domestic violence: the challenges of speaking up ~

domestic violence: the challenges of speaking up ~

For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy of your love. Love it. Have faith in it. Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing word after word after word.

~ Roger Rosenblatt, Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

Today, as I took my beloved in for his weekly lab work, I watched a young man intimidate his girlfriend. He pretended to be playing — perhaps he thought he was ‘playing.’ But his girlfriend obviously didn’t. And neither did I, nor the other young man watching with me. Bully pushed his girlfriend out of the way of the car door, after she gave up on him opening it. Perhaps he realised I was watching, or perhaps he just wanted to mess w/ her (I vote the latter). He shoved her further away, as she tried to open the door herself, then stood in her path as she tried to get around him. Over & over he laughed at her, pretended to playfully smack her, and generally intimidated her. He was a big guy; she was a pretty small woman. And did I mention there was an infant seat in the car?

I wanted to smack him. I at least wanted to let him know that he was seen, that there was someone watching, and that this behaviour wasn’t acceptable. And here’s where I failed: I only glared at him, because I’m white & he was not. Please note: I live in one of the most segregated towns in the US. We’re the town of the 1921 race riots, one of the America’s worst massacres of African Americans. We’re the city w/horrific health gaps between brown & white citizens. It’s here that we recently saw police refuse to become involved when a Lebanese man implored them to do something about his racist neighbour. Who minutes later shot the (browner) man to death.

I try daily to be an ally. To live an example of active, engaged anti-racism. To interrogate my own privilege(s), my own attitude(s). But I didn’t speak up. And I have no excuse, really. But I do have reasons. In retrospect? Probably not good ones. But here they come, and I would sooo appreciate it if you’d let me know what you think, as well:

  1. I didn’t want him to think it was a race thing (both he & his tiny girlfriend were black). I didn’t want him to be able to write off my interference as racial ~you just hate black guys. Because it wasn’t. I absolutely WOULD have spoken up to a white guy.
  2. I didn’t want to make it any worse for the young woman, or her baby. She had enough on her plate — did I mention we were at the infusion therapy lab? And since the baby wasn’t in the carseat, I assumed it was in the lab, being treated. It certainly was in the hospital.

I did turn to the young man beside me (another African American), & said, Sometimes you have to wonder why folks stay together. He nodded, and said Yep. I added, Would you want your sister treated like that?? And he said No. No one’s gonna treat my sister like that. That guy… And he shrugged. I said, He’s a jerk. We exchanged wordless looks of frustration.

So there you have it.  I failed. Maybe from cowardice. Although I know I would have buttonholed a white guy treating his child’s mother like that. But I didn’t this young man. And I will always wonder if I failed the frail young woman with him, and her unknown child. She could have been my sister (sans child), 30 years ago. We know about domestic violence, in my family. Thankfully, only one of us has had to live with it, and she no longer does. It kills. Daily. Three American women die each day, at the hands of their ‘beloved.’ If this young woman does, am I complicit through my silence?

What should I have done? Because I agree with Rosenblatt, quoted at the beginning of this post: the human heart is worthy of love. Perhaps, as my own beloved said, this young man was overwhelmed himself. My response? NO. NOT ONE of the men I know, of any colour or background, would treat a woman that way. Period. But still… And perhaps he too was once a victim of abuse — by a parent, a step-parent, a family member. And yet… It is almost impossible (actually? it is impossible) for me to love this bully’s heart.

I remember what a dear friend once said, when I was trying to get my head around the cruelty in the world. Britt, it’s not your job to love the evildoers. It’s your job not to hate them. They turned from go(o)d; go(o)d did not turn from them.

So here’s my question: what would you have done? And how do YOU deal w/ ugliness when it shows up right in front of you?