Bodies of water
Bodies of water
Bodies of water
I’m at that point again where I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m screaming for help but I’m probably not. And there are people I love who I am so much more worried about than I am about myself, and there are communities in peril and there is so much pressure to continue with business as usual and I can’t seem to continue with business as usual and I also can’t seem to fully figure out how to not. How to just not. I don’t know.
Today is the third anniversary of #concussion2014, and I marked it in my calendar to remind myself of this random, out-of-nowhere injury. What’s striking for me as I reflect this year is that I wasn’t even choosing to take a risk.
I spend a lot of my time talking about risk, the importance of choosing risk, and the ways in which we can negotiate risk. In sexual activity, in friendships, in activism. We have many opportunities to step into risk and to manage risks for ourselves and each other.
But I wasn’t taking any particular risks that day. I was simply pursuing pleasure – I was taking risks only insofar as daily life is risky. Or, in the way that daily life used to be risky. Until this year, as my life in 2017 laughs at my life in 2014. As I sit inside my apartment in Charlottesville still wondering about the risks of walking alone to the grocery store, still wondering about being recognized by white supremacists or confronted or followed home. But then, why hold myself back from the simple pleasures of life now, just because I am aware of the presence of risk right now, when even back in 2014 I incurred severe consequences for everyday activity without being prepared for risk at all?
I was just swimming in a pond. Not swimming alone. Not swimming at night. Not swimming under the influence. Just swimming. Then an unleashed dog jumped off the dock and landed on my head. Boom. Concussion. Two months medical leave.
Most of the other traumas I had incurred up to that point were in the context of something I already knew to be risky: being alone in a room with a heterosexual boy/man. I had made those choices. I was not to blame for what happened in those rooms, but I knew there were risks, just as I now know there are risks in walking alone in Charlottesville. Even if I feel strongly that neither risk is just – it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone in a room with a man who claims to love me, and it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone on the streets of a city who claims to care. But I know the injustice, and I know the risk, and I get to make choices within those contexts.
I don’t know. It just sucks. I think I’m writing about it now because I am trying to get myself to leave my apartment to go get groceries. Or I’m writing about it now because trauma triggers trauma, and my head hurts. Or because when I’m on edge and angry and ready to yell at people, I find myself wanting to yell at people who are in public places with their dogs off leash. Yelling at those people is quite socially unacceptable, particularly in Charlottesville. Even when directed at entitled white men. I really want to, though.
I don’t know. It just sucks. Maybe some things just suck.
This feels like dying
and being born
in the same moment.
This feels like everything
I’ve been preparing for
and nothing I’ve ever imagined.
This feels like love
deeper than I knew I was capable of
and hate stronger than anyone should ever have to bear.
This feels like an urgent crisis
that’s been stirring for centuries,
and a whisper of truth
defined by lies.
This feels like it’s not my contradiction to name
though I cannot remain silent,
and like I’m filled with doubt
while my conviction carries on.
This feels like pain,
screaming in anguish,
with the promise
deep love with which to thrive.
This feels like something I need you to know,
but it is dangerous to explain.
This feels like something you could help with,
but you have other things to do.
This feels like the most crucial thing
and a major distraction.
This feels like an intentional choice
and a sharp left turn.
This feels like everything is on the line,
and maybe that’s the point.
This feels like it could work,
and I can help, so I do.
This feels like leveraging privilege
and losing so much,
like I can’t turn back now
– I won’t up and leave.
This feels far beyond me
and completely personal.
This feels real,
and I’m here,
and I’m in it,
and I’ll stay.
However you get your news, I hope you came across the Mama’s Day Bail Out action. It was covered here and here and here and here and more here. It happened in Atlanta and Durham and Brooklyn and Los Angeles and beyond. It started with the leadership of Mary Hooks, a Black lesbian who is the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), organizing LGBTQ folks in the South across race and class lines. SONG is also a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, a collective of over 50 organizations, several of whom responded to SONG’s call to #FreeBlackMamas. The call was to bail out Black mamas – lesbian, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming caregivers and mothers who may not have given birth – who would otherwise be in a cell because of their inability to afford and pay bail. Over 100 Black mamas were bailed out, welcomed home, and connected to community resources by Mother’s Day, thanks to organizing efforts across the United States.
Money bail is a practice in which people who are arrested are held in jail unless they can pay a set amount of money, just how much money ranges enormously, and $100 or $100,000 can each be prohibitive for different people in different situations. An average of 700,000 people per day are encaged before trial solely because they cannot pay the amount set for them by the court. And even people who post bail often do so through for-profit bail bond companies, who charge a fee, which means less cash up front but losing the right to get that money back at trial. This is the racialized criminalization and exploitation of poverty. Pre-trial incarceration has catastrophic human impacts.
There are so many thoughts, feelings, and stories I could share about this action, but three things in particular I want to highlight in the context of SRA.
