“Hit me and it’ll be the last thing you do.” I saw my father hit my mother one time. I was young, maybe 3 or 4. Previous to that moment, I had watched them fight only verbally. They would spar with words like boxers before a long awaited fight, ducking and dodging each others’ blows, some landing with fierce force and others just glazing and narrowly missing the tender skin of their face or neck. The one time I remember physical blows being exchanged, she went after him with a bat, the cops were called and I remember her saying that if a man or woman ever hit me, I had full permission from God above to beat them to within an inch of their life. They probably don’t remember this moment themselves, or maybe they don’t remember that I remember. It’s funny what sticks in a child’s brain, isn’t it?
How do we, keep ourselves safe in a world marked with active bombs ready to detonate at any minute? Maybe the bigger question, concerning the reality that black womxn are currently being killed at higher rates than anyone else in the United States, is how do I as a part of that targeted group, preserve my mental, physical and spiritual self in the midst of a war? Today’s topic is on the many forms of abuse that are slowly killing black and brown women in the world and how we maintain our selfhood in the midst of it all.
I didn’t think it would ever happen and so I didn’t think I would ever have anything to worry about. I also didn’t ever think that I would experience any kind of abuse. But as I grew older and first physical, followed by sexual, then on to emotional and secured by verbal abuse arrived into my innocent bubble of comfort, I realized that abuse is insidious and can take many forms. It makes me heartbroken to realize that my truth isn’t singular. So many of my black womxn peers have experienced the same and worse across boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity. Just as black men are guilty, so are other people. Domestic violence happens so often in queer relationships. Let’s not forget it.
I was in college when I discovered the writing of Pearl Cleage and her essay called “Mad at Miles”. In it, she talks about black men and women who were known abusers, mainly Miles Davis, but also including Bill Withers and even more. How is it that Pearl Cleage can write about so many forms of domestic abuse in 1975 and it still rings so true in 2017?
The idea for this post came from a bar in New Orleans. I sat and enjoyed the music being played until “Use Me” by Bill Withers was played. I stopped and my blood turned cold. I wondered if he had written the song after beating a fellow sister, or maybe after she left him, refusing to be continually abused by someone who claimed to love her unconditionally. As “Use Me” played on, I thought about what a cosmic oddity it was that I, a black queer woman could dance and enjoy this tune written by a man that would and could have easily beat me into submission before I could have ever enjoyed the loud and yet lilting sounds brought forth by black struggle.
In this week of approaching and now waning eclipse energy, I thought a lot about what it is to be a black womxn that is healthy, centered and working. If I don’t have my mental, psychological state in check, I can work all I like and make no headway at all. In order to thrive, I have to first establish my center, my groundedness, my spiritual self, my emotional well-being, etc. How often do fellow black women allow ourselves the space and time to self care? How often do we even get the time to evaluate? It may seem cliche, but it’s necessary. If we don’t put ourselves first, how can we hope to move forward? Black womxn have always been the background of movements here in the United States and elsewhere. Without us, there would be no past, present or future and yet we’re dying at higher rates. Black womxn are the most likely to be sexually assaulted, abducted and abused starting at younger and younger ages. How do we distinguish foe from friend?
Abuse isn’t always obvious. I do think that it comes in many forms and facets that may actually be difficult to spot and even harder to call out. I do think that it’s easier to approach abuse if I truly love myself. When I truly do care about my own investment in self and security, I can choose to truly engage with the best and worst parts of myself from balance while at the same time, choosing the best that I see in others who only mean me well and not ill. I choose to actively engage in self care and moments that speak to the best parts of my soul and reality.
The narrative isn’t that we’re victims. I don’t wish to bring forth energy that says that we all must pity the black womxn her plight. I want us to mobilize for black womxn like we do for black men. I want us to engage with the problematic and hurtful narrative that keeps vulnerability from entering a conversation honestly and openly. I want to talk openly about toxic masculinity, misogyny, and patriarchy that result in the emotional crippling of both black men and womxn in our communities. We can’t talk uplift until we talk unlearning.
Damali Speaks Xx