Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Living in My Skin - Part 2

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As a Black woman in a racist, sexist environment living in my skin has been burdensome this lately. It feels heavy and hot like I am walking around on a 90 degree day wearing a fur coat; I am suffocating. The mistreatment of us disturbs me. In light of things happening recently, I had to contemplate what it means to live in my skin. I went back into my archives and found pieces I had written about sexual abuse in the Black community.  The articles go back to 2009 but the issues are constant. Much of what I’ve written has remained the same. I only updated where I thought necessary. It is my goal to disrupt the dominant narrative that exists in our society around the devaluation of Black women and girls. We are not promiscuous gold diggers using our bodies as currency to get ahead. We are not “fast” “hot” “sassy” “thots” “hoes “or any of the other derogative terms used to dismiss us as sexual beings and make us sexual objects. We are not perfect. Like everyone else, we make mistakes.  And like everyone else, we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We deserve to be valued. We are, after all worthy human beings, too. This a three-part essay series. I will publish a new essay every day for the next three days. Please feel free to comment on any of the essays that resonate with you. Thank you for reading and sharing your most valuable commodity—time—with me. 

Essay #2 April 2012
Even today, I am haunted by an incident that happened during my first year as a teacher. We were having a basketball game and I was the holding room for the students who were not attending the game; we were going to watch a movie. One of the girls came into the room with a glazed-over look on her face, but she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I asked her if she’d write it down, and she nodded.

Through a series of notes I learned that she had ditched school the previous day to have sex with her boyfriend, another student at our school. It was to be her first sexual experience, and it was to occur at his friend’s house near the school so that she could get back to school by dismissal and go home without anyone--other than the friends that were in on it--being none the wiser. It all planned out, but when she got to the house there were three boys instead of two. She changed her mind and wanted leave.

The boyfriend raped (her words, not mine) her while the other two watched. After it was over, she wandered around in the neighborhood until it was time to go back to school. She went home, but did not tell anyone about what happened until she told me.

I explained to her that the incident had to be reported and though she cried, not once did she recant or change her story. The police were called, the boys were taken into custody, but the charges were dropped. The grandmother said that whatever happened, her granddaughter wanted to happen. The girl was transferred to another school. Over the years I have always wondered what happened to her. If she ever found herself in a compromising situation, and felt that had no right to say no.

I know what that’s like. Although I wasn’t raped, I was coerced into a sexual liaison that I did not want to happen. About a month or so following the death of my father I had gone out with this guy for the second time even though he vexed my spirit. There was something about him that bothered me, nagged at me, but I ignore it. I should have known something was wrong when we stopped by his mother’s house and he said his brother and some friends were in the basement watching pornography, and asked if I wanted to watch. I said no.

We were looking at photos on the piano and there was a picture of his father and he started talking about his father and I burst out crying. He led me to a back bedroom and pulled me into an embrace. What I mistook for consolation quickly turned into seduction. Next thing I knew, he was kissing me and touching me. I told him to stop. He did, but had a hissy fit about how I was leading him on and I was grown woman . . . yada, yada, yada. At that point I just wanted to go home, and I thought if I had sex with him, I could just go home. There were other people in the house, but it didn’t occur to me to yell at him. I thought having sex with him was my ticket home. I have no idea as to why I reacted the way I did, and for a long time I was ashamed because I thought I had done something wrong. But now I share this story with the hope that someone else can a) learn from my mistake b) be more empathetic to the plight of young women who find themselves in compromising situations.

These stories come tumbling back to me all the time—at a workshop on rape in trainings on sexual trafficking. I listen to women sharing their stories of being raped and sexually assaulted by family members, friends and strangers. These women were like so many other girls, women and even men whose coming-of-age narratives including navigating the terrains of sexual assault by known and unknown assailants.

The stories are endless, and the abused does not have a face. The face of sexual assault can belong to any of us. We have seen a number of celebrities share their stores as well, but not much changes with how with deal with sexual abuse in the black community. What’s most unfortunate is that those that are abused-as children or adults-are silenced into shame because issues of sexual abuse are shrouded in secrecy.

We’re afraid to admit that we not only do we know the prey, but the predator as well. So, we choose to either act as though it didn’t happen or else we blame the victim. When another student wrote a letter to me saying that her uncle was creeping into her bed and forcing her to have sex with him, her grandmother came to see me and told me that she knew her son didn’t do that. I explained to the grandmother that I am a mandated reporter, and it is not my place to decide if allegations are true or not; I am required to call the Department of Children and Family Services if a child tells me that they are being sexually abused.

Though April is designated National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we need to work collectively every day to end the horrific practice of sexual assault and abuse in our communities. If you, or someone you know is being abused, please call this toll free number: 1-800-565-HOPE. If you want to help, please volunteer to organizations working to combat sexual abuse. Here are two: RAINN and GEMS Something else you can do is go to iTunes and download Patterson’s, Don’t Touch Me a song in which the proceeds will go to sexual assault and abuse survivors.

Sexual assault and molestation will never stop unless we stop looking at as a taboo topic. It’s time to talk. And it’s a call to action.

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