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,

Things They Never Tell You: 12 Thoughts on Interracial Relationships

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the past few months since I wrote “Things They Never Tell You: 25 Thoughts” I have received a number of requests to write about what it is like to be in a interracial marriage, so I compiled a short list.

One

When you dare to hold hands. Outside. In public. Fingers sweat soaked and tangling, feet stumbling over gum crusted, crackling sidewalk, strangers will stop and stare. Eyes watching you as your hands suddenly find lint-crusted pockets, a corner of a sleeve, a phone, anything but another hand. He won’t say anything when you suddenly walk, just a little slower. Too far away to be together. Too close to be a total stranger. He will just, wait for you at the light. You will just keep your eyes down. Until, you can be alone again.

Two

When the Police come, and he is driving you will wonder if he knows the rules.
Wonder if he can hear your heart beating out of its skin. 
Wonder why he tells you “it will be okay.”
Wonder why his hand is already moving to pat your leg.
Wonder why he isn’t stock still.

Wonder why he isn’t heartbeat and sweat and panic.
Wonder why he is reaching for the insurance and his wallet before the police even come to the door. 

The police can see him moving from their vehicle. The police can see him moving – white lion, white body, white skin and blonde hair and blue eyes and innocent over you, black body and black hair and your black,black,black.

And, you wonder if he knows that he will be okay. That he will come out of this alive. That he will come out of this still in one piece. That he will come out of this with just a warning. That he will come out of this okay.

When the police come and they stand on your side and they ask you for your license and they look at him and ask him about you. 

You will wonder if he notices.

You were not the one driving. You are just passenger. But you are still under suspicion. Still investigatable. Still black in car with white man. 

You will wonder if the words, “she’s my wife,” saves you or condemns you.

You will wonder if you should thank White Jesus or Black Jesus that today you are still breathing and alive and one piece.

When the police come and give a warning, and he shifts car back into life and speed and body, you will breathe and he will ask you if you are okay. You will just nod your head. And breathe “okay” like a prayer as you look out the window and cry. Okay.

Three

Cute babies. You will make such cute babies someday, a stranger announces. Cute babies. As if your relational diversity was made solely for procreation. You will wonder who is the stranger with your voice that nods back and says, “thank you.”

Four

Hope for the future was not Obama.

Hope for the future is walking together.

Hope for the future is walking and holding hands together.

Hope for the future is walking and holding hands together to the end of the block.

Some days, there will only be hope for a half a block.

Some days, the block doesn’t even have a chance.

Some days, you march the whole damn block back and forth, hands gripped so tightly your fingers turn American flag –red, white and blue, your body turns soldier, your voice turns freedom.

This block don’t own you, today.  

Five

*When your friends wonder, without always saying it, if you feel like he is colonizing your body, fetishizing your skin, exerting his imperialism in every “let me show to my friends,”
“babe, I love you,” “let me do your hair,” “let me kiss you here,”
you too will start to wonder it.

You will start to ask the questions. You will start to ask if white people and black people can really be just people, together, only to have him rub cocoa butter on your feet and ask for nothing in return.

When he says, “damn, you are so beautiful,” you will hear the word enough slipped in like a song, you will feel enough when he tells you to wear your hair natural, you will feel enough, enough, enough.

***Loosely quoted from, “The Troubles of Interracial Dating” by Taylor Seaburg***

Six

Every family has a Becky. If you haven’t met her yet…you will.

Seven

“Are you two together?”

Eight

When it’s time to have the conversation. Again. For the onetwothreefourfivesixseventh time.

Breathe.

While he is sitting there, wondering what is wrong while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, remind yourself of your truth.

Remind yourself of your commitment to intentional, sustainable, relationship.

Remind yourself that your voice matters.

Remind yourself that choosing to ignore it will just lead to resentment.

Remind yourself that you will survive.

Remind yourself.

And breathe.

Nine

It is not always your job to educate.

It is not always your job to educate.

It is not always your job to educate.

Ten

Sometimes, after that family dinner, after that ‘is this little racial experience over yet,’ after that ‘I love Trump’ tirade, after that, ‘please-excuse-them’ eyes, after that white silence/white silence/white silence, you will wonder if this is what you signed up for.

You will wonder if this is what it means to be accepted, to be integrated, to be happily colorblind in order to sacrifice your actual safety for white comfort.

You will wonder if this is what it means to love a white person – Jesus prayers and potluck with a sprinkle of racism.

Eleven

When you toss around baby names. Be sure to toss around ‘strong’ names. Something like John or Charles or Steven. Something like Matthew or Mark or Jason. Something like Elizabeth or Annie. Something white. Something innocent and culturally ambiguous. Something easy to pronounce. Something alive.

Twelve

When he catches you reading the news. Your face betraying your grief, your lips committing new names to your memory: Trayvon; Sandra; Walter; Erica; you will wait for his touch.

You will wait for his words.

You will wait for his white, white, white, to clean the black.

Instead, he will surprise you.: let yourself be surprised!

When he sits down next to you, hands folded in his lap, eyes, shimmering, lips moving as he whispers: “I love you.” “You are enough.” You will hold onto him, feeling your breaths together as you breathe in silence – together, and enough.

Odd Woman Out

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Have you seen those shirts that say something like, “Black, Petty & Educated?” It’s kind of a trend now to be considered petty – or, at least to own your pettiness. I don’t know if there is a shirt that says “White, Petty & Educated…” (side chuckle), but if there is one… (well, I’ll keep that thought to myself).
Anyways, the whole thing with pettiness is that if you can do it “correctly,” you can be quite popular. It’s this odd juxtaposition that allows you to keep immaturity a centrality simply because your self-aware enough to promote it. Funny, right?
Gunny and, ironically enough, petty.
If you are anything like me, maybe you had the pleasure of having friends that started off the majority of their sentences with something like this:
                “Hey, slut”     “Hey, loser”        “Hey, freaks”      “Hey, fatties”     “Hey, bitch”

It was one of those things girls do, right? No big deal. And, besides, if you said anything there would be that extra label across your forehead: SENSITIVE. Nobody, wants to be friends with the sensitive, can’t take a “joke” type of girl, so you’d deal with it…and internalize it…and say nothing. Until now.

