Bonita, Bonita, Bonita

Reading Time: 10 minutes
I have wanted to be beautiful for as long as I can remember.
Ironically cursed with severe acne as an adolescent, I was used to teachers that, during roll call, would chuckle at their amazing propensity for Spanish and ask: Do you know what Bonita means?
Numbly, I would nod my head and pray to white Jesus that they would leave me alone.
No one listened. Every teacher would excitedly explain, thrilled to pay homage to the A they got in 9th Grade Spanish: It means beautiful. Beautiful name for such a beautiful (they would scan my face and see the acne)…smile. Such a beautiful smile.
Afterwards, a smart aleck with perfect white skin would inevitably turn around and declare: They should’ve named her the Spanish word for ugly. And the class would erupt.
Adopted into a large, white, Mennonite farming family in rural Pennsylvania, I knew that beauty wasn’t supposed to be a high priority. Afterall, you didn’t need to be beautiful to feed the cats, check the chickens, shovel manure, hang laundry, take out the garbage and do a myriad of other chores.
You didn’t need to be beautiful to can beans, peaches, cherries, applesauce and jam.
You didn’t need to be beautiful to go to Church every Sunday and Small Group on Wednesday.
You just had to show up and get the job done.
I grew up on a small chicken farm in Lancaster County where there were not many places where my last name was not known. A few farms over a distant cousin had played outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies in the ‘70s. A few miles away, a great uncle owned a large agricultural business. Other uncles owned dairy farms, chicken farms or pig farms. We were farming people. We weren’t supposed to care about beauty.
As a child, I would watch as my white family members would change various shades of tan throughout the summer.
I would watch them become effortlessly sun-bleached blonde and tan and beautiful. Powerful and pure. Desirable and innocent. White and strong.
In the mornings, I would slather my body in sunscreen and in the evenings, I would layer myself in cocoa butter and Vitamin E oil, wrap my hair and pray to wake up a white skinned, blue-eyed blonde.
I wanted to be the you look just like your mom rather than a is-she-your-fresh-air-kid or were you adopted as a crack baby kind of beautiful. I wanted to be the farm tan and sun-bleached blonde kind of beautiful. I wanted to be the kind of beautiful that fit in seamlessly. The kind of beautiful that you didn’t question.
The kind of beautiful that everyone just recognized as beautiful. Without questions. Without stigmas. Without doubt.
Somewhere around middle school, I discovered relaxers. I don’t remember what first made me realize that wearing my hair in braids and beads was ‘so elementary.’ Was it a locker room conversation? Did someone ask me one too many times why my hair was so kinky? Was it after my white brother loudly declared that girls with short hair like me would never be pretty?
Whatever it was, something shifted.
I wanted to feel the wind in my hair. I wanted to ‘put my hair down.’ I wanted to be beautiful.
And, beauty could be mine for $7.99.
During the next few years, my mom would occasionally relax my hair with home relaxers. The paper cartons showed light-skinned girls with long smooth tresses and wide smiles.
Relaxers for black hair, unlike relaxers for white hair, rely on sodium hydroxide which can cause hair loss and third-degree burns.
Despite the intense burn from the relaxer and the countless horror stories from friends (bald, burns, hospitalization), I would grit my teeth and close my eyes.
Tell me when it starts to burn and we will rinse it right out, my mother would caution, and I would nod and grit my teeth.
Afterwards, I would stand in front of the mirror and swish my hair and wince with pain.
Beauty was pain, right?
The first time I remember being called ‘beautiful,’ was the first day I visited a Waldorf School. I was in 1st grade, extremely talkative, emotive and already classified as a handful.
I guess the teacher had told the class that I would be visiting for a week because as soon as I arrived at the school small white heads poked out of a third story window screaming ‘hello.’
It was equally traumatic and exhilarating.
A tall brick building with a large arched door, Waldorf felt both enchanting and historic.
Large doors with brass handles opened to reveal hallways and classrooms painted in soft fairytale hues: caerulean, rose, dandelion, moss and ultramarine. Pastel silks stretched across windows as elegant curtains and hand painted artwork covered gallery walls in neat, straight lines. Handmade felt puppets, beeswax figures, wooden bowls and spoons crowded in corner tables and display shelves. Chalk art featured fairies and gnomes and whimsical woodland creatures embellished the daily schedules: Circle time, Main Lesson, Snack & Recess, Beeswax, Handwork, Lunch & Recess, Eurythmy, German, Painting.
The first-grade room was on the tallest floor of the building. A bright corner room with large windows and rose colored walls, the room featured wall-length chalkboards, a balance beam, a braided circular rug and twenty-three desks including one with my name.
A teacher appeared at the door, his hands chalky and his eyes kind. I don’t remember what pleasantries were passed or how long I hid behind my mom and sister, astonished and horrified that I was actually expected to spend a full week with strangers.
But I do remember that a girl came barreling through the front door, brown ringlets bouncing and picked me up. “You are so beautiful!”
