I am pleased to announce that the following piece is now exhibiting at the Museum of Women's Resistance(MoWRe) in Brooklyn, NY. I'd recently discovered a call for letters from The BlackWomen's Blueprint, for the current exhibit at MoWRe (October 26-November 22, 2012) titled: Letters to Harriet: Conversations on John Tubman and the Private and Public Dimensions on Domestic Violence. Although this is only a brief synopsis of my experience with domestic violence and marital/spousal rape, I nevertheless jumped on the opportunity to tell my story, and thus, releasing some of the burden of memory (another way of saying that oppression has a lasting effect/impact), with the hope that I would help someone else who has suffered similarly.
My story is also politically motivated and parallels the intra/interpersonal and historical impact of slavery, for I believe that in many ways, men who abuse are slaves to patriarchy (as well as too willing to collude with the practice, privilege that patriarchy has afforded them). I realized after writing this that my abuser no longer had power over me, could no longer hurt me and create the kind of fear I'd held for such a long time after my departure from his physical abuse (the emotional fear was just as daunting and oppressive). This alone allowed me to breathe and be free!
May we all be free.
My Dearest Harriet,
How can I begin to tell you of the horror I’ve experienced, about my ephemeral (while seemingly endless) but unforgettable bondage in 1978…a most unforgiving act of control and torture that no woman should experience. Ever.
It is important that you know my story, that I share it with you and any black woman and girl who will listen…it is imperative that our journey is met with purpose and determination…that while underground (and aboveground) we begin the business that you, Sista Harriet, have initiated for all of us who’ve been slaves (and ultimately, survivors) to a brutal patriarchal system…I tell this story because it needs to be told and I need to write it because I need to be free from the memory that continues to enslave me.
I want you to know, Sista Harriet, that I am always ready…ready to join you (in honor of and in the spirit of your work) and all the other brave folk who desire their freedom, too. I know that our brothers need and want also to remove the mental chains that patriarchy has forced upon them, so these words are just as much for them because by resisting this evil practice they can take this journey in solidarity with us womenfolk…as long as they recognize, that they, too, are slaves, they are welcome to come…
You see, I was married to a man, who, in his warped and twisted worldview considered a marriage license a deed to my body, my mind, my spirit, all of which he intended to manipulate, exploit, and destroy. Yes, he was a man on a mission! Mislead by his beliefs. Bound by social constructs that have been fed to him like scraps to a dog. He was arrested by his ignorance, refused to use his intelligence to bail himself out of a prison that only existed ideologically. He totally and vigorously embraced male supremacy…he desired to be master and commander even though there were so many things he would never be able to control or navigate in this world, not as long as he refused to acknowledge and resist his own bondage… but he wanted to control me. He wanted to follow in the missteps of a long line of black men who thought abusing women gave them power. Did they not understand the power of solidarity, the power of love? Have they forgotten what the white slaveholders did to the black woman, and now they want to repeat it?
Unwittingly, the bus we’d both boarded that fateful summer in
had served as an auction block where
I was exposed and vulnerable. He appeared tall and cocky, a sign of trouble
that my young mind ignored. Yes, Sista
Moses, I was nineteen and naïve, but thought I knew it all. I didn’t.
Lord knows I didn’t. Chicago*
After a spell he proposed. I accepted too quickly. Intoxicated by the idea of becoming someone’s wife. What an awful hangover I would have—not the sweet love hangover that Diana Ross sang about. No. There were plenty of warnings, the writing on the concrete project walls of the Robert Taylor Homes** were graffiti—large, bold letters that said “GET OUT, NOW!” but like so many sistas, I believed he would change…that love conquers all. But, honey, you have to first have love, and love was not what I was getting. Not from that man. No ma’am.
|Robert Taylor Projects|
So off to the justice of the peace for a ceremony lacking either justice or peace. After vows to obey and honor a man I hardly knew, words that he took all too literal, he said, “You see this piece of paper?” pointing to the state approved document sanctioning his violence against me, “it means that I own you.”
I could tell that he totally believed that shit…I tell you I was in trouble. The war was about to begin and I would find no justice. Patriarchy has never been right. Never.
The price and road to freedom would be exorbitant and dangerous. He sought to colonize me, but honey, I was seeking emancipation! I thought to myself, “He must be out of his damn mind, no one owns me!” My rebellious and embryonic feminist nature began to rise like heat from a hot tin roof as I wondered just what the hell had I gotten myself into. Only a few blocks away from city hall where this gross miscarriage of justice took place he’d begun to exact his masculine tyranny. My enslavement began no sooner than the judge’s ink had dried.
Fear and intimidation was his only way of loving me. Terror was his whip and chain. His fists were always hard and brutal. He’d bring me to submission just before forcing himself upon me. Institutionalized marriage legitimized his constant physical, emotional and sexual assaults. “Open those legs, damn it,” he said with the promise of another lashing. “Suck my dick,” he’d command. I’d fearfully oblige, seeking to keep his blows to my head at bay. This wasn’t love, it was obsession. It was misogynistic mayhem. It was heterosexist harassment. It was a relationship lacking tenderness and compassion. He was my nightmare; the monster hiding in the closet. I realized what it must be like to be Harriet Jacobs. I had entered a “sad epoch in the life of a slave girl.”
Yes, slavery is far more terrible for women… He wanted to hurt me! He took pleasure in my suffering. Sista, this is not a life for anyone!
The abuse I suffered went on for several months. I would leave many times and come back because he would promise to change, promise not to hurt me. But like a man hell bent on fury, he would resume his brutal and sadistic ways. I grew tired from the shame, hiding my scars and bruises, the silence. I needed to tell someone. I needed to make public my private terror. When the abuse escalated to a point where I feared for my life, I told my sister, but asked her to keep my secret. She did not do this happily. In fact, she wanted to inflict upon him the same pain he’d inflicted upon me. I chose to deal with him in a non-violent way. He had imposed enough violence to last a lifetime. I knew I had to escape this life that was no life at all…I needed, wanted to survive. Victimhood was not the badge I desired to wear.
One day like any slave in their right mind, I ran away and didn’t look back. I was lucky to escape with my life. I embraced freedom and chose a different kind of love. Self-love. Oh, how I caressed my body. Kissed my hands. Gave thanks for a mind that was strong enough to know that I deserved better. Blessed my feet for moving me forward and out of bondage!
Thank you, Sista Harriet for leading the way. Your courageous act of defiance and resistance to the tyranny of slavery, in all its ugliness, has demonstrated strength, compassion, and dedication. But most of all you demonstrated love. Love is such a revolutionary act. And you are one of our greatest revolutionaries in herstory. You taught me that the quest for freedom is not just an individual one, but demands a collective effort. In writing this letter to you it is my wish that all of our sistas and brothas are liberated, that we all walk boldly together in our struggle to end domestic violence and patriarchal oppression.
Like your ancestory, our stories matter, too. Our lives matter. In the spirit of your journey may we continue loving ourselves whole and healthy and forever remain on the road to freedom.
In love and solidarity,
* This was where I met the man (on a Chicago Transit Authority--CTA bus) that later became my abuser.
** The projects we lived in briefly were known as the Robert Taylor Homes Projects in Chicago, no longer in existence, but was a kind of prison/slaveholding (concrete & metal cage) of sorts for low income black families.