First: freeing Black mamas is directly related to the thriving of Black adolescents. The system of money bail keeps caretakers from their families and communities, puts mothers at risk of losing their jobs or their housing or having their children sent to foster care, causes additional harm and trauma for the person incarcerated, and offers young people a world in which a person without access to cash is denied innocence and can be held in jail before trial, before being convicted of any criminalized activity. The racist system of criminalization and incarceration attacks individuals, families, communities daily. Many people have said this and said it better than I can. Listen to Black women. Listen to Black youth. Learn about the impact of systematic criminalization and incarceration, and about money bail practices in particular.
Second: what really moves me about this action is its URGENCY and its specificity. As researchers, we play the long game. We invest years of time and resources in grant writing, background reading, data collection, data analysis, paper writing, peer review, and publication… and then barely leave time for translation, dissemination, and application. What the Mama’s Day Bail Out did was address the urgent needs of specific people right now. AND it was organized in such a way as to strategically magnify long-game organizing efforts to end money bail and confront the mass incarceration of Black people.
I want to urge you to action, and I also want to urge you to act with care. Particularly for my fellow White researchers, we rarely (if ever) are going to know how to appropriately and effectively respond to the atrocities of historic and contemporary White supremacist systems. So here’s takeaway number three: Build relationships and invest in community organizing that is led by and accountable to People of Color. Keep your eyes on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table – know their platform and know the organizations involved. Know the folks who are doing the work in your communities. Build trust, and see what they need. And remember that, as a White person, whether I’m an academic or an activist or a friend or whatever support roles I’m able to play, my opinion on how Black women are working to free themselves and each other is not important. So if you are ready to take action, with care, and ready to see what Black women and mamas and families need from you, then listen. When people tell you what they need, believe them, and do what they say.
I bring you back to the words of Mary Hooks, SONG Co-Director: “Our vision of prison abolition, our vision of a world where people can have dignity and safety and no cages and no prisons, now seems a hundred years away. Even further away. Our people need hope right now. It’s also a way for our people who have realized that we’re in a long, long trajectory of struggle for liberation to embody our vision of the world we’re trying to create right now.”
A coworker made a casually negative “joke” about divorce during a meeting today, and it stung. I found myself getting lost in my own thoughts about how I hadn’t told her that I’m divorced, and how many times I’ve wanted to tell her, and what will it be like now if I do tell her, and would it feel better or worse if she’d already known in this moment and made that comment anyway?
This is what microaggressions do. They make us feel like we can’t exist fully in shared space. We who do not fit your norm. We who represent your deepest insecurities. We who defy your assumptions.
We know this. I’m not just saying this about myself. I’m saying this as someone who studies humans, and relationships, and families. I’m saying this as someone who loves humans, and relationships, and families. I’m saying this because we know it’s true.
And yet, I get it. For people who get married, divorce is this threat looming the entire time. Some people think divorce is a sin, or have religious beliefs that create great barriers to divorce. Some people really love their spouse and get a lot of joy from marriage and struggle with the vulnerability that this joyous partnership may end. Some people are really invested in the future they have imagined with this person, and the safety and security the relationship brings them, and the possibility of losing that scares them. It could tear. It could break. It could crumble. Shatter. Disintegrate. Sizzle. Fall apart. Burn to the ground.
I use this string of images intentionally because there are many ways that relationships end, and they all feel different. Me, I felt like shattered glass. Like my torso was full of shards.
Just because it’s not the worst possible outcome doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
It is painful. And you know what made it even more painful? The immense shame. That after months of spinning round the narratives in my head – and in our culture – that told me I had failed. I was bad. I was bad at relationships. (Which hurt even more because relationships are core to my professional work, aka the context where this microaggression came up today, yada yada yada).
It is painful. It’s so painful, that you want to believe it won’t happen to you. So you defend yourself against it happening to you by separating yourself from the people it does happen to. Or like – hello – maybe it doesn’t even “happen” to them so passively. Maybe they choose it. Maybe they navigate their way through it. Maybe it’s the best of what they can figure out for themselves and their loved ones at the time.
So, to my dear married folks who have every right to have all kinds of feelings about this, here is what I ask of you:
Because I am trying to live my life with as much truth and power as I can muster, and I hope you’re doing the same.
I first need to name what I am afraid of.
I am afraid of hurting you. I am afraid that the hurt inside me will become aggression, need, demand, overwhelm, that I will push and pull and tear and break. I am afraid of hurling my trauma around irrevocably and causing more trauma. I am afraid of repeating the cycle of violence.
I am afraid of leaving you. I am afraid of changing my mind, of not being sure, of wanting more, or wanting less, or not wanting the same thing. I am afraid of all my imperfections, and of your imperfections, and of the inevitable scrapes and scratches we endure as we try to fit together like the puzzle pieces we aren’t. I am afraid it won’t work.
