“My mother was the first person to teach me that love looks like violence…”
I was awakened to being pulled from my bed by my hair and dragged from my room to the kitchen. I was thrown to the grown and hit in my face repeatedly. I had no idea what was happening or why. I felt the back of my head hit the kitchen floor over and over, before being slammed against the side of the counter. I cried out for help, for it to stop, but no help came and it did not stop. A hand closed around my throat and I thought I would die, and still no explanation was given. She stood up and looked down at me in complete disgust and unfiltered anger. I felt small and afraid. I lay there, as still as possible, terrified to move. She told me to get up, and I started to scramble to my feet, relieved that it was over. Then she kicked me in my face before turning and walking away from me without a word.
I was eleven.
My crime, I would learn later, was that I had cut up a couple of t-shirts earlier that week while trying to be a fashion designer with my younger sister. The shirts didn’t turn out how we wanted, so we threw them in the back of our closet. I don’t even believe we thought we were doing anything wrong or were trying to hide anything by putting them there. But in hindsight, maybe we were. Maybe we knew the wrath we had the potential to face should they ever be discovered. And when they were, to save herself, my sister told our mom that I had cut the t-shirts up. I don’t blame her. She was nine and already fully cognizant of the consequences of our mom’s anger. She wanted to save herself and she did, and honestly I’m okay with that. To this day I’m content with the fact that I took that beating for the both of us because it meant that my little sister endured a little less harm in a world that destroys black girls with reckless abandon.
I know people will read my story and see my mom as a monster, as the sum of her faults and bad choices, as a villain that they can’t see themselves or anyone else they know in. But my mom is not a monster, and if she is, she certainly wasn’t born one. She is what becomes of too many black children forced to grow up in a world that hates us and does everything possible, from birth, to destroy us. She is the product of a decade and a half of her own endured parental abuse and atrocities in her childhood that she still doesn’t acknowledge as abuse or understand that she didn’t deserve.
By thirteen years old, she was a single mom to a child who would be diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia at the age of two, and by twenty-one she was raising 3 children on her own. My mom has six children – five girls, one boy. There are four fathers between us, and yet she raised us all alone. Something that was said to me in childhood that I always resented and now understand as an adult is that she did the best that she could do. Not the best that could be done, but the best that she was able to do with the experiences, trauma, education, and resources she had at her disposal – and with the only standards and practices for what “love” and parenting look like that she had ever been shown.
“We tell our daughters that a man who hits them doesn’t love them, after telling them their whole lives that we hit them out of love.”
I posted the above on Facebook last August and had several friends and relatives comment with excuses and defenses for why it’s okay to put your hands on children, and how that act is different from the same violence when committed against an adult by another adult. And I won’t go into what those excuses were, or the countless other justifications I’ve heard, because the reality is they don’t matter. It’s not different. Many people in the many conversations that I’ve had about spanking think what they’re doing to their children is better than what was done to me and my siblings because they don’t “cross the line”. But where is “the line”? And would we make these same distinctions when it came to harmful actions committed against another adult?
Would we say that it’s okay to subject someone else to “a little bit” of sexual assault, physical violence, harassment, or domestic violence as long as you don’t “cross the line”? Of course not. So why then do we play these word games to defend harm we cause our children? Especially when it has been established through scientific research and studies that violence and trauma can transform our brains and even our DNA? Why are we still defending toxic parenting practices that do nothing but harm our children, the people we love most in the world and would never want to harm?
Not only is physical violence against children abusive in all its form and a violation and deprivation of bodily autonomy and integrity, it does long-term harm to children’s brain development and impacts how children learn to connect with the world in adolescence and adulthood. Children who are spanked or otherwise physically disciplined, and even children who are yelled at frequently, often grow into adults who struggle with boundaries (both establishing them for themselves and respecting them in others), communication and managing frustrations in healthy ways. Girls who are spanked are more vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic violence. Because if the people we love most teach us that we deserve to be hit and harmed, why wouldn’t we believe it?
I often find myself crying for the spirits of little black girls everywhere, even those long gone, who will never know what we could’ve grown into had we been nurtured in the sun’s warm embrace rather than stifled in shrouds of darkness. For black girls who do not grow up knowing that we are beautiful, special, capable, valued and valuable and above all else loved. My mother was the first person to teach me that love looks like violence, because it’s what she had been taught too.
What will we teach our daughters?
I simply love this!! It was you that made me decide that I’d never abuse my child. It was your voice that allowed me to see spankings for the physical abuse that they are. You are amazing and my daughter and I will be forever grateful.
