Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Act of Betrayal: Watching the Ray and Janay Rice Video

I watched the Ray and Janay Rice video and I wish I hadn’t.

 I was only vaguely familiar with the elevator incident and the subsequent uproar over the measly two-day suspension because I don’t follow football. But it was a trending topic in my news feed, so I clicked on the video. 

Shocked and horrified by what I saw, did not make me stop watching. I viewed the video in its entirety. As I followed the story, it hit me that I had actively participated in the re-victimization of Janay. I was what Sandra Hawkins Diaz described as a “voyeuristic bystander “to Janay’s abuse. And I didn’t have to be. I didn’t gain anything from clicking on the video. I’ve witnessed intimate partner violence a few times in my life, and each time I was sickened by what I saw. I always called the police. 

Once a young woman was trying to run away, and I allowed her to seek refuge in my house until the police arrived. It was a harrowing experience because her boyfriend was a gang banger, and they were standing outside of my apartment building trying to figure out which apartment she went into. A week later, I saw her with her abuser at the movies. I looked at her, shook my head, but didn’t say anything. I was mad that I had allowed her drama to cross my doorstep, and she was back with him. I would later learn that it takes an average of 6 or 7 times before the abused can leave their abuser.

I’m not in a position to question why anyone stays in a relationship. What the final straw is for me is not the final straw for someone else and vice-versa. Years ago, I was reading a book about he down low, and the author explained that women can be financially bound to accept certain things that other women who are no financially dependent don’t have to accept. It was a an eye opener for me because prior to him breaking down the role that finances play in domestic situations, I just didn’t understand why women stayed with men who were not good for them. I control my purse strings, so I have more leverage than a woman who does not.

Age and experience are teaching me to seek understanding more, and to judge less. I still have work to do, but I am moving in the right direction. It’s challenging to be in the world, but not of the world, but it’s not impossible. Because everybody else does it, is never a reason to take part in something that is morally wrong to me. Regardless of what goes on around me, I have to draw my own line in the sand that I won’t cross. And clicking on violent videos of assaults, fights etc. are not something that I need to see.

In her article, Why You Shouldn’t Watch the Ray Rice Video, Diaz raises the question: “Why would we want to watch a woman be violated, humiliated, devalued, brutalized and abused?”  It wasn’t necessary for me to view the video to understand what took place. But like so many others, I allowed a morbid sense of curiosity to cloud my better judgment. Hannah Giorgis, writing for The Guardian said, “That we feel entitled (and excited) to be entranced by the looks of domestic violence speaks not only about the man who battered her, but also about we who engage in parasitic rapture. We click and consume and carry on.”
As an African-American woman in America, I understand public consumption. Our bodies have never been ours to own. From day one, we have been disrespected and disregarded in every way possible. We are not recognized as valued members of the human race. Our culture favors rich and powerful men, and this case is no different. It’s money, not morals that makes the world turn. The NFL’s actions were more about damage control than genuine concern for its player or his wife. It’s disturbing how many people have judged this situation on money. There are those who feel that the penalty of being fired and banned is too steep a price to pay especially since his “gold digging” fiancĂ© at the time married him a month later. It’s always about the money, and that’s pretty damn sad. 

The spotlight maybe on the NFL and its mishandling of the incident, but this is bigger than the black-eye on the NFL for which it will recover. This is a gut-wrenching punch to our collective consciousness and the way we handle intimate partner violence. Our moral compass is awry. Too often we are willing to overlook certain things involving money and/or celebrities, and we are just lacking in our basic compassion for humanity. We are gawkers and vultures of all things displayed in a public stage. We don’t even pretend to look away when we know that by looking we don’t have anything to gain.

According to statistics, 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence every year and a disportinate number of them are African-American women. One in four women will be a victim in her life time, so these means that most of us have been touched by intimate partner violence in some way: we are the abused; we know the abused; we know the abusers. And yet we stand in a glass house and throw stones in this situation.

