Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Living in My Skin - Part 3

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.

In light of the R. Kelly cult allegations, I'm going to share a personal story that I've never shared publicly before. For years I was ashamed at my response to the situation because of  the message I received growing up. 

There were certain expectations to be upheld, and you did not do anything to embarrass yourself your family and your race. And then there was gender. There were good girls and bad girls. I was good and that meant that if I followed the rules, nothing bad would happen. 

It’s mind boggling how much of the responsibility to remain safe is put on the backs of girls. We are told that boys will be boys, and we learn early not to do anything that will make a boy be a boy. It is only as I have grown that I’ve learned how dangerous this type of thinking is. This is a disservice to both girls and boys. Girls cannot control the action of boys, and it’s hell on earth when boy and men are not responsible for their own actions.

If boys will be boys is always the answer when boys (or men) do harm, then who is there to protect girls (and women)? 

What seems like eons ago, I went to visit my friend in Atlanta. She is 12 years older, and at the time she bartended on the weekend. I was in my early 20s, so people in their 30s or beyond seemed old. So, my friend asked a guy friend of hers (he was older than me, but younger than her) to take me somewhere with a younger crowd. He said he had to go home and change his shirt. The club where we were going had a dress code. Men had to have shirts with collars. He was wearing a t-shirt. 

Me? I was dressed to go out. I had on a form-fitting black dress with the shoulders out—much like the current trend in ladies tops and dressed. I had on black high-heeled pumps and my hair was on point. I looked good if I have to say so myself.

Riding in the car talking, out of nowhere he says, “How do you know I won't rape you? There is a baby-past the due date pregnant pause in the car as I gather my thoughts. 

“Cause I lift weights,” I reply.

“You bi sexual?” 


I can't say I even understood what bi sexual means or why I say it. My sexual experience is very limited. It sounds silly as I think back.

 “You just a shit talker from Chicago.” 

We laugh and continue driving. I push How you know I won't rape you? down in my mind. My friend knows him. She wouldn't let me go out with a rapist. Would she?

This is the time before cell phones. I don’t know the name of the club where she works nor do I know her phone number to the club. We get to the house. I don't even think to just stay in the car. I'm safe . . I think.

We go in. He asks if I want to come in the back while he irons his shirt. I decline and sit on the couch in the living room. A few minutes later, a key turns in the front door and three men walk in. They look at me and me at them. We exchange hellos and they go into the back. 

How you know I won't rape you? plays on repeat in my mind and I cannot move. My heart thumps loudly in my ears. I hear my date saying that he and I are going to a club. How you know I won't rape you?  When faced with fear the fight, flee or freeze reaction seizes me. And I am frozen where I sit. They talk for a couple of minutes and then they leave. He and I leave and go to the club. We have a decent time, but I don't forget his words. They hang in the air. 

Only by the Grace of God did I not end up raped and or murdered. I trusted my friend but she couldn't vouch for this man's character. How well did she know him? Had something horrible happened to me, fingers would have pointed at me. I would have been judged for what I was wearing. Judged for being out with a man I didn’t know. Judged for being young and na├»ve. Judged for being a young Black woman.

I'm reminded of incidents over the years with girls and women whose story had a different ending. There was the young woman who shared her story in a workshop. She was standing on the bus stop and a guy she knew pulled up and asked her where she was going. He said he'd drop her off, but he had a stop to make first. When they arrived, she said she'd stay in the car. He said it was too cold for her to sit in the car, she went in with him. There was a group of men waiting in the apartment. She said about 10 guys took turns raping her. At some point, she said it was as if her spirit left her body and watched the horror happening to her.

There is the young woman who came to talk to my students about rape. She was a survivor and was willing to tell her story. My students sat in silence as she relayed not 1, not 2, but three instances of acquaintance rape, and each time she blamed herself. There was the mother of one of my students who was raped twice. She believes that if you don't get the help you need when you are sexually abused, you open up the door for it to happen again. When she was seven, she was raped by her friends' brother. She said she didn't have words to explain this man's penis inside her. She didn't tell. One day, she and the girls--his sisters were playing--and one of them said, "Tell him you got your period." The next time he came for her, that's what she said and he never bothered her again. He was a predator. His sisters, and their friends and God only knows who else were his victims.

I don't share these stories to for shock value. I share these stories because I want you to know what Black women and girls are up against in this world. 

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