To my black friends as we rise up against structural racism,
I have been struggling this past week. Let’s face it. I have been struggling this whole year. It has been an extremely triggering year where it seems I have been swinging between a numb, manic state and a hopeless state. It hasn’t been easy to find those moments of grounding. And even those moments have been inundated with the trauma memories and grief I have been ignoring the rest of the time. So to be fair, I have been struggling this year. But this week took things to another level. The death of George Floyd is absolutely horrific. The death of every single black person leading up to his death has also been absolutely horrific. And the racist responses have been equally horrific. My own trauma has been triggered in so many ways. And yet, at the same time, I can say that I cannot ever truly understand the trauma that black people have endured in this country. I know what it’s like. And I don’t know what it’s like.
As a trafficking survivor, I know what it is like to be sold. I know what it is like to be valued for the money I can bring in and the “work” I can do. I know what it is like to only be valued for that. I experienced the worst of humanity as they raped me for money and truly did not care about my own pain as a human being. They never saw me as a human being. But I don’t know what it is like to have it be societally acceptable to do this to me. They had to keep up appearances. It had to be hidden. It had to be in the shadows. It had to be undercover. The world would have been horrified if they had known of my experiences. It would not have been justified as acceptable by the greater population.
I know what it is like to be told I am not as good as others. I know what it is like to be called evil and nasty and wrong. I know what it is like to be set up for failure psychologically. I came out of childhood thinking I would never amount to anything. I would never be good enough. I would always have to settle in every aspect of my life because I was damaged goods. But I also don’t know what it is like. I don’t know what it’s like to be set up for failure by an entire society in every system. I don’t know what it is like to be deemed to be less qualified for college, work, housing or loans because of the color of my skin. I cannot know that. I have never known that. And because of that, I had a way out. I had a college education and a job that allowed me to walk away from my family. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. The psychological impact of my trauma cannot be minimized. But my privilege was a huge factor in my recovery.
I know what it is like to be told my anger is the problem. All my life, I was told that the abuse and trafficking was not the problem. I was told I needed to stop being so angry. I was told I was out of line. I was told I was causing more problems for myself by being so difficult. I was not allowed to fight back. I had to be “peaceful”. I was told to calm down. Everybody thought I was crazy because of my anxiety and depression. They could not understand why I had reacted so intensely to my abuse. I just needed to stop reacting. I wasn’t being rational in my response. I know what it’s like to be the problem. But I don’t know what it’s like to fight against that on a global scale. I don’t know what it is like for my entire race to be labeled as angry. I could feign peace with my meditation and spiritual language. People would believe it because of the color of my skin. My physical illnesses were never attributed to anger even though they were caused by it. I could fake it because I was white … at least until they got to know me.
I know what it’s like to be gaslighted. I wasn’t allowed to interpret my reality. I wasn’t allowed to have my truth. I was only allowed to have the truth that was handed to me. I know what it’s like to be told there isn’t a problem while screaming in pain about the very real, huge problem. I even know what’s it’s like to experience this on a global scale. “Repressed memories aren’t real. You must have made that up. Your parents seem so nice. They are upstanding (and white) citizens. They are middle class. They would never do such things.” But I don’t know what it is like to be gaslighted before I open my mouth to speak. I don’t know what it’s like to experience gaslighting just for walking in a room. I don’t know what it is like for people to walk up to me and give me their very uninvited opinions about my race and my life before I have ever said a word. This I don’t know. I am a white middle-aged woman. That makes me invisible. And believe me, I have used my invisibility to grab that bit of distance and safety when I just cannot take another damn word of denial.
I know what it is like to be kept alive only because it would be difficult to explain my death. But you don’t. I am alive today because when a little white girl goes missing, people care. I am alive today because my white middle-class family could never have reported my death without a full investigation and someone going to jail. I am here because my death would have mattered to the system. And so many black children and adults have died because this wasn’t the case. I knew some of them. They were trafficked with me. I don’t know where they are today. But I can say that there would have been accountability for my murder. And there needs to be accountability for every murder. That has to change now.
So be angry. I’ll be angry with you. State your truth. And if someone tries to deny your truth, I’ll tell them they are wrong too. Fight for your rights. And I’ll fight with you. I don’t want my privilege. I don’t want to be able to do things you can’t. Take the time to address how you feel about yourselves and your worth. The idea that you are less worthy is a lie that must end in every one of our conscious and unconscious minds. And I will do my part to move these beliefs out of every mind that comes my way. You matter. Your lives matter. Enough is enough.
* A quote from a friend of mine: “I’m really starting to take in more and more how my experience as a person living in a pretty chaotic home situation with an abusive father, mentally ill brother, etc. was very much ‘colored’ by our race and how the world perceived us. I think it’s high time that we all understand that race and all the societal perceptions connected to that really are an integral part of the story of those struggling with mental illness/trauma, etc. It’s not separate. My father was a black man born in 1931 in Union, South Carolina. Surely, there were racial injustices that shaped him into the wounded person he became that turned his anger and hurt onto his family. It’s undeniable. So I’m working to call these things into focus. I’ve shied away from delving in for so long because of pain, anger, frustration, and other hard feelings that bubble up.”