It was easy to be beautiful then. And, it was hard to be beautiful then. I was a black kid. An adopted kid. A girl kid. A loud kid. A sensitive kid. A don’t make me tell you twice kid. I had isms and quirks. I was hyperactive and talkative.
And, I was desperate to be beautiful.
Beautiful people were wanted by their parents. Beautiful people didn’t have other kids ask them what it felt like to be an orphan. Beautiful people didn’t have abandonment issues. Beautiful people didn’t get asked if they were ‘real’ or not.
Beautiful people were just beautiful people. They weren’t pretty for a black girl. They weren’t you’d be almost hot if you were white. They weren’t my mom said I’m not allowed to date black girls. They weren’t oreos or monkeys or n****rs. They were just always human. And, they were always beautiful.
Right?
I wanted it. I wanted the bluest eyes and saccharine smiles. I wanted blonde hair and white skin. I wanted to be able to buy my hair products from stores that didn’t offer skin bleaching creams in the same aisle. I wanted to be able to feel the air flip ponytails across my back. I wanted boys to stop asking me if I would have a big butt when I grew up. I wanted teachers to stop telling me that if I ever wanted to be taken seriously, I would need to change my name|hair|speech. I would need to apply for diversity scholarships. I would need to tell my story and make sure to say that I was adopted.
I just wanted to be beautiful.
In Elementary School, I was one of 3 black girls in the whole school. The others were a biracial girl named after a flower whose name matched her beauty and my twin sister. The school was small and the whiteness was blindingly ecofriendly. It was May day flowers and wreath dancing white. It was handmade knit socks and crochet scarves white. Sugarless organic fruit roll-up and babybel snack kinda white. Composting and save the trees white. Liberal white. TV turnoff week white. Tie-dye shirt birthday parties white. Handmade purposefully didn’t comb my hair dreadlocks white. Inclusive white yet exclusive white.
And, I was allowed to play.
Waldorf boasted diversity and inclusivity initiatives before they were a “thing.” Every classroom was mainstream and persons with mental health illnesses were included and expected to participate and engage with the curriculum and the community.
At first blackness seemed like a constant show and tell.
Do you need sunscreen?
        What kind of lotion do you use?
                Why does your hair stand straight up?
                            Why does your hair smell like coconut?
Kids asked me questions in between asking another why he sniffed people or why she ate her boogers and didn’t clip her fingernails.
One recess a classmate asked why my knees were ashy and I didn’t know what to say so I made something up: it’s a super power I have that tells me when I need more lotion.
Awestruck, he leaned closer. Woah, I wish I had a superpower.
For at least the first half of second grade, daily recess rituals included hopeful girls asking one another: May I play with you? Status was determined by whether you were the one doing the asking or if you were the asked. Recess and social politics dictated that playing as a threesome was the most desirable. Any more and it became difficult to control dynamics. Any less and your status suffered. After all, playing wild horses required two people to actually be horses and one to narrate the storyline.   
As a child, I would often proudly announce that my schedule was booked – couldn’t play with anyone until December I told a child once…in October. Reasons not to play with someone included if they smelled, if they said something mean about you to another classmate or if you were worried they might become more popular than you.
As an adult, I cringe remembering moments like this. And, in moments of desperation, I want to defend myself and write it off as immaturity and ignorance.
After all, it was immature and ignorant.
And yet, child’s play often mimics real-world scenarios. Somehow as seven and eight-year-olds we knew, innately, what we were doing. We knew these were acts of survival.
As I grew older, I would find that reasons to play with someone would evolve to include hair type and skin color. Reasons that would sometimes include me and exclude other black girls. Reasons that would sometimes exclude me and include other black girls. Reasons that would sometimes exclude all black girls.
In middle school, I transitioned from Waldorf to a small Mennonite school. Out of the over 300 plus children in attendance in K-8, I was the only black girl. An adopted black girlfriend of mine transitioned out of the school just as I began, and I quickly learned from my classmates that there were expectations with being black.
Average at basketball, I tried out for the team and, to the utter dismay of my coach, was only good enough to be a part-time player on the ‘A’ team and a full-time player on the ‘B’ team. Where was my skill? Didn’t I watch basketball at home? C’mon, where was the hustle?
As a seventh grader, a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy I liked gave me his phone number and asked me to call him. When I did, his mother informed me that he wasn’t allowed to talk to “people like me.” I remember hanging up the phone in shock. Later, I cried myself to sleep.
The next time I saw him, I ignored him. He followed me around after choir practice, apologizing Then he told me we should stop being friends. He had prayed about it and it would make things easier for him. And, that was okay, right? I understood?