Beautifully written and so necessary and poignant. This is more confirmation that I’m not using corporal punishment or any other type of violence to raise my daughter. Thanks for this!
I’m 59 years old and I saw my mom beaten relationship after relationship. I always going back to the abuser. I dreaded football Sundays. My stepdad would have friends over and mom would cook. Everything good until they had too much to drink. The fights, name calling , police showing up. My prayer was always that I would not take my children through any of this and for God not to allow me to be in an abusive relationship. I don’t think my mom ever knew what true love was. I wished before she left this earth that she would have experienced it. I don’t have daughters but God blessed me with a granddaughter and I
have shared my story with her. Letting her know that love doesn’t hurt. Do not settle for I’m sorry behind a black eye and flowers.
Keep telling your story!
One thing I find common throughout the African diaspora is the struggles of childhood abuse. The daunting task of unpacking that excess baggage always leaves many of us unwilling to understand and address the “raw” and unprocessed emotions that are still very much prevalent in our subconscious processing. I won’t ramble on about my abusive father, instead I’d like to speak with you when you’re free about a project I’m working on.
I appreciate your story!
Hi there my people and personally my beloved sister yor reading sounds so beautiful and u story was a good read iam single by choice because I have been very bad toxicology family’s life and relationships almost all of my life ? But if your available and live peacefully and privately we might can build a true peaceful new friendship and perhaps become a new family on christ amen. God bless
Thank you for this.
I am just coming to terms with how the physical and emotional abuse groomed me for future physical and emotional abuse.
Just seeing the edges of what I survived and how even though she did the best she could I still get to have these feelings that require tenderness, support and holding.
Thank you for your words.
Not only did the welts tear into my skin, but in my soul with unresolved conflicts about whether I was loved or worth loving. I blamed the abuse on myself because I was ‘unfortunate’to be born of a darker shade. These unresolved toxic issues would go on to to affect almost every facet of my adulthood especially relationship. I read about me in your writings. Thank you for making it somewhat tangible.
Thank you, my sister, for this moving story. It is so universal as most African American women have experienced some form of abuse – physical, psycho-emotional, sexual…you name it, in our lifetimes. This is because of the legacy of enslavement, unimaginable forms of abuse, unresolved anger, mental / psychological injury, hurt and pain that we have carried over from and to each generation since the period of enslavement in this country. Too many of us have wanted to simply try to sweep the “dust,” so to speak, of the past “under the rug” or try to erase from our thoughts the effects of the most brutal and inhumane system of enslavement known to mankind. This is a statement of fact; I’m not making it up. Just “google” any topic related to slavery and African Americans then read, read some more and read as much as you can in any given time frame. It will feel overwhelming, however, we all need to understand why we treat each other the way we do, why our relationships and family structures have been challenged and have been so fragile over the generations, why our communities have – historically- been targeted for destruction, and why we remain fragmented in our beliefs, values and what we should be doing to take the actions critically needed to preserve our culture, our male/female unions with each other, to raise our children to do the same and to claim the fact that America became the wealthiest nation in the world and remains so, due to the free labor provided by Black people who are responsible for the foundation of wealth for this country. We need to be empowered by this fact and send our children to Historically Black Colleges/Universities before they disappear due to financial hardship or are taken from us because their message is so powerful and empowering. God be with us all. We all need to establish an “intimate” relationship with God as well as with each other through knowledge and understanding of the history of our people in this country.
this is a very important and well written testimony. It is a valuable, authentic and well balanced contribution to Black consciousness. Responses to this demonstrate how it has helped influence healing and reform in what has otherwise been accepted harmful norms.
The harm done to a child’s psyche is compounded by parents who brag to others outside the home about the abuse they inflict that they call “discipline.” I have been surrounded by co-workers who seem determined to one-up each other in terms of the ways in which they abuse their own kids, and have always wondered why anyone would take pride in inflicting pain on the children they claim they love.
I absolutely love this… I’ve always said when I was younger that I would not beaT my children, and I am glad that I have stood by that. I have a 13 year old son a 11 year old daughter and a 8 month old daughter. I’ve learned taking things away that they like for a short term is a good discipline for my children and I’ve also learned when they do something to upset me to speak on it and go into my room for a few while I collect my children thoughts then come out and talk to them when I have a clearer head. This works well for my house hold. Even as toddlers when they would do something that they would of course not know was wrong I would tell them “Not nice or not yours” and re direct their hands. Your post is very interesting because as woman we also think because we didn’t receive the correct love from our fathers that that’s why we would end up in here physical or mental abusive relationships not realizing that it may come from the very person we were around the whole time “OUR MOTHERS” great post.