What happened in the elevator was terrible, and what’s even more terrifying is that too many of believe that we have a right to watch how things went down. I am owning up to my wrong doing, and I deeply regret that I participated in an act of disrespect of a battered woman’s body especially a woman of color who has no rights that the world respects. There is no excuse for that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Before Homosexuals Were Gay

When I was growing up “gay” meant happy, and homosexual people were dykes and sissies. Though they were described as “funny” there was no humor in the plight of people on the wrong side of the sexual track. We live in a world of binaries—Black or White, Gay or Straight etc. with no room for anything in between. And what I’ve also learned over the years is that these divisions also denote the degree of acceptability and define what is considered the norm. 

I confess: I didn't know much about gay people. There were no struggling or openly gay people in my family, and if I had any gay friends, I didn’t know it. So, what I knew about homosexuality was from a distance. There was my childhood friend's flamboyant uncle with the blonde Afro who taught us how to really twirl a sparkler on the 4th of July holiday. He would grab a lighted sparkler and twirl it while gyrating his hips, and he would tell us, “You twist it this way and you twist it that way.” He was funny—really! Then there were the whispered rumors of the gay boys in high school. Homosexuals existed on the fringes of my heterosexual life, so I never really gave much thought to what it meant to be anything other than straight in a culture steeped in homophobia. 

In college, all of that changed. The head of the journalism department at my school was gay. I remember snickering at the scarves that he tied around his neck and speculating about his sexuality. It had nothing to do with him as a person, but everything to do with my narrow perspective. One day he invited some speakers to one of our classes to talk to us about gay and lesbian rights. I remember this young White woman sharing her story with us. She said that when she came out to her parents they disowned her. This woman--who I didn’t know—changed my life. I am from a close-knit family, and I could not imagine cutting myself off from any of them because of their sexuality.

As long as gay people stay in the closet, straight people don’t care. But as soon as the door opens and they step out or are forced out, we have a problem. Straight people's problem with gay people is what they do sexually. Straight people want to be voyeurs in the lives of gay people, but we want to believe there’s something wrong with them; I’m confused. When it is revealed that a famous person is gay, it’s still news. And when a gay person does something for the first time, it’s news. Why? Gay people have been around since the beginning of time, and we’re still acting like any sexuality other than heterosexuality is brand new. 

Lately, I keep finding myself engaging in conversations about homosexuality that are getting under my skin. I met a guy online and we were talking about youth, and the conversation meandered its way around to their sexuality, and he said he would not accept his child telling him he or she was gay. I told him that in my experience as a teacher of adolescents, I didn’t see as a choice. He, a student of theology, told me that he could show it to me in scripture, and I told him not to bother. We never made it out on a date because he said I was feisty—a trait that men find undesirable.  (That’s another post!)

The family of a gay man in Tampa, Florida had his funeral abruptly canceled when the minister of the hosting church found out that the man was gay. The minister of the church preaches against homosexuality. The recent hoopla around, Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay football player is ridiculous. The stories of rampant homophobia still exist in the 21st century, and that’s our shame.

I’m tired of Christians trying to prove to me that gay people are on the express elevator to hell. From my limited understanding of the Bible, if it’s sin that sends us to hell, I know a whole bunch a people waiting for the same elevator, and they’re not gay. Gay people did not fall out of the sky; they were not created in a lab experiment. They are our family and friends. They are our co-workers and neighbors. They belong to us.
 In the book Sexual Healing one of the characters is trying to explain his changing sexuality to his ex-wife, and he says sexuality is fluid. That has stayed with me over the years. We evolve as people, but we think sexuality is stagnant. How is that? I’ve never had so sex so good that it would make me turn away from my family or my church or anything else of major importance in my life.  So, when that woman talked about being disowned by her family, I knew that sexuality is so much bigger than sex! 

