Ten years ago.
I got out of…I broke up with…I ended an…
Deep breath in. Maybe I can’t tell that story in full force just yet. Maybe instead I need to pick up at what it still means for me now.
Ten days ago. Dec. 15, 2014. It’s Monday morning and I’m riding the T to a meeting about preventing HIV transmission among young black men who have sex with men, and black trans youth. Still waking up, I scroll through Facebook.
I see a blog post by Isobel Debrujah titled “Dear White Women.” I am a white woman. I am trying to do anti-racist work and to center the lives of people of color and to understand the effects of my own white privilege. So I follow the link. Isobel writes about victim blaming, how she hears white women blaming black men for being killed by police violence.
Isobel calls upon the trauma history of her reader:
“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least some of the people reading this have been in abusive relationships. Because you know 60 percent of women have.”
She guides the reader through the pathways of memory back to the core of that experience. As I was reading, my body tightened around my iPhone and I felt dizzy. And I don’t blame the Green Line for my dizziness.
“Now remember what your abuser said to you.”
I’m going back to it now.
Isobel shares her own experience of being abused by an intimate partner:
“I stayed for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason was gas-lighting. I bought in to the idea that my understanding of relationships—that they should be based on shared respect and autonomy, on valuing the basic humanity of your partner and working together toward a better life—was wrong. I allowed myself to be convinced that I was misremembering every snide remark, every deliberately hurtful action, every dollar spent to keep us poor and desperate.
“And I stayed, just like you. Not only did I stay, I tried to be less provocative. I tried to be what he wanted me to be because I believed that it would stop if I could just figure out the magical formula that would make me acceptable and respectable.”
She walks through other hallmarks of being abused by an intimate partner: “The moments when you felt like you couldn’t take it anymore but did,” and “The moment when you were done.”
Throughout the piece, she explicitly compares an abuser’s behavior with structural racism against black people:
“Not abusive is the absolute minimum that a person should be able to reasonably expect from an interaction with another human. This applies to relationships between individuals and interactions between the society and the citizens that make up that society.”
I deserve better in my loving relationships. And black people deserve better from America.
Isobel sharing her own experience illustrates that these issues are not parallel—so many people are abused by intimate partners and are also victims of structural racism, such as police violence. Particularly black women. Particularly trans women of color.
Many of these women are leaders of the present movement. It was queer black women who started the #BlackLivesMatter platform after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Alicia Garza, one of those women, writes:
“Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
“Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes….Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”
That is why the Boston Jewish community, organized mostly by white Jews in partnership with Jews of Color, joined 15 #ChanukahAction mobilizations organized across the U.S. in response to a call from Ferguson to challenge anti-black racism and white supremacy in all our communities. The goal of the protest was to disrupt business as usual until the people of Ferguson’s demands are met.’
“This demonstration means a lot to me and my Jewish family of color,” said Atarah McCoy, 17, who spoke at the end of the rally. “I’m hoping the Jewish community will join me to stand against the police brutality against African Americans, which we have all seen in the media.”
I can’t find a conclusion to this piece because we are so in the middle of all of it. I point you instead to the words of young black women like Atarah, speaking and writing against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Against these systems of dehumanization and these daily patterns of violence. Keep reading, keep listening. Keep cheering for revolutionary love.