A few weeks later a classmate, whom often called me an ‘Oreo,’ told me that his parents said that people like me could never be a “Proverbs 31” girl. I walked into the bathroom and cried.
People like me. Oreos like me. Things like me.
In eighth grade, a classmate would, much to the hilarity of my teammates, lift my field hockey skirt to see if I had a big butt. I was too horrified and embarrassed to report him.
In class, a cocky white boy would sit on my lap and apologize with an oops, I didn’t see you there. On the bus rides home, he would whisper sexually explicit things to me and shove me into the wall.  
Late night bus rides after basketball and field hockey games would turn into weekly nightmares. Forced to sit in between horny adolescent eighth grade boys, I would have pens shoved in my hair, pencils shoved down my shorts and hands grope my back, chest and butt.
They would only stop if I cried.
Their apologies were often bold threats and excuses: you are such a baby. Can’t you take a joke? It’s not like we actually like you. You should be flattered we are paying you attention. If you tell anyone we will make it worse for you.
After asking one boy why I was always targeted, he laughed and said: because you’re not, you know, like the other girls.
In desperation, I went to the school’s guidance counselor and confided in her what was happening. She was one of the boy’s mom and told me that she didn’t believe me. Her son would never participate in things like that. Certainly, I was mistaken. This sounded like drama and she heard that I caused drama.
I never went back to her again.
Another time, during track and field practice, a popular classmate wanted a select group of girls to watch her run and then tell her if her butt bounced while she did the long jump. I just really want to have a bouncy big butt. She whined, and then she pointed at me. A big butt like her.
In 9th grade, after a classmate grabbed a hold of my breast in the middle of gym class, I remember feeling astounded that my white male teacher, Mr. T, stepped in. The boy was sent to the principal’s office and Mr. T asked me if I wanted to file a complaint. He said that he was going to and that it would be my decision to write one, but he recommended that I did.
Out of all the times I had been sexually harassed in class and at school, this was the first time that a teacher stood up for me.
This was the first time a teacher didn’t say that it happened because I caused drama.
This was the first time I was believed and supported.
I wrote the damn report.
Later, when a popular classmate would slap my butt, hard, in the hallway in front of a crowd of boys, I chased him down and slapped him across the face.
Never touch me again, I warned. “I just wanted to see how firm it was.” He laughed before declaring: never touch me again, crazy b**ch.
The next day a rumor went around that I was crazy and slapped him for no reason.
No one sat with me at lunch that day. Another told me that I should apologize. No one wanted to hear what had actually happened because no one cared.
People cared what happened to be young, white beautiful people. Once, after the same classmate that wanted a big, bouncy butt told another that a boy had looked at her weird, he was shunned from the next class party.
Just like that.
No one told her stop causing drama. No one accused her of being mistaken.
She was believed because she was popular. She was believed because she was white and beautiful. She was believed.
Just like that.
Historically, the first time I verbalized my ‘otherness,’ was when I was four. My aunt recalls this moment by my alleged declaration: there were “too many white people” at the family reunion.
While I don’t remember this incident, I do remember the first time I learned to associate my skin color with items that were dirty or burnt. The first time I was called a n****r. The first time I was spat on.
Transracially adopted into a rural, white, farming family, my modes of representation were limited to the very few black adults and families I encountered in public places
Although my family was a part of a small, vibrant community of transracial adoptive families that met once a month, I struggled to find racial representation in media, literature, education and music. Many of the adoptive families were large white conservative families that adopted one or two Black or African children.
While, as an adult I can recognize that the transracial adoption group’s goal was to normalize transracial families and provide support and resources for families and adoptive parents; as a child, I dreaded the meetings for many of the same reasons. Abandonment and trust issues, while ubiquitous, are also an integral marker for many adoptees.
Knowing that my story would be told to others without my permission, terrified me.
What if nobody wanted me? What if they told my parents to un-adopt me? What if everyone only knew the worst parts about me?
What if I was truly unlovable?
I would often overhear my adoptive parents talking about my issues with other adoptive parents and I felt overwhelmingly betrayed, hurt and angry.  
Didn’t they know how much it hurt me? I would wonder. Didn’t they know?
As a child, I would often wonder if every black woman I saw could possibly be my mother. If every black boy could possibly be my brother.
I was desperate for representation but struggled with the cognitive, linguistic and emotional ability to articulate this.
I was desperate for something to make me loveable and wanted. Inherently trustworthy and honest. Innocent and pure.
Beautiful and white.  

