Thursday, September 18, 2014

I am Janay Rice

In the past week, I  have written two drafts of something I thought I wanted to say about being the survivor of domestic abuse, about acknowledging myself as Janay Rice.

It also seemed like I could not say what I wanted to say because my children are still alive, because, because, because the words may seem opportunistic, jumping on the reporting bandwagon of all the other articles written, or because it is a shame I still carry.

My story is not unlike that of other women.

Abusers of any sort - rapists, child murders, physical abusers, sexual abusers, emotional abusers, financial abusers - never come with a sign on at the first date saying that you will experience all those things dating, courting, or being married to them.  These were things that happened to me in my life.

The writer, teacher, scholar in me sought a definition.  I went to the Centers for Disease Control who bring the definition more closely to what it is - intimate partner violence.

It was against a backdrop of experiencing being the preacher's daughter and boldly divorcing  my husband after one year of marriage when I thought I would never talk about it again.  It only happened once, him putting his hands on me, but I was young and fierce and determined that would not be my fate, I chase him out of our home, immediately moved, and filed for divorce.  He has since apologized for his youthful explosion and reconciled with the beautiful son we created and whose life he missed out on.

Fast forward five years, I'd been happily single and celibate (for all the saved folks who read this).  I remarried only to marry a nightmare.  We did all the right things, courted, did not engage in sexual activity, talked about our lives, he met my sons, we married.  Shortly thereafter, the power struggle, control and demands for  my "submission" as a "Christian wife" ensued to the degree of him raping me, hurting my sons, locking us out of our home, and me fleeing to another state. He has never met the beautiful son we created and I don't know if he is dead or alive.

When the story of Janay Rice and Abuse Victim Self-Blame and all the other abuse victims surfaced, the painful memories flooded back, the shame I carry in Christendom of being twice divorced and of not being "submissive" enough that I "caused my husband" to do those things to me.  Yes, those were real comments and thoughts presented to me when at 30 years old I once again found myself being a single (and yes, celibate) mother of sons.

Black women are not afforded the same concessions or support when trying to leave abusive relationships.

I was fortunate in both instances to be independently financially secure.  I had the resources to start over and never received public aid, lived without child support, never relied on government assistance, and was educated enough to be able to work full-time in a promising field.

All women of domestic violence are not able to do that, especially stay-at-home mothers who are most vulnerable to the financial abuse that Kerry Washington and the Purple Purse Program is advocating.

Financial abuse is one of the most often experienced by women in middle-to-upper income households where the husband is making the majority of the income, or where the family is in a conservative Christian household that demands the woman's submission.  This type of abuse is even more prevalent if there are young children that she is taking care of and also as a result of the economic recession.

Black women also are the least heard voices in reporting sexual or physical abuse.  Even reporting to the police is problematic, like Daniel Holtzclaw and the Police Sexual Assault of Black Women story has revealed. It is always assumed that we are sexually wanton, that we are "asking for it" simply because of the natural sway of our hips when we walk. Even the 2008/2009 story of a little 12 year old girl assaulted by 5 Texas plainclothes police and accused of being  prostitute is another scar black women bear in terms of our personhood. It has even reached into Hollywood with the recent reporting of the 12 Years A Slave actress handcuffed and accused of being a prostitute while she was with her husband.  These erode the black woman's trust to seek authorities to help her escape a domestic violence situation.  The police, as we've seen with Ferguson, are not exactly advocates for black people, period.

The church has often failed in this area, black and white congregations, and some black church turn a blind eye to the conversation.  Black women that are married victims are often shamed for not being sexy enough, for not praying enough, for not fasting enough, for not doing whatever it is - putting his purple shirt in the dry cleaners, for example - that would set him off in a rage that results in her further shame.

When I was seeking help, I was once told to go to a shelter but that I would be separated from my children.

I once went to a pastor and a couple deacons who overheard the conversation went and told my husband, who promptly gave me a tongue lashing.

Terry Loving in her blog, Spiritual Side of Domestic Violence, has been writing and shedding light on this from the black woman's perspective.  It is comforting, after years of trying to have something more than "I will pray for you sister," to finally have the issue discussed in the broader church.  Praying will not stop the partner from engaging in the power, control, manipulation, and coercion that is the daily experience of abuse victims.

There are some, however, who have been writing and researching the unique aspect of intimate partner violence in the black community.  Lynda Marie Jordan's white paper is one such reporting that reaches beyond the sensational headlines and breaks out the issue as it relates to people of color.

The issues of domestic violence reach into every part of the country regardless of race, creed, religion, and income.  It is so prevalent that even the Asian community has pulled back the veil of this secret occurrence and allowed a glimpse into what these women experience.

