Cecelia Jordan is a community rooted teacher, poet and transformative justice practitioner. Her organization, Love in Public, develops authentic learning experiences for justice-oriented organizations.
“Do you think your great-great-great-great grandmother was raped?”
-This is my father’s question in response to the bold statement: I have raped colored skin. I flail in the sea of misogyny, and explain, “an enslaved person cannot consent.”
“Well I’d hate to think a Black woman couldn’t make a white man fall in love with her,” he says. I am disgusted.
He retorts, “I just don’t see what any of that has to do with domestic violence.”
I am a Black queer masculine-of-center woman, an educator, a restorative justice practitioner, a sister, an auntie, a granddaughter, a niece, an unapologetic hood nerd, poet and survivor. My life purpose is guided by a not-so-simple question: how do we heal from harm to embrace a politic of care and build systems rooted in love? If “love is what justice looks like in public,” as Dr. Cornel West says, then we must focus our efforts on those most impacted by injustice. This will require us to step out of our comfort zones, and extend compassion to the people who experience generational harm and are denied access to resources. If we, as a society, cannot believe that Black enslaved women could be raped by their masters and overseers, how can anyone fathom that Black women are currently victims of intimate partner violence?
When a Black woman is harmed, they will blame our attitudes, our clothing choices, our pasts, and assume we don’t feel pain. The fact is, our attitude, our unapologetic commitment to unbridled truth, is built in response to society’s abrasive apathy. We still talk about slavery in connection to violence because Black women are still dying in the hands of systems, and because we all make up systems, Black women are dying in your hands. You are responsible for the relics of slavery and colonization. You are responsible for your thoughts, actions and behaviors toward Black women. You are responsible for believing us, or continuing to uphold contrived, inhumane, hypersexualized fantasies where Black women and girls are harmed because we make rapists fall in love with us. All of these anti-Black ideas must be uprooted.
In Circle, where space is held to uncover shared values and build relationships, I’ve learned two things: most non-Black people are not in deep relationship with Black folx, and once “made aware” of this reality, most admit to causing massive amounts of harm. Intentionality does not reverse the impact of the harm caused: pushing Black women out of their jobs, using Black friends to discuss racism, adopting Black children to not seem racist, teaching Black students to be respectable, ignoring racist jokes amongst family, leaving anti-Black behavior at work unchecked. Seemingly quiet personal adherence to such rules at the expense of Black life is to be expected in a society that follows the rule of law at the expense of Black life.
Safety is an unattainable luxury for Black skin. Domestic Violence Awareness Month gives us a haven to address this unspeakable truth alongside the always-present elephant in the race conversation: what about Black on Black violence? Yes, Black women are four times more likely than their white peers to be murdered by a boyfriend or girlfriend, and twice as likely to be killed by a spouse. We are harmed by our cousins, uncles, brothers, friends and lovers. Black on Black violence, or interpersonal violence amongst Black people, is symptomatic of a society that creates educational, medical, media, and legal barriers on Black life.
To be Black woman is to be a constant shield and target. Holder of a society’s pleasure and pain. To be strong, eloquent and cold. To be confident, beautiful and bitch. To be mammy, maid and slave. To breastfeed the child that will later be your master. To be violated but nobody calls it violence, just a symptom of a violent society. To be too much and never enough. While our institutions fortify this violence, its roots can be found in the bloody soils of chattel slavery. Here, in our closest interpersonal relationships, we are socialized in abuse. Though less visible, our relationships are confederate monuments, too; they reap terror through our family structures, work systems, and our lives.
In the U.S., Black and Indigenous women face higher rates of domestic violence than women of all other races. The rules that govern our society make it clear that our criminal legal system is not interested in consequences for people who hurt women. Instead, it is designed to incarcerate and re-enslave our people through a Constitutional loophole. If we consider the 13th Amendment to be a systemic noose, then our criminal legal system is a slave monument constructed upon the belief that some are more worthy of humanity than others. Old sayings like “what happens in this house, stays in this house” serve as a reminder that our culture is not only rooted in silencing victims, but in protecting the village; in the hood and the modern day slave quarters where the boys in blue enter like overseers and deliver their so-called version of justice.
Our current version of justice is inherently violent, inhumane, and outdated. We see that violence seeps through domestic soil and grows more domestic violence. In the present-pain of a massive epic fail, we do not want our harmers fatally punished, incarcerated or disposed of—we want healing. And still, when Black women decide to break the silence, we are too often dismissed or made complicit in racist attacks on our people. We fight for scraps of hormone-induced power because it feels like we have none. We stay in abusive relationships because we are always trying to save our people.
We will know what justice looks like when we know how to love Black people, and especially Black women. Loving us is not about returning to the goodness of whiteness, but about acknowledging the violence of white perversion and the falsities of its “truths.” Imagine a world where Black women heal and create truly just systems of support and accountability. Imagine institutions made up of individuals who pledge to be co-conspirators in fights for Black freedom and justice, and commit to understanding the layered foundation of plantation politics. Imagine, for the first time in history, we are invited to complete Reconstruction.
In this generational war on Black people, it is Black women who face violence on multiple fronts. In honor of this month, and in the days, months and years to come, make time to see and listen to the Black women in your life. Don’t speak, don’t argue, just remember you can never even begin to imagine the immense amount of unspeakable pain we carry, both epigenetically and in this lifetime. Be of service and stay late to help; don’t ask for uncompensated labor. Buy lunch and cook dinner; gift money, for no reason at all. Learn about the true history of this country—about systemic violence and anti-Blackness. Talk to your folx and find ways to hold people accountable. And above all, build deep relationships with people committed to communal transformation, radical policy change, and resources every system in this country needs.
Every interaction with a Black woman brings either the opportunity to address domestic violence and slavery, and atone for systemic harm, or the choice to continue to follow violent societal norms. Know that this awakening will change everything. We must change everything in the name of love, of future, and in the spirit of Black women who continue to carry our movements toward justice.
To take action, visit Love In Public and help provide safe learning and healing spaces for Black folx during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in the months to come.
About Love In Public. Love in Public provides authentic and tailored learning experiences to justice-oriented organizations to build strong relationships, center the identities and experiences of those most pushed to the margins, and catalyze those findings to inform a path toward organizational change and sustainability.
We integrate critical pedagogy, restorative justice, and healing practices into our learning work which is based in theoretical understandings of Black queer feminism, Latinx Critical Theory, Tribal Crit, and more. Together, we engage in simulations, poetry, speech, and opinion writing workshops, gallery walks, improvisation theatre, deep listening activities, and circles.