I don’t know why people are gay any more than I know why they’re Black or brown or tall or short. It’s just a part of who they are. I knew then that if I ever learned that someone I loved was gay, I wouldn’t love them any less. And I don’t. Gay people are no longer on the fringes of my life, but an integral part of my circle of life. Being straight doesn’t give me the right to tell anyone who to love or how to love. Heterosexism and privilege are real, so to help me keep mine in check, I try and remember these five points:

1. What two consenting adults do is none of my business. 

2. I don't need to speculate on anyone's sexuality. If I don't wonder who's straight, why do I need to know who’s gay?
3. Gay and pedophiles are not one in the same. There are plenty of heterosexual perverts harming children.
4. Gay people are not people who were hurt in straight relationships. If that were the case, there wouldn't be in heteretosexual people left in the world.
5. If homosexuality is a flaw of some sort, who among us is flawless?
 Religious conviction is not a justification for the mistreatment of anyone. Treating people with dignity and respect is ALWAYS the right thing to do.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Hickey (A Trip on the Short Bus)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how often we climb aboard the short bus of relationships. Many of us like to believe that we're smart. And in most areas of our life, we are. But we can lose any sense of sanity when it comes to love relationships. We're on the short bus because we need extra special attention. Our brains become rewired or even unwired when it comes to Love, Lust and Like. Something happens, and we can't sort out what appears to be obvious to everybody else. So, we have to climb aboard, take a seat and learn the lesson that we couldn't otherwise get. Periodically, this blog will take a short bus ride. So, settle in and weigh in on the lessons learned on the short bus of relationships.

When I was 15, I met a boy. He was gorgeous. He had big, liquid brown eyes that pulled you into his him. And into him was where I wanted to be. He wanted to date me and me him. But there was one problem: my no nonsense mother had already told me I could not date until I turned 16 which was only months away in real time but an eternity in my 15 year-old mind! What was a lust struck teenager supposed to do? So, I begged and pleaded with my middle sister to intervene on my behalf. Of my three sisters, she was my best ally. If anyone could reason with my mother on my behalf, it was her. My sister talked to my mother and she relented. Yes! I could date. And, the good-looking guy with the mesmerizing brown eyes became mine.

We were the same age which meant he didn’t drive. So, “dating” consisted of him coming over to my house every Saturday and us sitting in the front room watching TV. He was the first boy I kissed up against the wall in the hall. One Saturday, I got my mother to allow us to go on a date to the movies. It wasn’t really a date, date. It was a group of friends going to the show, and she was ok with that. There were four friends—me, my guy, my friend and his friend. And I had to talk my friend into going because without her, nothing was happening. 

Life was good! I had a boyfriend and we progressed from kissing to groping and grinding, then I pumped my breaks. I liked him a lot, but I liked living even better! I was taking a risk kissing on her couch, so you know nothing else was happening. I had pulled off the amazing feat of having a boyfriend before the appointed time, so I was not going to take a chance of getting on my mother’s bad side. He didn’t pressure me, so I thought things were fine. Wrong!

One Saturday, he showed up with a hickey on his neck! And that son of a biscuit eater didn’t even try to hide it. Since he was MY boyfriend and he had a passion mark on his neck and I didn't put it there--I was never into broadcasting my business or marking territory so that wasn't my thing (giving or getting)--we had to have THE TALK. The weird thing is I don’t remember much except seeing the hickey and having my feelings hurt that MY beautiful, brown-eyed boyfriend CHEATED on me. What’s especially funny to me is that the hickey wasn’t a deal breaker. I didn’t put him out of my house or break up the relationship. I “punished” him by actually making him watch TV. I have thought about that incident over the years, and to this day I don’t know why his behavior was acceptable to me. But what I have learned is that it was the first of many rides on the short bus of relationships.

I thought by talking it out that I was being mature. I'm not the one to scream and yell in relationships. It wasn't my thing at 16, and it’s not my thing as an adult. I prefer peace to drama any day.  But my “maturity” doesn’t make me any less stupid. Sometimes those of us with the most intellect are the absolute worse when it comes to navigating relationships. What happens is people tell us we're smart and they seek our advice, and we're actually good at rationalizing and analyzing everyone else's relationship drama. But we fail to realize that rational thought is run over by the wheels of the bus when it comes to affairs of OUR hearts. And that’s when we know the short bus is parked in front of our house waiting for us. Have you ever taken a ride on the short bus of relationships? Do share in the comments section. I’d love to hear.