I don’t know what it feels like to be black. But I do know what it feels like to be under the subjugation of a white man. No, I have not encountered it my entire life in the most mundane of activities, generation after generation. However, I have encountered misogyny in every corner of my life, as has every woman. I have experienced the corrosive effects of oppression while in a marriage that spanned decades. White supremacy and partner violence operate on the same principle, maintaining power and control by any means necessary and without conscience.
I was moved to tears recently as I drove down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, its Civil War statues by the now nationally known edifices of an ideology which fails to acknowledge basic human rights. Bronze reminders of a refusal to accept the outcome of a war lost. Under the 130-year-old monument of Robert E Lee, black, white, young and old, gathered together to take in the enormity of what had occurred in the previous week. Protests that changed the landscape, both literally and figuratively, came to rest in this space.
Seeing the monument, now finally relevant with spray-painted sentiments of a collective soul battered and reclaimed, I was suddenly freed from the heavy weight of my late husband’s closeted racism. Always, there with no apologies. He was raised in a South that embraced a separate set of rules for white men and he himself believed that status quo suited him.
Watching the peaceful gathering around the statue, I experienced an enormous sense of freedom as well. I felt released and instantly restored from another layer of identity theft. Choosing to stop trying to reason with him at the wrongness of his horrifyingly unacceptable racism, battles I didn’t have the energy to fight, I eventually accepted that was the way it was. It was another sacrifice of my beliefs to accommodate him and in that, another betrayal of who I was. That silence felt complicit. I have to continually deprogram that and reorient my thinking even now, years after he is gone.
Like in my own life, the chaos is over, leaving somber remnants of the fight but also leaving peace. Though the trauma will remain, there is finally a glimmer of light after so much darkness. Yet truly, the work has only just begun. And I know this; it gets harder before it gets easier.
Now is the endurance test. The test that weeds out the dreamers from the determined. Can we go the distance without wearying? It will take relentless effort yet I believe together we can create a society where oppressors are not only held accountable but will also not be tolerated and looked away from as they perpetuate their agendas. I believe each of us must play a part in success. If it is to be, it is up to me.