2018 Recap

Reading Time: 5 minutes
It’s snowing in Tucson. So, I feel better that I am a few days late on my 2018 top eight because… snow in the desert. And, as you know or probably don’t because it never happens, watching snow sit on cacti is probably one of the coolest sights.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions. However, I do like to start the New Year with intentionality. At my wedding, a dear friend encouraged my husband and I to choose a specific word each year on which to reflect and meditate on together. Each year, I have enjoyed and learned to enjoy the ways in which I am stretched by this exercise.
No spoilers for 2019, but our word for 2018 was ‘listen.’ Looking back, I cannot help but notice the way in which God has continued to use that word to move my heart to and for marginalized communities, as well as towards my own and our joint healing and wholeness. And yes, I know it’s already 2019, but I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on my top eight resources, in addition to the Scripture, that helped me to listen more closely in 2018.  
  1. Intentional Mentorship. At a recent church gathering, someone tossed out this think piece: what is the meaning of church? It was just quippy/ironic/taboo enough that it immediately caught my attention, and a couple of giggles. I was hooked. What would people say? One of the most concise and profound answers was something like: it is hard to follow Jesus by yourself. Okay, so what does this have to do with mentorship? When people ask me why I advocate for mentorship, I have found myself saying something similar: it is hard to do life by yourself. We desire and need human interaction. And mentorships help to fortify and restore us.  These past two years, I have been blessed to form a mentorship of sorts with a black woman who has encouraged me to radically reconsider my understanding of social justice, womanism and the deconstruction of racism. Mentorship invites accountability and vulnerability – both stretching and powerful! If you haven’t already, I would invite you to consider a mentorship.
  1. Friendship Circles. What is that old saying about friends? Friends are a rare commodity? Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to find, usually, the right friends at the right time. Some have been long-lasting while others have been there for a season. These last few years, I have been fortunate enough to find friends that have continually spent time invested in and connecting intentionally with me on more of the gritty aspects of life. And, for that, I am forever grateful. Where do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable? I have been blessed with a variety of friendships which can hold my questions and can be soft, safe places to land. Where are your safe places? Whom are your soft places to land?
  1. Literary Resources. The other day, I was listening to an NPR podcast between a Syrian refugee and her American friend. During the interview, after doing her best to communicate her empathy for her friend, the American friend said something particularly profound which has stuck with me. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially this: “You know, I have done my best to read and to educate myself on Syria, and I can’t imagine what living through that profound trauma must have been for you or how it continues to impact you. I can’t know…but, I want to tell you that your story impacts me, and I have held it and made it a part of me and what I carry.” While there are pieces of this sentiment that are, perhaps, problematic, I particularly appreciate the image of carrying the stories of others. That resonates with me as well as the idea that educational resources can only provide the smallest glimpse of historic, shared and lived trauma. That being said, don’t stop with your own due diligence. Read. Learn. Educate yourself. But also, don’t forget to invest in and get to know real people. And, because this section is titled “literary resources,” you already know you are going to get a few of my favorite book titles from this last year. Check out the graphic at the top of the post for some of my favorites. 