And I’m afraid for myself. I am afraid for my reputation, for what people will say, or not say, or see, or not see. I am afraid of being seen as sexual, of my sexuality being seen as hurtful (because it might be). I am afraid of being seen as emotional, as messy, for all my trauma and all my defenses and all my mistakes and mistakes and mistakes. I am afraid of shame.
What would I do if I weren’t afraid?
Ask if I could kiss you.
It’s that simple.
We are taught to tell the story of Passover as if each of us individually were enslaved in Egypt, and each of us individually were liberated. In that way, the work of dismantling white supremacy calls on each of us to realize we are personally implicated. It is not enough to agree with the idea of equality. Judaism consistently asks us to go beyond beliefs into action. Tonight, we ask ourselves about our own actions—and we also ask the friends, family and community gathered together at the seder about our collective actions. Situated within the racial history and racial hierarchy of the U.S., we start with questions about anti-black racism.
1. What are we doing to pursue the Movement for Black Lives platform?
The good news about doing anti-racist actions in the U.S. is that we don’t have to guess about what needs to be done. The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against black people and communities. The platform is divided into six sets of demands: end the war on black people; reparations; invest-divest; economic justice; community control; and political power. Each specific demand includes local, state and federal policy recommendations. Where do you have influence? What can you do to ensure that we, collectively, meet these demands?
2. What are we doing to support black trans women?
Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen are seven transgender women of color known to have been murdered this year alone (by the time we are writing this in March 2017). Five of them were black. And there are countless more black trans women who are still alive. What are you doing to support them? They are creating beautiful art and running amazing advocacy organizations and building fiercely loving relationships and need money and jobs and housing and health care and need to not be killed by acts of racist-transmisogynist violence. They need to not be dehumanized. Trans women are women and black trans lives matter.
3. What are we doing to follow the leadership of black women and femmes?
Trust black women. This includes black trans women. This includes black femmes, as in people who embody femininity, feminine expression and/or femme identity. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—three black women. Tamika Mallory is a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. Ayanna Pressley has served on the Boston City Council since 2009. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Angela Davis. So many more. Listen when they speak, take in their words and push yourself to do what they are asking of you. When was the last time you did something that black women asked you to do? What are the black women in your community asking you to do? What are Jewish black women asking you to do?
Good news again—there is still plenty of guidance out there, in this case particularly for white folks trying to answer the above questions. Check this out, by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, two black women activists: “Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Box memberships are a way to not only financially support black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” Money raised from monthly subscriptions goes to individual black women and femmes working for black liberation. How can white people step into the roles black people are asking us to fill? What would it take for you to sign up for Safety Pin Box?
4. What are we ready to risk?
Ava DuVernay (another brilliant black woman) in her documentary “13th” highlights that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, “except as punishment for a crime.” As we tell the story of our own liberation from slavery, we see too that mass incarceration is slavery, and it is racial violence. Police brutality, vigilante murders and the criminalization of protests, immigration and addiction are all part of this system of abuse and control. When we say “Never again,” how can we mean it if it’s happening right now? Race-based violence is so deeply woven into our social structures that we need to deeply change our social structures in order to end race-based violence. That means now. That means urgently.
What will you put on the line to demand these changes? How much time, energy and money will you contribute? Are you willing to risk relationships to call people out on racism? Are you willing to risk your reputation within your field or workplace? For white folks, are you willing to risk the layers of safety that come with whiteness? Supporting black people means risking all that comes with the whiteness status that Ashkenazi Jews have gained. It means using power and privilege to advance goals perhaps alien to your own. What does whiteness mean to you, how does it shape your life and what will it take to leverage its power? Are you willing to risk your body by showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest? Are you willing to risk your own individual life goals? What will it look like for you to make racial justice a priority?
We have this narrative. This narrative brings through many aspects of Jewish history, not just Purim. This is the narrative: They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.
First of all, not all of us survived. We survived as a people—there remained such a thing as “Jews”—but not all our people made it through. In the Purim story, we had to fight back, and there was a battle.
Now, people are already not making it through. Many are claiming, “We will survive the Trump administration,” and that’s just not necessarily true…not for all of us.
Let’s examine this hope of survival. When we celebrate Purim, we spin the narrative that we survived because Esther revealed herself. Because there was someone on the inside, someone well positioned to directly influence the people in power, who was one of us, and took the risk of coming out and speaking up.
We survived because Esther revealed herself.
But what if there is no Esther?
We’re told to talk to our relatives who voted for Trump. We don’t have any relatives who voted for Trump. Do you? Are you talking to your relatives?
Are you Esther?
But Esther would talk directly to Trump.
Who is talking to Trump?
Bannon. Bannon is talking to Trump. So there’s certainly a Haman in the White House.
What if there is no Esther?