Power and control, these are the weapons of any type of violence but especially domestic violence upon women (and yes, sometimes men) who are in a vulnerable position.

I have met with and spoken to women whose abusive husband's have done horrible things to them from rape to financial ruin to verbal assaults in front of friends to reading their journals to sabotaging their career options.

Like other women and survivors, I take moments to pull back the veil and reveal a painful experience not for sympathy but as an advocate and activist.

Leaving is not always possible, some women reconcile and try to appease their partner until their children are older or until resources are available for them to leave.  Janay Rice, in her private instagram that went public,  blasting the media was in classic abuser mode to try to keep peace and calm in her home.  Her husband was physically abusive and none of us know what is happening behind closed doors now that he has lost his job with the NFL and his lucrative endorsement deals.  He, like all abusers, is surely blaming her for his actions.

The hashtag campaign of #WhyIStayed had story after story of the tough choices for survival women had to make.  For black and Hispanic (and now, Asian) women, the choice for self-advocacy is not always an easy one, the road is not always wide open to safety.

In this time in America when there is a culture class and a hurricane of issues that vye for media attention, the issue of domestic violence is one of the most prevalent and far reaching.

It is courageous to stand up and speak out.

There are more than one Janay Rice's out there and I hope that those voices will be heard.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Broke Mother

My husband always tells me we are "broke" whenever the subject of money or one more purchase comes up.  Sometimes he makes me so angry when he says this because I know we are not "broke."

But it got me to thinking this morning as I sit in this black-owned coffee roaster, enjoying my blackberry latte and looking at my bags of exquisite beans to take home, that perhaps he is right.

I am privileged (and at times, if I am honest, annoyed) to be in a one-income family.  There are sacrifices made, like the five year old jeans I have on today and the "vintage upcale resale" jeans I work yesterday being regular parts of my "mom" attire, but those sacrifices pay off in the dividends of our children.  I know that as a woman, period, I am in a special place or a sexist place, depending on who is controlling the narrative.

Once-upon-a-time, it was white women only who had the space of simply being "the wife" and "the mother" with all the dirty details of "household management" relegated to a black woman who was her "domestic."  Black women, in contrast, didn't have the resources to just be mom.  They worked, sunup to sundown.  Their children were often in the care of an older relative, a grandmother or aunt who was past the age of work.  Just like in slavery times, the able bodied were out working and being productive, there wasn't value in the intellectual pursuits that embody the majority of my day.

It became more and more a declaration of my independence and black womanist viewpoint to be radical as an at-home mom. The concept was an oxymoron to so many.  "You have all that education and waste it at home?" "You making your husband work himself to death." and "You must be rich." - all comments I and perhaps my fellow Mocha Moms have heard throughout our tenure in this chosen profession.  To me, as the years turned into a decade, it became an affirmation of what I am supposed to be doing and a tribute to the many, many centuries of black mothers who wanted to nurse their own children, clean their own homes, teach their own children, and volunteer in their own communities.

This month provided another opportunity to take  my time and talent where it was needed and not have to worry about someone firing me for standing up.

The murder of Mike Brown focused a lot of attention on the plight of our darker brothers and sisters who live in communities "north of Delmar."

They have been telling us for decades in their rap music, their rebellious dress, and their attitude that there was something wrong in the Gateway City.  They spoke up about the red light cameras, the police, the schools, the employers, the segregation, the "isms" that have controlled for millenia.

Ferguson erupting in righteous indignation over the murder of a child hit me and all black mothers who have sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears to make sure our sons were not a "statistic." The anguished cry of Mrs. Lesley McSpadden at the site of her murdered son's body sprawled out on the hot pavement was the anguished cry of centuries of black women who saw their sons lynched by white hands.

We mothers understood immediately what was wrong and what was needed.

Led by the example of our collective children, mothers and fathers took to the streets with children much younger than Mike Brown.  They shined a light on the brutality of a public lynching in 2014.  They would not stop and would not turn around and were resilient in the face of tear gas, military gear, and tanks.

The people highlighted their brokenness as well as their resolve.

Broken transportation system.  Broken school system that suspended black children 97% of the time.  Broken employment opportunities with three major corporations sharing their borders.  Broken community with a black side and a white side - even creating two "Florissant Roads" to make sure the toney homes did not touch the apartment complex.  Broken spirits at yet another harassment by the police.

The people decided on that hot August Saturday to stop being broke.

They used the tools they had, everything from Mike's stepfather's first sign declaring that the Ferguson Police murdered his son, to the many cameras on the ubiquitous cell phones.  They took to the social media and the streets and demanded that attention be paid to this 18 year old, college-bound, black boy who was only visiting his grandmother.

It was in this morning, with the sun streaming into this black-owned coffee shop, that I thought about my husband telling us we were "broke" when I talked about buying a "few more things" for our first daughter's upcoming thirteenth birthday.  We really are not broken.  We are in a place that does not police the life out of our children and where my activism shines a light on their white privilege in a way that makes them finally do something for the good of all the community I call home.  I am not broken.

But knowing that more and more of my people are broke demanded that I and others of us take notice and use our collective resources to do something about it.

I have always been a supporter of black businesses.

My background is in marketing, communications, brand and product marketing, and advertising.  I know that the dollars are not circulating among black firms and that the businesses heavily targeting black people are not employing black brand managers at high rates.  I am among many MBAs who have shifted the focus of our careers to entrepreneurship.

In supporting black businesses, I am keenly aware of the predatory nature of a lot of businesses on West Florissant that exploit the black residents lack of transportation (heavy traffic violations make many of the young men unable to drive). The nail salon, hair store, and even the liquor store that experienced property damage by opportunists were all white or foreign-born Asian owned that do not employ black people.  The QuikTrip became a symbol of the corporate neglect of the major corporations that exploit the area's prime location but not the prime opportunity to apprentice the young minds that call that part of the Ferguson-Jennings-Dellwood-Cool Valley-Normand corridor home.

I made a trip up there on purpose to find one.  Ferguson Burger Bar became my breakfast spot and the provider of my exquisite veggie burger for my recent family cookout.  I inquired about the other's on the strip and was informed about the many Korean businesses that come in and exploit with high priced, cheap merchandise and then insult the residents by over-surveillance.  It was in just such a store that an alleged robbery took place that the Ferguson police were quick to implicate the murdered teen even as they release the name of Darren Wilson, only to be shamed in this obvious tactic of criminalizing black males.  The officer who shot him stopped to harass him for jaywalking, something a couple of white male teens were doing in my Kirkwood suburb.  The white boys skateboarding in the middle of Woodbine and Geyer roads were not shot down like dogs for their body to be a reminder to the community that they were considered less than human.  So the Korean owned businesses did not and would not get my money.

As those of us with the resources began to further discuss Ferguson and what we could do beyond protesting, writing elected officials, holding town halls, registering voters, sitting-in, mentoring children, raising resources, and writing articles - we knew there was something else we could do.

This coming Friday is a NO Racism Day protest where we are not using our Debit Cards.

That little piece of plastic that further benefits a financial system that overwhelming cut out black people, that engaged in predatory tactics that included a huge loss of black wealth during the Great Recession, that has kept employment stagnant for black professionals, and that further discriminates against black small businesses.  That little piece of plastic.

This coming Monday is an International Black OUT Day whereby we are not shopping at any establishments that are not black owned.

We do have some tools to reach beyond our "being broke" and recirculate our dollars to those who will circulate them back into the community.  Ferguson Burger Bar and Northwest Coffee Roasting Coffee, for example, each employ black young people, teaching them important and transferable skills.  They each received parts of my disposable dollars this week (even if my husband is frowning as he is looking at the account and wondering how much coffee I actually drank this week!).

There has been an economic apartheid that led to Mike Brown's murder.  It was why the young sons and daughters kept marching, kept protesting, kept posting, kept yelling, why they shut down the highway.  They are telling us, the mothers, to hear the cries of the children, the cries of the sons of the streets who want us to see.

I am privileged to be in a place to be available.  I am not a brand-chaser and am therefore able to use my "allowance" in some small way to support another black business.  I am able to use my voice and my platform to connect black businesses for major events like the one I just planned for the new president of my husband's university.

The "broke" my husband talked about rested in my soul all night and all morning as I realized he was speaking about so much more, more than what was supposed to be fixed in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

White people (not all) refuse to acknowledge the personhood and sonhood of Mike Brown.  The comments in the city of my birth have ranged from the evil to the vile.

So we will take back the resource we have, whether that is a little or a lot, and just stop.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott crippled the city that depended on the black riders, even as they forced them to the back of the bus.  The jealous white community around Tulsa could not understand Black Wall Street so they lynched, murdered, burned, and tore down a community that turned into itself.  Today, we and the children in the streets are saying, "no more and never again."

The comments about the International Black Out Day have been vile.  We want the impact to be felt.  We want them to know we don't need their product.  We will do without, we will wear five year old jeans and listen to our husbands declare we are "broke" every time we want to sit in a coffee shop and think.  We are tired and the mothers are teaching the children to make do, use what we have, recreate, renew, and revive our own.

Last night my husband said we are "broke."

This morning I say we are "whole" and taking back our resources.