  1. Community Investment. Nowadays, there are so many ways to get invested in organizations and NPO’s. And, usually these investments cost you something: time, money or both. I spent time breaking down how I wanted to invest in my time and money in 2018 through 4 parts:
    1. Identify my own core values
    2. Educate myself on NPO’s and organizations within my local community which closely aligned with my core values.
    3. Invest in those communities and organizations either with my time, money or both
    4. Resource out the information I have gathered with my community
  1. Educational Opportunities. You know those people that are always like, “I LOVE SCHOOL,” or even “I LOVE HOMEWORK.” Okay, so #nerdalert, but those folks are seriously my kind of folk. I thoroughly enjoy learning and living close to the UofA makes me happy for all things seminars and workshop(py). Part of my listening journey included paying attention to opportunities for growth and then maximizing my growth potential. In education, we probably overutilize the idea of turning everything in a “learning opportunity,” but I believe access to education and continual resources and supports are crucial when considering a more equitable and just future. This past year, I attended seminars on everything from toxic masculinity and black lives matter to intersectionality and wealth disparity, and I wish I could’ve hauled each and one of you to them. From attending workshops led by Jason Reynolds to listening to Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson, I am grateful for free and accessible events.
  1. Truth Warriors. Truth can sometimes be a complicated thing. This past year, I have found myself really struggling with naming and committing to living my own truth. After a few heated scenarios with loved ones regarding my own experiences with racism, I found myself resisting my own truth. I couldn’t make sense of how to navigate living into my own truth if it meant breaking relationship. I couldn’t make sense of living into my own truth if it meant that loved ones couldn’t accept my black body. Problematic…I know.  But I also couldn’t seem to imagine pretending away my blackness for white comfort.? It didn’t seem fair to ask me to make the compromise. I wanted to channel unconditional love and yet the sentiments expressed thoroughly renounced me as a black woman and as a truth teller. What did it mean to live into truth? To be honest, I am still wrestling with this scenario. It hurts me. But I have also learned to fortify myself with some additional truths. I am named and known. I have value. I can speak the truth in love and ask for what I need. I can disengage. I can choose not to argue with those whom are unwilling to see or recognize my inherent value as a human being. I can still have power.
  1. Intentional Mindfulness/Mental Health Awareness. What are the ways you unwind? This past year has been a doozy for me, and as I’ve struggled to begin to manage my anxiety, I discovered the importance of meditation and routines. As resourced in a few previous blog posts, I have particularly found supports like therapyforblackgirls, ourselvesblack and even forharriet helpful and encouraging. On the IG or Twitter, check out #blackgirlmentalhealth, #blackmentalhealth or #blackwomenmentalhealth
  1. Media. One way I listen is by exposing myself to different cultures through television, radio and media. Check out the graphic at the top of my page for my recommendations.

The Problem with Redemption: #metoo

Reading Time: 9 minutes

This post is mostly in response to the article posted on GQ The Problem With Redemption in regard to serial abuser and restaurateur, Ken Friedman.

A few weeks ago, as I was rather aimlessly scrolling through my Twitter Feed, I found a link to this article under a tweet by a guy asking how men that have been named in the #metoo movement can, if at all, regain societal standing.