What is the false comfort we draw from the Purim narrative? That there is always someone in the inner circle who will risk their life to stop evil. That there is someone on the inside who is actually on our side.
Have you had that fantasy? That they will all retire, strike, come out…stop this?
Maybe you were looking to Clinton or Obama or Sanders or Warren or McCain or Romney to stop it cold, to not let him take power. Maybe you were looking to the Electoral College. Maybe you got excited about the rogue NASA Twitter account and the rogue White House staff account and thought maybe, maybe they will throw a wrench in it and undermine the whole operation.
There is no one on the inside who is magically going to get us out of this.
This is not a simple switch in mindset. This means action. This means we actually have to do something. And taking action is going to take a lot of intention and effort.
And if there is no Esther, if there is no singular primary shero, we need all of us to be in it together as deeply and broadly as possible. We need to be fighting a heck of a lot harder than we are right now.
Alternating between mocking and manipulative platitudes.
These are all aspects of intimate partner abuse. Or, to speak in terms of adolescents, tactics of teen dating violence. This is what I study and teach about – what I work to prevent, understand, and address. This is something I’ve lived through, too.
I never thought it would be so politically relevant.
There is so much that is not normal that is coming out of the White House right now. The discriminatory posturing from the campaign trail is turning into actual discriminatory policies. What I’m talking about is not just those specific policies but the comprehensive pattern of behavior towards entire segments of the population (including scientists and academics). Repeatedly, survivors of domestic abuse and other abusive relationships have spoken up about the ways in which they are triggered and traumatized by Trump’s bullying, lying, victim-blaming, and other forms of psychological manipulation and devastation.
So from educators, organizers, researchers, and people who themselves have lived through these experiences – here are five ways we can use knowledge about surviving abusive relationships to guide our collective resilience in 2017.
1. Don’t blame – Recognize abuse of power for what it is.
When harm occurs, the people responsible for that harm are the ones who chose to use their power to exert undue control. This harm can include grief, fear, loss of resources, loss of security, injury, and death. Don’t blame the victims. No one deserves to be hurt. Keep the focus on the ones causing harm – and don’t let them off the hook.
2. Don’t gaslight – Believe people’s reports of their own experiences.
Gaslighting is an abusive tactic that denies a person’s experience of reality until that person can no longer trust their own truth. When people are getting hurt, or when people are scared of getting hurt, we must believe them. Even if we can’t see it, and we can’t imagine their fear or anger or distress being warranted in this moment. The psychological effects of abuse and trauma may seem like overreactions to people who aren’t living within that experience, but they are not overreactions. To best take care of each other, we need to first believe each other, and bear witness to the painful nuances of what is happening.
3. Don’t numb out – Name your feelings, and engage in active coping.
I’m asking you to stick with the hard stuff. We live in a world where fear, anger, abuse, and trauma are real every day, and we’re going to need ways to feel as much of it as possible. Naming difficult emotions helps us accept and move through them. Journaling, taking physical care of ourselves, and finding others to give and receive care with, can help us build our capacity to hold and live with these difficult feelings. Emotions carry important information about how we are doing and how other people are doing. We can’t ignore these signals – we must feel, and respond.
4. Don’t isolate – Reach out and connect with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
Isolation makes us even more vulnerable to psychological control and emotional despair. Avoiding blame and avoiding gaslighting are all about making space to actually listen. Paying attention to our emotions lets us share our emotions with each other. Talk to people about your truth and your feelings. Name what you see. Hear their feelings. Hear what they see. Be willing to hear more from people around you and notice more about other people’s experiences than you have before. Refuse to normalize – and insist on caring about all of it.
5. Don’t bargain – Hold firm boundaries around what is okay and what is not okay.
It’s insidious. Abuse is so unreasonable, and it’s so hard to believe that doing reasonable things will not lead to reasonable outcomes. “If I could only…” or “if I did it right next time then…” will not work. There is nothing we can do to change the behavior of an abusive person. We will want to think we have figured it out, but we haven’t. Holding boundaries is the primary thing that will get us out. We cannot end the abuse – we can only resist control.
One more thing that helped me, and that has helped many young people, is understanding how abusive relationships are produced through oppressive social systems. Patriarchy, racism, and imperialism are all systems of abuse in which power is used to exert undue control over others. We can work together to address abuse – from preventing teen dating violence to curbing this spiral of political violence – by ending these systems of oppression. And we can only get to ending these systems of oppression if we know how to survive the psychological abuse perpetrated through them.
The speakers at the Women’s March on Washington called clearly for intersectional movement building. Following the leadership of Women of Color is not an abstract directive. Here are 25 Black Women and Black queer people whose work I will read, watch, listen to, respond to, and be accountable to:
And I will also follow #Our100 Women of Color leaders for the first 100 days of this dangerous federal administration. I am deeply grateful for this leadership.