By Meta Commerse
Power is a hot potato. To grapple with supremacy, with the abuses of male power and privilege, white power and privilege and the various forms they take in our culture requires tenacious minds focused on these questions, minds able to see domestic violence broadly and as energy manifesting itself incrementally at levels we can thwart when we recognize and address it.
Today, we are challenged to assess the problem. We cannot know the full extent of the damage caused by sexual violence in our communities because of unreported cases, the untold stories that many survivors take to their graves. Learning about this emerging issue in the early ‘90s, I began to find statistics such as “3 in 5” were survivors. That sixty percent number was shocking! So, I decided to focus on the stories I could help midwife instead. As a Black Boomer, I have seen revelations of institutional abuse erupt from long held, systematic silence. These are institutions we once considered sacrosanct – our churches, schools and government. This problem of the abuse of power may be as old as human history but finally, we have a language for what women and children have endured since the beginning.
What we can know for sure is that, in our communities, we generally responded to pain that we knew about. We had a container, the ear of compassion of that designated mother on the block, that grandmother, the church nurse, church elder mother or spiritual advisor who would listen to and keep the stories we were able to tell. But with the sweeping change in our communities that replaced our collective sense and tradition of connectedness with destruction (drugs, mass incarceration, job loss and then licensed violence), our grassroots cup spilled over and our mounting, unresolved grief hemorrhaged. We have had no healing, but as if we were super human, as if we weren’t tired, we’ve been called resilient. As if we had some kind of built-in capacity to overcome any and every adverse life experience. As if the well of our brokenness didn’t need to be seen and understood because the expectation was that we would somehow manage to survive it.
Meanwhile, in the next generations, our awareness of violence moved from the family to the neighborhood and beyond. We became scholars in the subject of what ails our communities and we moved the conversations from the front porch and the church pew to healing circles, to private and group sessions, and now to social media platforms. We have heard the news that our stories matter, and we are telling them.
Tarana Burke is our chronological daughter in the struggle. Hers is the X Generation’s solid, strong response to our heartsick and power hungry world where we crave the medicine of violence prevention and healing. I’m grateful to be an elder in the conversation with Ms. Burke who stands on the shoulders of her elder mothers, and articulates her vision for a world “free of sexual violence.” Oh, that we Black Boomers had bestowed an abuse-free world to our black children, but the entrenched social systems and “norms” we inherited were too old and embedded in those very stubborn ways. Frederick Douglass once said that, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.” His are the sobering, wise words of the first generation of African Americans to call themselves free. His life demonstrated that gruesome, hard fought transition from the old ways and into the discovery of a new time.
I named this piece “MeToo Squared” because my abuser was also abused at the hands of Catholic priests. I chose to stand and “let the buck stop here” to end that cycle. I have lived to witness silence broken, healing begun, stories celebrated, and watch change slowly take place. I heard Krista Tippett (www.OnBeing.org) in a conversation that described the deep agitation and cognitive dissonance erupting in our social climate. The conversation touched upon the idea that all of our relationships are power-based, and that naming the abuses we have suffered asks us to re-imagine, rethink and redefine the nature of these relationships. This is the heavy lifting required in our “movement.” That conversation takes us back to our innate authority over our lives, reminds us that we do have a voice, a say in when, how, and who we love, how we identify, how power is wielded in our relationships and, most importantly, what power is. In our guts, we know that we have a right to be free and to see and call ourselves as more than “survivors” or even “victors” over trauma, violence, abuse and oppression. As human beings, yes, there is real life beyond surviving assault of every kind.
You must break silence! Your story matters! I pray in our collective awakening and recovery, that we learn these important lessons so well and dispense with the old ways of power and control/supremacy so that our children’s children will fully realize and share in Ms. Burke’s dream! Her dream is also our spiritual birthright, handed down from our ancestors.
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