As you may guess, the comment section ranged from brutally honest to downright appalling. But, then I saw a link to an article with an instruction: read this.

The author of ‘The Problem with Redemption’ begins her post with this:

As a graduate of a Quaker high school, restorative justice is near and dear to my heart. The practice, often used as an alternative to stricter forms of punishment, focuses on reconciliation and rehabilitation rather than sending the offender to jail or shunning them from the community. Ideas of community consensus and collective action were drilled into my head by my educators, and when someone did wrong, instead of immediately expelling them, we tried to foster communication and understanding that would help everyone heal. However, any time this happened, the first step was always the same: the offender had to take responsibility for what they had done, and be actively trying to make amends. This was the only way to redemption.

Throughout the article, the author posits this theory again and again: redemption begins with the acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

But what is redemption? Who gives redemption? Does redemption imply a return to “normal life?” And, perhaps dangerously, is redemption always the point?

One of the most problematic pieces for me when considering redemption in regard to sexual assault is that the idea of redemption often centers whiteness and white innocence vis-à-vis a White Christological framework and purity culture.

There is a value system on whom we believe matter and whom we believe are innocent. There is a value system on whom “deserves” to be abused and those whom don’t. Legally, the Justice System values some people over others. It’s in the way we tell the stories. It’s who we believe is innocent. It’s whom we believe matters.

Think Nia Wilson and Mollie Tibbits.

Think Emmett Till.

Think Charlottesville 2017.

Think refugee children in cages.

And, how we learn to value other human beings remains deeply interconnected with our theology and how we understand whom deservessalvation.

To be candid, these tendencies pervade mainstream, Western theology. And, more often than not, whiteness becomes centered and intrinsically interconnected with the salvation message of Jesus. 

Indeed, theological ideology broadens our understanding of how whiteness “establish[es] and defend[s] who and what Whites can be, what others can and cannot do and/or be and what kind of feeling and action by others is allowed or disallowed in reference to Whites.”

It is plausible to suggest that mainstream, Westernized Christian theology as a social institution is positioned as a conduit through which whiteness is calculatingly preserved, fortified, and disseminated as superior.

Consider the ways in which society socializes and sexualizes young women in juxtaposition with the way in which the Church, particularly Conservative and Evangelical Churches, socialize young women with purity culture. While both are inherently problematic, these socialization tactics often center on a white framework by centering white values and white concepts of acceptability.

In her critical work, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School, Monique Morris offers this important insight:

As children are routinely told to “speak only when spoken to” in many cultures, so too were those who occupied the status of minors. To be a “minority,” a colored person, or a woman in this context was to bear the mark of subjugation and relative insignificance. Over time, this wound has deepened through invisibility, violence and objectification, and for Black girls who have lived in ways that align with and result from a castigated identity, the struggle to be a “good girl,” especially in the ghetto, is connected to performances of power.

For Black girls, to be “ghetto” represents a certain resilience to how poverty has shaped racial and gender oppression. To be “loud” is a demand to be heard. To have an “attitude” is to reject a doctrine of invisibility and mistreatment. To be flamboyant – or fabulous- is to revise the idea that socioeconomic isolation is equated with not having access to materially desirable things. To be a ghetto Black girl, then, is to reinvent what it means to be Black, poor, and female (19).

And, while Monique’s book is particularly geared towards the criminalization of black girls in regard to educational settings, I think that her book offers relevant truths which extend well beyond the reach of normative educational settings.

While certainly not a universal or monolithic verity, I have found that my experience as a black woman and as a sexual assault survivor includes finding ways to make myself look more credible. To look more palatable. To look more white/innocent. Because, I know, statistically, what happens to black women and girls in regard to sexual abuse and rape culture. And, I know that society still hasn’t found us redeemable.

I know that if, in my Predominately White Community, I communicate with my “white” English and wear my “white” clothes, that I will receive better service at the mall/doctor’s office/bank/grocery store.

I know that if I wear my “white” hair that I will receive more compliments at work andnobody will grab it.

And, I know that when I tell my stories of sexual assault which include black men as the perpetrator, people will roll their eyes because that is no longer a problem…that is just a “cultural issue.”

When I think about redemption and sexual assault, I find myself – more often than not – reflecting on pieces of my own story. I share the story below, un-analyzed and raw because I think it is important to understand the inherent problematic nature of how rape culture works. Of what voices become centered. Of how “reconciliation” isn’t always reconciliation. I truly believe that until we are able to understand how individual actions remain complicit with a larger rape culture framework, we will be destined to continue to perpetuate and abuse marginalized and vulnerable members of society. 

————————————–* Warning: Trigger Warning*————————————————

Whenever, I think of the #metoo movement in terms of redemption, I often remember something that happened to me back in June of 2009. That summer, like most summers during High School, I worked at Camp Deerpark as a Kitchen Assistant. Because my older brother worked at the camp full time, I often started work a few weeks earlier than the rest of the staff in order to help out with odd jobs. This particular summer was no different and, after a day of cleaning out art supplies, I decided to play some basketball with another staff member, Gerson.

Now, it may be important to note that during summer camp, summer staff were not supposed to be alone with members of the opposite sex. But, it wasn’t quite summer camp. And, the basketball courts were in full view of the main office and surrounding buildings. I figured I was safe.

So backstory: Gerson and I played basketball. I came down hard on my ankle – and I hobbled off the court, ready to make the long trek up the side of the mountain/hill to my brother’s cabin. Gerson picked me up and groped me. I yelled at him to put me down. When he finally does I tried to walk up the hill towards the main office. He followed me asking me “why are you trying to run away?” I walked through the Main Office building and out the back door to put away a paint bucket. I didn’t realize that Gerson was still following me, He followed me inside the shed before picking me up and groping me again. I scream and yell at him to stop, to put me down and to leave me alone before he finally puts me down. I continue my way to my cabin. Gerson continues to follow me up the hill. I report the incident to my brother. A few days later, I have a meeting with Admin. 
I will never forget the meeting with Admin (Ken Bontrager, Veronica Dingwall and Gerson). Mostly, because I took written notes and some transcripts of the meeting. To be fair, what is shared below is strictly from my notes: I thought that sharing a bit of what happened is important in order to understand how rape culture works.

*First, Ken asked Gerson if he knew why he was there and what he understood happened and if he did the things in which he was accused. Gerson said that he did but that he didn’t really think he did anything wrong.*
Ken: Gerson, do you understand where Boni is coming from?
Gerson *slouched, half smirking* yeah
Ken: Do you understand how she could think your hands were in inappropriate places?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Okay. did you pick Boni up in your arms?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: More than once?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Did you hear her tell you to stop and to put her down?
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Did you?
Gerson: After a while
Ken: After a while?
Gerson; Yeah
Ken: Veronica, help me out here. I’m not sure where to go. 
Veronica: *to Gerson* So what do you think about this?
Gerson: Um. I don’t know.
Veronica: What do you understand about this situation?
Gerson: That I was helping her up
Veronica: So you don’t feel like you did anything wrong?
Gerson: No, but I guess I did because you all are accusing me.
*Ken excuses himself to take a phone call*
Veronica: So how are you feeling then? You upset?
Gerson: No
Veronica: You look mad. I mean, if I was accused of something that I didn’t feel was wrong, I would be mad.
Gerson: Well, I’m feeling something…just not mad
Veronica: Okay, then what are you feeling?
Gerson: Not mad.
Veronica: Okay. Um
…..
Ken: How do you both feel about working here together this summer? Like, do you feel like you can both work here? Boni?

