He Put His Lips on Me, This White Man... And I Demand Reparative Justice
Sunday night I helped to hold and lift the limp body of a white man who, in healing circle, pulled up the three-quarter-length sleeve of the shirt I was wearing and put his lips on me without consent.
This weekend, I sat in a transformation circle of twenty souls, telling my own story of healing and escaping rage. There were men in this space and people of all races which was not new for me. I had done this before with movement siblings and activists from all walks of life. In this room, this weekend, I told my story with intensity, tears streaming down my cheeks, blind with emotion, succumbing, mourning the pain of intergenerational abuse and war torn bodies.
I evoked little girls hiding under covers while failed feminist movements raged on. I evoked young women relegated to back alleyways while people place hands over deaf ears, muffling the sound of truths, of cracking bones, of young girls and young boys under the weight of rape. I spoke of justice denied again and again while activists engage in debates without end, of whether or not there is harm in urine soaked skins of women under pornographic lights. I told the story of my abuse as a child. I told the story of my mother raped at the age of twelve, wrapped in the story of my grandmothers and great grandmothers who never said "rape" but used other words to testify. Violation palpable, sisters wailing, eyes glued shut by tears, ears wide open, others in the circle began to speak in response, in sowing, harvest and mantra. I was gone. I was taken up in a whirlwind of voices, one by one, poured out and merged in watershed moments until suddenly, I was yanked out of the sacredness meant to be a circle of safety. The voices and sounds stopped abruptly. "He put his lips on me!" I said. I said "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" and three more times I said "Don't touch me!" as a white man in circle next to me, pulled up the arm of my three quarter sleeve shirt and put his lips on me, planting a kiss on me while rubbing my arm.
How then, did I come to be in a place where I chose to help hold and lift the limp weeping body of this man off the ground when the day before, I demanded his expulsion from my sight, from space, from existence? It began when I spoke up and all identity of sisters responded. It began when I spoke up and Black men stepped in. Asserting my right to refuse to do the job of explaining consent, trespass and violation to this particular man, my brothers stepped in, pulling him aside one-by-one. I do not know what was spoken nor do I care.
What occurred next is what mattered: the seat of repair.
A process of repair with listening and teaching accountability, with no excuses made and no acceptable explanations. In the presence of eight others chosen by me, I agreed to hear what this white man had learned from my brothers. As he apologized, I continued to call him out on his violation, his lack of listening, his lack of respect, for me, for the sacred, for history, for legacy, for memory, for the circle and for community. Later and through the next day, I watched him weeping and repairing the harm, keeping his word to honor, to bear witness, to resist invading and colonizing space, resist invading and colonizing time, resist invading and colonizing narrative, resist invading and colonizing spirit.
So when it came time for his healing and time for his transformation, I chose him as one out of three whom I would help lift up off the ground with tears in his eyes claiming what he and we all have: the right to full humanity, forgiveness, and restoration.
We are meant to live in community, that is our inheritance as human beings. We are meant to live in harmony and interconnectedness, not as broken human beings who then proceed to break other human beings. In this world, men are especially discouraged to live in harmony and interconnectedness. The world intentionally seeks to deprive men of this life-giving experience. So when men harm others, and don’t apologize, they forfeit the universal inheritance of joy and connection. By remaining broken and contorted out of shape, they miss the opportunity to fully know existence without violence and love without prerequisites; wasting precious time which can be used to speak with loved ones, to make amends, to apologize, to self-determine alternative ways of being a man, to define healthy masculinity and humility.
Accepting an apology is to reach an altered state. Apologies, when truly authentic and when truly received, can tear the anger out of us. Moreover, the empathy expressed in an apology can trigger a cycle of mutual empathy between the harmed and the harm-doer, setting in motion processes for restoration and reconciliation.
That type of forgiveness and commitment to accountability and transformation calls into question entire ways of being and existing. It challenges, unhinges and dislodges the very foot of patriarchy and racism not only off our necks but also off the necks of those who practice slave-driving and slave-making. That kind of forgiveness is to truly recognize the humanity in all of us.
For more on apologies, read the Apology Toolkit by Farah Tanis
For more on forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing, read “Kissing Forgiveness and Accountability” by Farah Tanis in Love WITH Accountability: Digging up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse by Aishah Shahidah Simmons