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These are my thoughts, yo.

The Personal is Political

jasmine banks

*Since this post went live Mo's Blog on Medium was reported. Her blog post cannot be accessed from her Medium account, currently, and has been republished on this blog.*  

Several weeks ago my partner wrote a blog post detailing her experience with a person that has committed harm toward me on more than one occasion. The initial discord in my interactions with him stemmed from a surprise allegation that he, with another member of the community, launched against me with my graduate program. They reported me and alleged that I had engaged in unethical behavior. The report came one week before I was due to graduate which was over six months after the date of the "incident" which they claimed required me to be reported. The report was dismissed by the chair of my department after it became clear that the community member had a vendetta. The chair of my department let me know that I would be graduating and they apologized for the way the allegation cast a shadow over the week of my graduation. I was taken aback by the reality that folks who'd been in my home for dinners, spent time with me in social settings, and I had peripherally trusted would attempt to get me thrown out of my graduate program--- without even a conversation. After weeks of talking to my priest about it, processing it, and realizing the parts of my behavior that were to blame for some the incident I decided to move on. Another social interaction re-opened the wound when the same person declared to me, while at a friend's party, that I owed them an apology for the incident and I was always going on about injustice on Facebook and it was about time someone took me down a notch. They were convinced of my corruption and they made it clear that they felt a duty to do something about me. The personal is political.

Over the course of the year I've had many interactions with this person that has resulted in micro-aggressions.  The first time I met them were full of micro-aggressions; specifically the experience of them telling me why they and their spouse wished to adopt a Black child from Africa. White Savior Complex is common in this area due to the mix of Christianity and involvement with Haiti among other Black countries. The couple, without know a thing about what I believe about trans-racial adoption, unloaded about the plight of Black children in Africa and why they needed to adopt one. We were at professional networking event and I was seating across from them. I listened patiently and tried to control my facial expressions as they waxed poetic about the racism in Siloam Springs (they let me know they were in no way racist, of course), how backward the folks at John Brown University were, and how they desperately wanted a Black baby. Since meeting them, I had been made victim of both misogynistic and raced based insults but (as women and people of color often do) I shrugged them off as folks declared oh that is just how they are.  Even after the incident that my partner wrote about I had messages and conversations with folks imploring me to understand that is just how they are. They are a hot head. They say stupid things. Everyone knows they behave that way. The personal is political. I think sometimes we settle for allowing people to continue harming us because we know that our community has accepted the behavior. That is what I had done. In fact, when we expect change to happen we often need the power of a community behind us in order to enact that change. If we believe we can't obtain that support we often continue in harmful interactions, because we know we wouldn't get support if we attempted to stop the cycle. The 12 Step sobriety traditions, fitness groups, and other forms of social support bear out the evidence of how community change happens. It happens when we admit there is a problem and we have the power of community behind us to catalyze change. 

Part of my own trauma history and wounded behavior means that I often find myself willing to put up with massive amounts of mistreatment. I am even willing to take full responsibility, even when it is clear that others bear some part of responsibility and are unwilling to accept it. As a child who experienced significant abuse I can hone in on almost any situation to take full responsibility for my abuser's actions. I have been groomed to seek reconciliation no matter what-- because you weren't completely innocent after all. I walked away from the interactions that evening feeling wholly responsible. "Well. I did invite the person to sit next to me and chat. I did ask about the level of inclusion of the festival, which he openly represented."

 

It is only through an immense amount of therapy and healing that I can say this: what happened to me was unacceptable. It was unacceptable for people I called friends and allies to blame me for the micro-agressions I experienced. It was unacceptable to listen as another person whom I thought was a friend and ally tell me they are concerned with my partner's ability to be a therapist in Siloam Springs if she continues to behave that way online.  The subsequent Facebook attacks on my character and making me responsible for what my partner wrote was unacceptable. It was unacceptable that the same person who blamed me for "provoking" a racist verbal assault used their power as a community leader to keep me from participating in a community activity. It was unacceptable that people whom I considered friends decided they didn't know if they could be my friend, without even wondering about my side of the story or experience. Folks alluding to my partner being "corrupted" by merely being in proximity to me was unacceptable. The massive amounts of covert and overt racial assault I have experienced as my church community rallies behind, not the genderqueer and Black person who were harmed, but the privileged cishet white man is unacceptable. It is not only deeply ironic but equally unacceptable that anyone continues to defend a person as not the worst kind of racist who has a long history of committing harm against a queer person of color, no matter how deplorable a community thinks that queer person of color is. It is unacceptable for anyone to think I am deplorable enough to deserve what I have experienced as a result of this man's choices.

Grudges, vendettas, and histories of harm are shaped by how we are received in the world. Reconciliation and justice are also shaped by how were are received in the world. We cannot and should not  suspend identities as we traverse community discord and conflict. Several week after all of the events unfolded I found myself tearful in my priest's office. I was astounded that I had received a letter from this man and his wife claiming had bullied them. I was astounded that my priest had met with them, as they detailed in the letter, and signed off on them barring us (a gay genderqueer person and a queer Black person) from entering any public establishment they owned. I was astounded that they, as the letter detailed, planned to send their letter to other folks in our parish for "community accountability". We were no longer to speak to them in public, not even a passing greeting. We were not allowed to talk to people they were talking to while in social settings and to not interrupt or interject in conversations they may be having. We were no longer to talk about them on social media. We were not even allowed to respond to the letter they sent.  We were to only talk to our priest, as he agreed in their prior meeting, and he would mediate any messages between us.

We were not given boundaries, though they called them that, on their behavior and needs. We were given "boundaries" that controlled our behavior and limited our freedom in social settings. A heterosexual white couple were giving a queer Black interracial couple an outline on how were allowed to behave in public as it related to them. The personal is political. My priest, as I sat across from him sobbing, naively commented that it just sounds like they are asking you to be polite. He continued I think you should call a meeting to reconcile, I think you should meet with them and talk it out. He didn't understand what he was asking. He was making a queer Black person responsible for reconciling herself to a heterosexual white and very privileged couple. The personal is so very political.

 

There will be no meeting. There will be no attempts, on our behalf, to reconcile with anyone who has harmed us. We should not expect oppressed and harmed folks to do the work to "reconcile" with those who have caused harm out of their privilege and whiteness. We should not talk about "reconciliation" until repair through reparations and accountability have been put in place.  We should not expect that a man who is dismissed with oh that is just how he is should ever feel any inclination of his guilt in further harming marginalized people. We should not be willing to accept what is unacceptable.

The personal is absolutely political.