I remember that my counselors would always advise saying something to the girl…but then you are the angry girl. Girl’s aren’t supposed to be angry. And, if you did decide to go that route – you would also lose your friends. The threat of becoming a social outcast far outweighed any emotional abuse. Especially, because, you know, girls are supposed to be nice. During an all-girls health class, our teacher specifically said something like this: “well, you girls are just so nice and stuff, that we already know you don’t fight…” There was this expectation that because we were girls, (and attended a Mennonite School) that all of the things that might affect “unsaved” girls, wouldn’t affect us. We couldn’t be petty and mean and aggressive because we all loved Jesus. Right?
I mean, Christian girls didn’t curse, or have premarital sex or get drunk or lie or steal or gossip. And, because this was the narrative, subsequent intentional administrative blindness was logical. You can’t see something your narrative doesn’t enforce.
But, all that was in the past, right? I mean, I graduated High School. Why does it even matter? Why bring up the past? Well, let’s start with two stories, and go from there.
It was one of those High School events that everyone went to, regardless of their interest level in the particular activity. You know, guys who you know only were into video games somehow came out of the basements because well, the need for a high school social community is ludicrously imperative.

Well, this particularly stupid High School Event was an ice-hockey game. I hate ice-hockey. I played field hockey, and it never felt quite right to me that guy’s got to play it on ice and girls were stuck with a hot, scratchy field. (Actually, that still kinda irritates me, but that is beside the point). The point is that I went with some girlfriends of mine, and I got stuck sitting next to a popular clique. I knew some of the girls in the clique better than others, and I could feel them staring at me and whispering when we sat down. (Here is not the time to say something like, “well how do you know they were talking about you?” Girls know when someone is talking. You just do). 

These particular girls were adept at appearing innocent while simultaneously being your worst nightmare. That night, I was not their target. Another classmate of mine was because he had acne. The ring leader, let’s call her Anna, couldn’t stop talking about him all night, and I still remember what she said about how disgustingly ugly he was and how she just kept him around because she didn’t want to be mean, because I confronted one of her friends about it later…and she told Anna…and Anna made it her mission to destroy me.

But, she was the innocent one, you know. Because, she never said anything. I just made things up. I just lied because I was jealous. I just…wanted attention.
And wouldn’t you know it? All of my friends from that particular group stopped talking to me. It’s been 7 years.

Okay. Boohoo. Sad story. Yeah, I’ve heard everything from get over it to send her a letter and talk about it to stop bringing up the past. And, to be honest. I’ve moved on. I could say all of those trite little motivational pieces like, “I’m stronger now,” “she has nothing that I want…” etc.,
Except. They wouldn’t be entirely true. There is this ridiculous (and I hesitate to dub it this) girl magic that happens that when there is conflict, because somebody ends up being at fault. And usually, it is the victim.
So, classic manipulation tactics, right? But for some reason, this is the girls’ best friend and worst enemy. I’d bet that we’ve all used it to some degree or another. Maybe you’ve pulled the silent treatment…or maybe you’ve been subjugated to it.
Somehow, it all ends up the same. Somebody whispers,
“Are you mad at me?”
And somebody says, “no.”
Because, you know, girls don’t fight.
Enter story two. Present time. Navigating the crafty world of catty adults.
Donuts. Salad-loving, yogurt-only-eating women in an office. Oh, and me. You already know that I went for that donut. Not once. But lunch also loves a donut. So yeah, I went twice. I will own that.
And I’m guessing you already see the scenario…me, entering the office to get one…later coming back for a second…
And the watchful eyes.
And the comments.
Oh wait. The comments were delayed by a day. The next day when I went to eat salad for lunch, the comments started.
“Oh, I see you are eating a salad today. Is that to make up for the second donut you had yesterday?”
Okay. So maybe I’m blowing a gasket over nothing. The question was simple enough, right? No cattiness involved. And after all, these women are over fifty years of age and are a (C.h, a C.h.r.i.s.t.i.a.n…you’re welcome for that song now stuck in your head, you’re welcome). So, what to do? And what to do with all the comments for the rest of the year. You know the ones. “Oh….(long pause)….you’re eating again.” Or, “don’t you ever stop eating?” or, my favorite: “Oh, looks like you decided on a healthy choice today…”

Side note: never underestimate the power of going for a long, long walk into nature. And screaming. Releases tension.
So what to do? I’m not in High School. I don’t care what other people think…right? I’m adulting now! I am self-aware and responsible and…scared. Again.
Nobody can make me feel small, right?
But women go for each other’s throats, right?
They go for the weaknesses we try to hide. They go after the weight and the skin and the stutter and the tooth that is missing because you broke it trying to impress a boy.
They go for blood.
I’ve learned that women of all ages are insecure. It’s scary to celebrate one another’s successes. Actually, for real, it is hard to celebrate one another. But, I’m convinced that we can.
It’s hard to step out there and risk it. To draw your proverbial line in the sand and say, “this will happen NO MORE.” It’s hard, because we know the risks. But, what about the gain?
It’s easy to body shame, s—shame, and victim shame. It’s easy to hate and to hide behind lipstick smiles and false pretenses.
That’s easy.
And, I’m done with the easy stuff.
Now, if you excuse me, I have a few bullies to slay.
(And maybe a few donuts too).

Peace always, (and curious regarding your own stories)
B