In the midst of a collective tragedy, a collective triumph . . . In September of 2016, in the very same week of the very public execution of two black men in different States, we opened a new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.. Yet, despite all of this, there are some people who seek to compound the pain and stoke the anger.
A United States representative from North Carolina, Robert Pittenger—a Republican whose district includes parts of Charlotte—said this to the BBC about the Black folk in Charlotte protesting the death of another black man:
“The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not. I mean, yes, it is, it is a welfare state. We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, and we’ve put people in bondage so they can’t be all that they are capable of being.” Blame the victim, Bob.
Blame the victim, Bob.
Two more black men fatally shot that week, even though a non-black terrorist who shot back at the police in NJ was carried away alive on a stretcher. I came to a realization one evening as to why “we” (black folk) haven’t recovered, why “we” still riot and are angry at our treatment in this society: We are a collective rape survivor. Black people—men, women, and children—are all victims of rape. And the rapist has been the United States of America. And the vile act itself has been ongoing for 400 years. Before you get out the pitchforks and the stakes, (maybe a bleached hood) let me explain.
We black folk are the victims of mass rape. A continual, brutal, 400-year rape. And unlike most rape victims, we have never been treated appropriately.
No wonder some of us have gone mad.
When a man or woman is raped, there are “do’s and don’ts” as to how you treat the victim. On the website Pandora’s Project, they list the following advice:
What to say to a rape or sexual abuse survivor:
I’m sorry this happened to you.
It wasn’t your fault.
You survived; obviously, you did the right things.
Thank you for telling me.
I’m always here if you want to talk.
Can I do anything for you?
As an African-American, survival of continual genocidal rape as a people, we have never heard the words: “I’m sorry this happened to you.” What I and every single black person have heard every time a black man is shot, or whenever we say this stress affects us, or the playing field isn’t as fair as you think it is. . . we get EVERY saying below:
What NEVER to say to a survivor:
It was your fault. (We are blamed for the disenfranchisement, the unemployment, and the ghettos that too many of us still live in)
You could have avoided it had you….(complied with the orders of the police)
It’s been so long! Get over it! (My family didn’t enslave you; you’re not a slave today)
You wanted it. (look at how you people live…you can fix it if you want too)
It’s not that big of a deal; it happens to lots of people. (so long ago, get over it)
I don’t believe you. (the worst thing to say) (we should have gotten over it…by now)
Slavery and its aftermath had a direct impact on two critical demographic factors that are especially important in genetics: migration and sex. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was a forced migration that carried nearly 400,000 Africans over to the colonies and, later, the United States. Once in North America, African slaves and their descendants mixed with whites of European ancestry, usually because enslaved black women were raped and exploited by white men.
The National Institutes of Health says chronic stress and exposure to stress hormones alter our DNA—not the gene sequence but rather gene expression. When we are under stress, we produce steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which affect various bodily systems. Studies involving the descendants of Jewish Holocaust survivors under Nazi Germany found that these individuals had an altered Fkbp5 gene, along with PTSD, hypertension, and obesity.
Black America is a victim of rape. In order to heal, the discussion of race in America needs to start with the same approach that you would use for a victim of sexual violence: (a) DO respect him/her enough to not pity him/her; (b) DON’T assume she/he does or doesn’t want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug, at this point; others can’t make it without one; (c) DO comfort him/her. Bring a cup of tea and a blanket. Play soft music. Make the environment comfortable; (d) DON’T try to solve all the problems for her/him. She/He has had their control taken away from them; try to avoid doing that again.(e) DO offer to accompany her/him to their first therapy session. (f) DON’T demand to know every detail of the rape or abuse. (g) DO allow her/him to tell you as much or as little as she needs to. Can we just start there? I am going to take a leap here and say THAT is how we start to FIX IT.
We are no better than South Africa under Apartheid. The victims there were denied the opportunity to “speak” about their pain because the “uninformed wealthy majority” in control of things say that the “problem is solved” or this is “in the past” because Apartheid was lifted. But they know the wounds would not even begin to heal, without understanding the past (Psych 101) ignoring the past ensures future failure. The discussion should begin with understanding the victim’s pain: The U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Committee just as they did in South Africa.
Start with the arrival, create an official archive of the atrocities and allow the victim to speak uninterrupted about what they feel (without saying White Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter)….because YOU ARE NOT A RAPE VICTIM, YOU ARE NOT A PRODUCT OF RAPE…Black folk in America are a PRODUCT OF RAPE…period. And nothing any white person can say can diminish that fact to make themselves feel better. “We” will not allow you that luxury of feeling “blameless” because for every White Person that says or does nothing…you are condoning the actions of the rapist.
Unlike most victims, we understand our assailant (and it’s embedded in our DNA, as experienced by the enslaved Africans who hid white slave owners during Nat Turner’s rebellion). We understand that there are many white people who desire the same fairness and true opportunity that we do, and who have historically been in the struggle, in the trenches in the marches with “us”. They, too deserve our consideration because they stand by, stand with us. They are taking us to that first therapy session, they are trying to listen to us, they are attempting to make us comfortable (as best they can, given their frame of reference and their intellectual and heartfelt desire to be real participants in healing). The way much of White America treats Black People is akin to saying, “yea, you were raped, but you asked for it”
We live with in a society that fear’s what it doesn’t know (nor has it tried to know) what “we” really feel. There are many who attempt to mask the anger of poor disenfranchised whites as having a right to be angrier than historically poor and disenfranchised blacks in the United States (that is economics and used to pit the poor against one another especially in some political circles) but the danger in that argument historically in AmeriKKKa is that out of that anger? race gets front and center with resentment added to the mix specifically by the uneducated and those who like to fan the flames of hatred.
Black America has Rape Trauma Syndrome: it is the psychological trauma experienced by a rape victim that includes disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behavior. RTS is a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions common to most rape victims immediately following and for months or years (generations) after a rape. As might be expected, a person who has been raped will generally experience high levels of distress immediately afterward. These feelings may subside over time for some people; however, individually each syndrome can have long devastating effects on rape victims and some victims will continue to experience some form of psychological distress for months or years. It has also been found that rape survivors are at high risk for developing substance use disorders, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
Some victims can go on like nothing happened, other victims feel the effects of the assault to this day (to quote George W. Bush, “Slavery….an evil of colossal magnitude”.
When you shoot one – the effect of that shot, that threat affects us all. It causes us to act and feel as a group. What group behavior will do under pressure may demonstrate itself in chaos. This has been ongoing for 400 years. The oppression, the crime is perpetrated every time one someone from the oppressive class makes an excuse for the actions of another before a full explanation is given and while a community is asking why is another person that looks like me…dead? You perpetuate effects of the violation…the rape.
Want to fix it? Want to stop riots from people who feel they haven’t been heard? Start with the therapy, start with listening to us and don’t judge us, don’t condemn us, don’t blame us, don’t tell us how to feel and DONT tell us how to grieve….don’t make us fix it, because we didn’t break it. We are the victims.
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