of my own awareness, only because I made a conscious and real choice to end this cycle.
Whiteness teaches us these same sorts of behaviors. We deny, we deflect, we fear what lives in us if we open our minds and examine them. We believe that we KNOW we aren’t racist, that racist is the worst thing a person can be. We are afraid to examine ourselves, and that fear…it holds us back. Even though white people have and still do disproportionately hold all institutional power and serve as gatekeepers to accessing it (if you think this isn’t true, and that we are equal now, consider an all black Presidential ticket and how it would be received by so many, and then think again), we are confident that we don’t uphold white supremacy, that we don’t contribute to racism - simply because we don’t intend to. Do we know what the road to hell is paved with?
I think it’s scary to open our mouths and tell these stories. We certainly aren’t taught to think we should. We live with all these dirty little secrets about the good white people in our lives without hate in their hearts and no racist bones in their bodies, people who don’t care if you’re blue or purple but who sure will devote a lot of time to criticizing the music you make and the way you wear your clothes if you’re black, who have a really good joke as long as no one black is in the room, who insist black people must have a solution to all crime before we should care about long term, widespread state violence against them. Do you really think these ideas, these racist suppositions, don't matter? That they don't impact the way our society functions? How could they not?
Racism does not only live in our hearts. It lives in our minds. It lives in our bodies. It lives there because it lives in our history and our culture and our families, and because don’t want to examine it. We don’t want to look. We don’t want to tell the truth. We don’t want to be irreparably fucked up. And this? Man. This is really fucked up. But we have to stop now. We have to stop covering for the racism we know exists. Because we leave our black loved ones stuck in a state of exhausting, collective trauma, gaslit and trying to convince us of something we already know. All alone, reading this...you know. Maybe you can't say it yet. But we have to admit it. We have to stop constantly making excuses and looking for other reasons these things keep happening. We have to believe what black people tell us about the impact of this racism we pretend isn't. We have to stop denying it.
Please. Friends. STOP.
A man named George Floyd - who was a father and son and a friend and a man of faith - George Floyd, who was a human being - died in the street on Memorial Day, crying out for his momma. Bound by his wrists, two men held him on the ground while another crushed the life out of him. It was a mentally torturous, brutal, nearly nine minute long murder. Their fourth accomplice stood on the street, blocking and threatening anyone who tried to come near and help. There were witnesses, one an emergency responder. There was video. More police arrived, all four were still on the scene. All four were allowed to go home.
We are all created equal, but this country does not treat us equally. It is time, long past time, to end the unspoken white solidarity. There is work to do, and it’s ours as white folks. It is fucked up. It is scary to think we might be this deeply fucked up. But it isn’t irreparable.
Let’s make some reparations.
In keeping with the spirit of this post, I invite anyone interested and inclined to donate to one of the following: