For Girls Asked to Participate in Communion: A Slam Poem

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s a Thursday when I get the email.
An invitation to participate as a communion attendant.
They would like me to hold the bread. My husband, the wine.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Please advise.

Please advise.

Will I hold the bread?
Please advise.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way?
Please advise.

It’s a Thursday when I get the email

Technically, I still have 3 days
To make a decision
Please advise.

I am 8 years old again.

It is my first communion After
He is still 16, After.
Still my cousin After
It wasn’t rape but this is After
It wasn’t assault but this is After
It was just a game: After.
Something we will laugh about
Later.

It is After and

We are at Church together and this is
Our first Communion Sunday After.
Our first Bread and Wine After.
First Transubstantiation After.
First Hunger and Thirst After.
First Here, take this bread After.
Here, take this body After.
Here, drink this wine After.
Here, taste this blood After.

I am 8 years old

And he is 16
And we are After.
Church clothes and Listerine mouths After
Forgetting what happened in the dark After.
Forgetting what happened in the night After.
Forgetting what happened
Because
This is
After.
  

After means please advise.

After, means willing and able to serve in this way.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Was I willing and ableto serve?
After means willing and able
After means willing and ableto climb into bed
Means willing and ableto play hide and go seek
Means willing and able
To hide
For a while in the dark
From monsters
From seekers
From communion drinkers using terms like
Willing and able.
From emails
That end with
Please advise.

This is After and it is Later.

This is After Later.
Later After.
Space and Time After.
17 years After.
And I have this email
And it is fucking Thirsty Thursday
And men are still thirsty.
And men are still hungry.

I know what it is like to be 8-year-old wine

On a Thursday night.
I know what it is like to be bread
Broken for men
             Broken for teeth
                           Broken for appetite

I know what it is like to be broken

By men with appetites.
I know what it is like to be drank
By thirsty men on
A First Communion After.
I know what it is like
To be sacrificed in church to men
With appetites more righteous than my own.
After all, who can blame a man that learned he can only be
Cleansed by broken bodies and blood?

Please advise.

I am 25 years old again.

I am sitting at a computer
And it is still After.
And it is still Later.
And it is still Thursday
And they are waiting.
Because this is After and Later and Now.


Now feels like Today but not.

Now feels like Today but still feels After.
Now feels like
An invitation to participate.
I participate Now.
I am married Now.
Now, I remember that this is Later After
And Later After can be Now and not
Can be Thirsty fucking Thursday
And frozen at a computer
And Okay and Not Okay
And After and Later and Now.

Now,

I am married to a man who only knows red wine
As a beverage.
As a pairing for meat -well done.
To a man
Who likes it when I bake fresh bread
To a man who
Eats bread with his wine
His teeth covered
In fresh homemade wheat
His throat coated in sweet red wine
He likes to drink wine
Before bed.
He likes to hold me before bed
He likes to eat before bed.

Men like to eat before bed.

But, he is different.

We are married
And this is a different kind of Communion
We are married
And this is After
This is Later
But Later still is After
And sometimes After still feels like
Now.

Please advise.

My therapist tells me that sometimes
Now and After will feel confusing
And don’t worry: this is normal.
These things are normal
Women drank too early are normal
Men who are too hungry
Are normal.
Because After is normal.
Because 8-year-old wine
Is normal for men with
Expensive appetites
Normal for men who dine
At communion
And resurrect in church clothes
3 days after Thirsty Thursdays.
3 days after a crucifixion
3 days After
Expecting a resurrection
Expecting redemption
Expecting communion
Technically, we are just broken bodies and blood.
Technically, this is normal,


Please advise.

It’s a Thursday when I get the email.

An invitation to participate as a communion attendant.
They would like me to hold the bread.
My husband, the wine.
Am I willing and able to serve in this way.
Please advise. 

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,

For Black Women Whom Are Considered Aggressive & Other Ruminations

Reading Time: 11 minutes

“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.” 
― 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah

I used to think about losing things a lot. Losing my job. Losing my friends. Losing my community. Losing my family. I convinced myself that if I could just stay quiet enough

 when the men came and…

 when the white people came and….

when the racist person came and…

I could protect myself. I could keep my head down. I could rely on English and a vernacular cultivated and handed down from adoptive ancestors so white you can trace them back pre-1840, pre the line where my black ancestors were just known as numbers, pre-colonialism and massacre and slavery and…me.

But, I kept losing sight of someone else.

Me.

This invisible woman. You can see me, but you can’t really see me. See, here is my face. See, here is my mouth. See, here are my legs. See, here are my hands. Can you see me?

Or, did you blink?

I have tested this theory, you see.

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

My voice said no.

Body tense,

Legs closed,

Arms raised.

My mouth said – I am a human. My body said, I am enough. I am enough. I am…

But.

They just kept on coming.

This black body never looked white flag

Never looked white house,

Never looked anything but

3rd world baby & white woman smile

Never looked anything but

Mud hut in need of aluminum

Never looked anything but

Ground ready for a snowstorm

Never looked anything but

This Cherokee African American

In need of colonialism

 See, I had convinced myself that if I could erase that tight feeling in my gut, if I could erase enough kinks in my hair, if I could erase my skin with bleaching creams, if I could erase my natural instinct to scream when the people touched my hair, touched my skin, touched my body…again and again…I would be able to somehow transform myself back into approval and acceptance and goodness.

The first time I was called the N word was in 3rd Grade. My white classmates and I were playing kickball, and I was dominating…. until I wasn’t. I stepped up to the plate to kick and a classmate yelled the N word.

When you think about balls deflating, it always seems as if they deflate just a little at first and then, suddenly, everything goes really fast.

You know, like that balloon that you meant to fill up but suddenly it is whooshing all over the room making those indelicate sounds that you know absolutely sound like a fart, but you never actually say because you are too busy staring at the ground wishing away your sudden interested audience.

I think that sometimes degradation works the same way. At 9, I didn’t know what the N word meant, but I remember thinking that it had to do with me and my skin and the way in which I was different. And, I knew different. As the youngest in a family of 8, different meant that when I wore hand me-downs to school, someone noticed. Different meant holey shoes and beads and braids and a backpack that wasn’t LLBean. I knew different. But, before – different was always monetary. That day, something deflated in me but, unlike balls that are often either trashed completely or found by some benevolent gym teacher and refilled, I didn’t bounce back. I wasn’t found by a benevolent anyone and refilled.

Instead, when I finally got home, I searched all of my parent’s dictionaries (yes this was the early 2000’s and the age of dial-up internet…or at least, the age of dial-up in our house) for the word. I remember climbing into my father’s office chair and spinning in circles, tears streaming down my face as my mother hurried into the living room.

I don’t remember what she said. Maybe it was a conglomeration of reasons why the word wasn’t in there. Maybe it was reassurances that I was enough. Maybe, it was all of the above. To be honest, the only thing that I remember was the beginning prick of my own black consciousness.

And, while I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate the concepts of my own double consciousness, I remember thinking about the imagery of a white woman holding a black child and the enduring continuitiesof racism.

How could I possibly be enough?

Growing up, we avoided those conversations. A mostly conservative farm family in rural, white America, living in the heart of the Lancaster County Bible Belt, we didn’t talk about racism or shootings or systemic oppression or Black History Month. We didn’t talk about police brutality or the invisibility of the black female body or how generational poverty creates a 7-generation inequity between impoverished white and black families.

We didn’t talk about why it was easier for strangers to assume that I was “fresh air” or a “poor African foster care kid” than a black girl from Philly. We didn’t talk about why white people asked me if I was a crack-baby, or if I could describe what living in the ghetto was like or if I was an orphan.   

We didn’t talk about how black women are usually regulated to three stereotypes: Jezebel, Sapphire and Mammy.  (Quick back history. A Jezebel is a fiery, overtly lascivious, sexually insatiable plaything. This stereotype was used as a justification for rape and sexual relations with white masters.,  The Sapphire is a fiesty, unabashed, always rude and loud angry black woman. She is a harsh nagger and displays irrational anger. She is a harsh critique of black women whom are vocal about systemic injustices and is a mechanism employed to punish black women that violate societal norms teaching them to be passive and docile and pleasant. The Mammy is the ideal enslaved person – she is happy to be a slave and she is often pictured as obese and well mannered. She enjoys the domestics and servile lifestyle. She is the caricature used for the Aunt Jemima and is the prominent figure on more the enduring racial caricatures of black women.)
We didn’t talk about the racist family members, the strangers that complimented me on my English and told my adoptive parents they were “saints, just saints,” or that looming, haunting terror that, perhaps, all adoptees experience of wondering when they will be left. Again.

I have made myself a policy not to tell other people’s stories in my space of writing, so I will not elaborate or speculate on the reasoning behind why those strategies and skills were not developed at a young age.

Instead, I hope to share a few examples of my own childhood and adult experiences in hopes to convey alternative suggestions in regard to teaching white fragility, racism and how white tears, particularly white women’s white tears, continue to propagate and perpetuate systemic and institutional racism and oppression.

First, white women are uniquely positioned in society as both oppressed and oppressors. As oppressors, they benefit from white supremacy and institutional and systemic racism. And, as women, they remain
subordinate to men in regard to –to name a few –  gender pay-gap inequities, employment contracts, 
health care benefits, etc., However, this duality remains unequivocally interconnected with white women’s ability to carry a perpetual “get out of jail free” card. 

While many POC’s can relate with mistreatment at the hands of a white woman, and while (some) white women are, perhaps, learning that not all tears matter, it is important to note the important historical framework of white supremacy and white tears. While, many racial justice advocates will use Emmett Till as a starting point when discussing white, female tears and racial violence, I think it is important to note that while white tears in conjunction with white supremacy can also be used to track multiple genocides and mass murders in the last 3 centuries, the behavior which supports white tears and supremacy is learned.  And, this behavior is learned at a young age.

Indeed, consider the following excerpts from bell hook’s “Ain’t I a Woman” in regard to power structures between white women and black women.

In Once a Slave, a book which contains a condensed body of information gleaned from slave narratives, the author Stanley Feldstein recounts an incident in which a white mistress returned home unexpectedly from an outing, opened the doors of her dressing room, and discovered her husband raping a thirteen year old slave girl. She responded by beating the girl and locking her in a smokehouse. The girl was whipped daily for several weeks. When older slaves pleaded on the child’s behalf and dared to suggest that the white master was to blame, the mistress simply replied, “She’ll know better in future. After I’ve done with her, she’ll never do the like again through ignorance.” White women held black slave women responsible for rape because they had been socialized by 19thcentury sexual morality to regard [black] woman as sexual temptress….” (pg. 37).

Or, considered this additional excerpt from “Ain’t I a Woman:”

…rape was not the only method used to terrorize and de-humanize black women. Sadistic floggings of naked black women were another method employed to strip the female slave of dignity…a Kentucky slave recalled: The women are subjected to thes punishments as rigorously as the men – not even pregnancy exempts them; in that case before binding them to the stake, a hold is made in the ground to accommodate the enlarged form of the victim.

…Yes sir, the most shocking thing that I have seen was on the plantation of Mr. Farrarby, on the line of the railroad. I went up to his house one morning from my work for drinking water, and heard a woman screaming awfully. On going up to the fence and looking over I saw a woman stretched out, face downwards, on the ground her hands and feet being fastened to stakes. Mr Farraryby was standing over her and striking her with a leather trace belonging to his carriage harness. As he struck her the flesh of her back and legs were raised in welts and ridges by the force of blows. Sometimes when the poor thing cried too loud from the pain Farrarby would kick her in the mouth. After he exhausted himself whipping her he sent to his house for sealing wax and a lighted candle and, melting the wax, dropped it upon the woman’s lacerated back. He then got a riding whip and, standing over the woman, picked of the hardened wax by switching at it. Mr. Farrarby’s grown daughters were looking at this from a window of the house through the blinds. This punishment was so terrible that I was induced to ask what offence the woman had committed and was told by her fellow servants that her only crime was in burning the edges of the waffles that she had cooked for breakfast.

It takes little imagination to comprehend the significance of one oppressed black woman being brutally tortured while the more privileged white women look passively at her plight” (pg. 38)

America has been sexualizing, demonizing and degrading black women for decades. And, while I will leave the black women/white women dichotomy for another post, it is critical to understand the historical interconnectivity between America’s contemporary framework and the roots of American racism. (If you want to brush up on this dichotomy, I would suggest here and here as some intermediate level resources).

America has been killing black children and black youth long before Emmett Till and continues to kill black children and youth today. From Ferguson to Flint, black children are killed, exposed to polluted water and disappeared in rapid numbers. 

And, while racism more often than not creates a POC body count, racism relies on latent strategies as much as it does on overt ones.

Do we always recognize them?

As a newly minted college freshman, I began to intentionally lean into my ever-emerging double consciousness. As a black woman, my identities fundamentally position me as a political figure both by nature of being black and woman but also by nature of being alive, black and woman.

And, I began to notice a trend. Something began to happen to me when I switched as an incoming 7thgrader from a private Montessori School to a Private Mennonite School. I knew something was different, but I couldn’t quite articulate it. Instead, I’d stand in line for Picture day, my hair pressed straight from hours of fighting with the hot iron to new classmate’s hands and laughter tugging and pulling and….poof, my curly afro emerged again like magic.

But they were just kidding.

Right?

I was the funny girl. The girl who you were “supposed” to be able to ask about slang. The girl you were “supposed” to ask about dance moves. The girl who was “supposed” to sing the gospel solos. The girl who…

was that weird black girl who wasn’t at good at basketball as they had hoped.

was that weird black girl who wasn’t as funny as they had imagined

was that weird black girl who never laughed at any of the Oreo jokes

In my predominately white high school, when I would manage to muster up enough courage to speak my own truth to power, I was labeled as mean and aggressive and, the ever-blossoming catch phrase: ratchet.

This compounded my own awkward inability to verbalize the lack of support I felt from my mostly white friend group. Friends support friends, right? Friends believed friends, right? Why did I have to articulate that being called ghetto wasn’t a compliment? Why did I have to verbalize that touching my hair required a verbalized agreement.

How could I be enough if I had to explain my “enough-ness?”

Once, when I approached a white male classmate, convinced by others that he seemed like he was interested in me, I was told that he and his other friends preferred “Swedish” girls instead.

And that was that. I never mustered the courage to ask him what that meant. My white girlfriends never questioned him because he was a Missionary Kid. He grew up in South Africa. He was supposed to be woke. He was supposed to be Jesus loving. He was supposed to…not be a racist.

Right?

Recently, I overheard my coworkers standing outside of my office with this adorable little conversation:

Becky1: So, what did you do this weekend?

Becky 2: I went to the Harrisburg Walmart. I love that store. I could spend all day there. I just find so many things there and I could watch the people there all day…so interesting.

Becky 1: *laughing* “You mean, you could watch the people in their pajamas and slippers all day. (another colleagues name) calls Walmart Scarymart. Ya know, because of all the Hispanics and the Blac – (looks in my direction) – I mean, city folks. You practically need a body guard when you go there…

Becky 2: *long pause*

Becky 1: Just kidding. I was just kidding *weak laughter*

Becky 2: Yeah, but it is pretty amazing what you can find, don’t you think?

 See, the way racism works is that it shows up in our conversations. It shows up in social circles. It shows up on our bookshelves and in our television and in our churches and in our politics. Racism is not relegated to cross burners and bedsheet wearers and Nazi lovers. Regular people chose to wear them. Regular people remained complicit

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

And, this still happens all the time. Consider the people you seek as truth tellers. Consider the people you consider as the “fake news” wielders. Consider the people you have on your bookshelf. Consider the people you listen to on the news. Consider whom you call aggressive and whom you call innocent.

Relying on a culmination of adolescent and adult experiences, I quickly learned that my voice and my body were often relegated to the sidelines in regard to racism and sexual harassment and sexism.

When the men came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the white people came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the racist person came and…verbally attacked me and sexually harassed me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

And, while these experiences are not specifically unique, I have found that these experiences have emboldened me to speak up and out regarding the unique positioning of black women and invisibility.

As a black woman, I am used to thinking about losing things. I think about losing my job. I think about losing my family. I think about losing my friends. I think about losing my church and my community.

But, I also know that as a black woman and as a follower of Jesus, I am convinced that I am empowered to use my voice in regard to racial and social justice. And, I am empowered to use my stories and experiences because I believe that truth telling and speaking truth to power are core tenants of what Christ has radically empowered to all whom choose to follow Him.

How often have I been forced to swallow my feelings in the workplace in order to allow room for white fragility?

How often have I been forced to apologize to a white woman utilizing white tears for her benefit?

How often have I been forced to keep silent in order to maintain the status quo?

How often have I lost myself? How often have other black women?

How often have you?

What if speaking up doesn’t mean losing anything? What if speaking up means finding someone?

And what if that person is great?

You probably know that catchphrase: and still she persisted. Maybe you find the phrase irritating. Maybe you have it glued above your bed, I don’t know. But, I have found that simple phrase to have so much power. Still she persisted. When I look back at my story and I notice the timeline and I notice all the details and elements, I notice a story of persistence. And, some days, I even notice a story of enough.

I wonder, when you look at your story, what you see. I wonder when we look at America’s story, what do we see? I wonder, when we look at when the men came and the racist person came and white person came…what do we see. Because, stories matter. The stories we tell, matter. And the stories that are yet to come, matter.

And, I hope that as we write this story of now, together. It will be the story with the happy ending. It will be the story of reconciliation. It will be the story that finally doesn’t end with…

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

But maybe, I’m just naive.

Or, maybe I’m not.

Here’s to hoping.