Me: …yeah
Ken: Gerson?
Gerson: Um. (slouches more, rubs eyes and rolls his eyes). I don’t know. Not really.
Veronica: Okay, why not? What do you feel? Awkward? Uncomfortable?
Gerson: Uncomfortable
Veronica: Why?
Gerson: I don’t know. I just do. *smiles*
Veronica: Why do you feel uncomfortable?
Gerson: I just do. *talking to me* what did you want outta this? An apology? What?!!
Me: I just want you to stop touching me….like, I want to be your friend. Just stop the touching.
….
Ken: *to Gerson* Now is the time to apologize
Gerson: *stares* *whisper* I’m sorry
Veronica: Speak up
Ken: Well, are you actually sorry? Don’t apologize for something you are not sorry for
Gerson: Okay
Ken: Are you sorry?
Gerson: Not really
Ken: But you can see where Boni is coming from
Gerson: Yeah
Ken: Well can you be sorry for what happened?
Gerson: I guess
Veronica: We are not out to get you here. Nobody’s thinking that you’re the bad guy
Gerson: *laughs*
Ken: So, you have the floor
Gerson: I’m sorry *smirks*
Ken: See, speak up. You have a beautiful voice. Everybody should hear that voice *laughs*
Veronica: Yeah, it’s a beautiful voice…
Ken: So, do we have peace?
Me: *small voice* sure
Gerson: *rolls his eyes, scowls* sure

Later that summer, Gerson was fired for groping a camper.
In my situation, Gerson wasn’t sorry. And, he explicitly articulated this.

And yet… nothing happened. Because nothing is normative in rape culture.

No one reported it to the Police. No one took it over Ken’s head.  

And, no one confronted Ken for his decision.

This story is inherently problematic for many reasons. Not all of which will I list or elaborate upon. And, its faulty argument aligns well with the disastrous and heinous assumption that there was equal blame, that there was equally “very fine people on both sides”.

While, I have chosen to name where the incident took place and the names of the person involved, I also recognize that telling this story does not simply change the larger culture. Kate Harding, in her critical book, Asking For It, offers this:

Rape culture manifests in a myriad ways…but its most devilish trick is to make the average, noncriminal person identify with the person accused, instead of the person reporting the crime. Rape culture encourages us to scrutinize victims’ stories for any evidence that they brought the violence onto themselves- and always to imagine ourselves in the terrifying role of Good Man, Falsely Accused, before we ‘rush to judgement.’

We’re not meant to picture ourselves in the role of drunk teenager at her first college party, thinking ‘Wow, he seems to think I’m pretty!’ or the woman who accepts a ride with a ‘nice guy,’ who’s generously offered to see her safely home from the bar. Or the girl who’s passed out in a room upstairs, while the party rages on below, so chaotic that her friends don’t even notice she’s gone.

When it comes to rape, if we’re expected to put ourselves in anyone else’s shoes at all, it’s the accused rapist’s. The questions that inevitably come along with “what was she wearing?” and ‘How much did she have to drink?’ are “what if there was no rape at all? What happens if she is lying? What happens to this poor slob she’s accusing? What if he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit?

This conceptualization of how rape culture works helps me to understand how this ideology pervades everyday life in addition to how rape culture functions as a site of public pedagogy.   

Does Gerson deserve redemption? Does Ken? Is that even the best question to ask?
The author of “The Problem with Redemption” would argue that they would not deserve redemption because neither of them provided an admission of guilt and/or wrongdoing.

And, while I would be inclined to agree that they do not deserve redemption, I find myself conflicted with the redemptive nature of Jesus Christ. What does redemption mean? 

Or maybe asking about redemption is the wrong question.

When I think back to myself as a 15-year-old, I often find myself resonating with feelings of anger, intense loneliness, hurt and betrayal. I felt voiceless and powerless and dirty. As a 25-year-old, I can now give voice to that 15-year-old. I can now speak truth for that 15-year-old in ways that I couldn’t then.

As a follower of Jesus and a sexual assault survivor, the idea of redemption has often been one of those topics that have been unsettlingly problematic for me.

I like Jesus. I like His ideology. And, I also find His message unsettlingly and startlingly forgiving.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Forgive. Pray for those whom persecute you.

I don’t know how to reconcile any of that with my experience.

I don’t know if I even want to.

As you know, as someone that is super Type A, I like to have answers. I like rules and regulations, and this messy stuff feels…messy.

So, I’m muddling through this redemption idea.

And maybe, if you’re muddling too, we can muddle along together.

Shalom always,