Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.
— Pat Barker, Regeneration
(Trigger warning for abuse.)
In activist communities, who is believed? And beyond that, what is the harm being addressed? Is it abusive power, control, and exploitation? Is it certain violent acts? Is it the exercise (or simple presence) of privilege? A survivor of domestic violence is likely to use violent behaviors to resist the objectification of being abused. A person who is battering can report actions taken by their partners that are mean, cruel, scary, or confusing. Out of context, they could be seen as abusive. In context, they can be understood as resisting power and control. People have the mistaken idea that batterers are “bad” and survivors are “good.” Battering is bad. Surviving battering is good. But, batterers and survivors are people. Understanding a given survivor’s actions when they confound our notion of “good victim”— or interpreting a given batterer’s charming manipulations— is not simple. In our experience, folks in activist communities too often end up confused and mobilize against the survivor.
People who batter can use their own vulnerabilities (such as their own experience surviving racism or homophobia, dealing with a mental illness or a previous assault, or facing exploitation in their family of origin or in the workplace) to control and manipulate friends, lovers, family, colleagues, and comrades. They set up loyalty tests. They believe that they are the victims. Often their vulnerabilities are real— and everyone’s vulnerabilities matter and merit reasonable attention— but their sense of persecution and entitlement is devastating to their loved ones and the community. Activist communities are particularly susceptible to manipulation by abusers because we are most likely to have compassion for how abusers experience institutional oppression and to understand how they are victims of unjust systems. Our empathy confounds our ability to see people who face oppression as people who could also be capable of, and should be accountable for, abuse.
— Connie Burk, “Think. Re-think.” from The Revolution Starts at Home (via fulvia-bambula)
You never had to prove them wrong
When you grow up with stigma, people tell you a lot of well-meaning things that actually cause problems. When you face people treating you like you’re less of a person, someone will often say something like:
- "You’ll prove them all wrong some day".
- "It’s ok. You’ll show them. You’ll prove that you’re better than they ever could have imagined."
And then, when you accomplish things, it often becomes, “Well, you proved them wrong, didn’t you?”People who say this often mean well, but this is a form of victim-blaming, and it can hurt people who believe it really badly. The truth is:You didn’t prove them wrong. You never had to prove them wrong. They were already wrong.Prejudice is not something you have to earn your way out of. Dehumanization isn’t your fault. You don’t have to prove that you are human in order to be human. You don’t have to have amazing accomplishments in order to prove that you have worth. Everyone has worth. People who don’t recognize yours have always been wrong.You didn’t prove them wrong. They were already wrong. About you, and about everyone else too.You might have to fight to be seen as a person. You might have to fight for your life and your safety and for basic respect. That’s a fight you may or may not win. It’s a fight that, no matter how hard you try or how good you are, you will never win all the way. There will still be those who hate you and see you as subhuman.But you can be ok, anyway. You’re ok. You’re whole. You deserve better. It’s not your fault they don’t see it. It’s theirs.You have always been a full person, fully deserving of respect and equal treatment. People who treat you as a lesser being have always been wrong.Knowing that helps.