“I’ve got discipline baby/and I use it a lot.” –Keith Elam
It was hard today. So, I stuff myself full of that leftover silky chicken from that Portuguese spot on the corner extra sauce from the fat on the side perfectly fried hand-peeled French fries that make me feel whole for a moment. But, not too much. Fuck kale. On the way to the courthouse today, my daughter yelled from the back seat, “Momomomom, look at that huuuuuge kale growing there!” In the intersection, decoratively. I explained, distractedly, that some people use it as flowers, to make things look pretty. What a waste.
I still want to finish off the pint of Ben and Jerry’s sitting in the freezer. I started thinking about it three hours ago, right after I finished my McDonald’s perfect strawberry milkshake and L’s iced coffee she left in the car on the way back from the courthouse. I know to stop, though, because the ice cream could be a finger, a fuck, a shot of rum, a cigarette. Anything to stuff me pleasurable soft skin tongue saliva and put me back in order. I know this: That this pain is temporary. I will wake tomorrow with less anxiety, put on my jog bra after I brush my teeth, then run to the gym in self-celebration. I will love me there, and I will leave feeling more complete than I do right now.
I have been thinking about Black men and rape and community for the last year. It has almost been a year since I found myself facing a friend, a mentor, who had sexually assaulted a woman I knew. For the last year, I have worked with a collective of women to talk about, to think about, the ways we love people who harm us. We are mothers, and we live in the grey. Yet, community accountability and sexual assault requests of us, one primary position, I have learned—that is, to believe or not, the woman who has been harmed by violence.
In this case, it has also meant co-parenting, loving communities of children who play together, and removing this man from my PhD committee. It has meant facing his defamation charges in doing this community accountability work—work that has been discreet, love-filled and lacking any mens rea to do harm. It has meant—importantly–, navigating allyships within a tiny community of scholars and activists who all know each other in this city. One of the primary reasons I committed upfront, was because we continually see one another in classrooms, hallways, at social events and dinner parties, on campus, off campus. We have been mentors to one another, lent each other words, books, babysitting time over the years, and I cannot imagine transiting these spaces anymore, holding what I now know in silence. It is—as a woman/mother/lover/daughter—perhaps, my greatest impossibility.
Today, we faced one another in court. I came to support the woman who had been harmed, who must co-parent. Before falling asleep last night, I had a shot of my favorite rum and mistakenly read an article about the 13 women who have charged Bill Cosby with rape. I thought of Cornel West, my friend Ari, Elaine Brown, then lastly—as so often–my closest male friend, who I have known for over 20 years. Over the last year, I have often sat in silence and conjured a conversation that has him confessing to me, sexual assault. I have sat with my eyes closed, faced the love swelling in my heart, the salt that inevitably comes to my eyes, and imagine the words that would fall from my mouth. I know—I always know—that love would be my starting point. How could it not? Then, I wonder how I would express the fracture inside of me that comes from loving someone so much who has done something so very wrong. What would I plot, I wonder. Would I bang my fists on his chest with my rage? Would there even be any rage, or would sadness pull me under in that moment, as in those other times when I have wept for tragedies? I know that I would begin with love. I do not yet know where I would end.
I suspect that that last sentence—that unknown—is part of what unsteadies me still in the larger space of my life. I wake up, I wait for my children to climb on top of me and find my skin under the duvet, and then, gently, I push them into the action of their day. I thought this morning, as I do so often these days, that I am a deeply consistent mother: We have had such mornings for over 3000 consecutive days, and mothering is the most consistent thing I have done in a decade. Yet, so much about the process over the last year organizing in the context of this violence has been wholly emergent. There were months of planning, a moment of relief, and then, the horribly unexpected. At times, I retreated into silence, into myself, and yet, in those moments, I never stopped imagining a community a decade away that had me in, fighting in it, speaking more clearly, more loudly about rape and Blackness and the women I love.