Why She Stays And What Needs to Be Done About It

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“That sounds an awful lot like rape and if I ever see him in person, I’ll kill him.”

It is a question that has long haunted me, why did my member of MENSA uber feminist mom stay with a man who beat her and then a man who hurt us and was an awful drunk. The older I’ve gotten, the more forgiving I’ve become as I’ve watched my friends, former students and ultimately myself become statistics. Vulnerable, young women without education are typically the image we have of the domestic abuse victim but what happens when she is Stanford educated, a role model with training, albeit with a self esteem problem?

I felt angry with my mom, she should have known better. We were poor but she’s smart, she raised me in such a way that I was giving feminist lectures in 5th grade. She can stand up in a room and dazzle any audience. And yet, I know she’s deaf on her left side from being kicked down a flight of stairs. She left her second husband when she found out he was raping us but he was a mean drunk who didn’t work to begin with and I remember being so angry with her for failing to leave both of them. But the first one held a gun to my head and threatened to kill us all if she left and she only escaped when her male friends intervened and made it physically impossible for him to hurt us anymore. The second guy was my sibling’s father and my mom was in a haze, she protected us to the extent she knew how but she too was vulnerable. Intelligence can’t save you from abuse, but your community and the police can.

I have my mother’s sharp mind, maybe even more so. And I am far more educated. I’ve been taught to recognize abuse, I have a special knack for seeing it, and I’ve made my fair share of CPS reports. A fiery radical, I’ve given my fair share of lectures on gender at parties, and I’ve taught the stuff. But all of that hides my vulnerability; my crippling insecurity and lack of self worth, my anxiety and PTSD and my almost impulsive need to try to understand and see the good in everyone. It’s a dangerous combination and it’s resulted in a lot of intimate violence. The boy who stalked me when he drank, the other one who harrangued me to lose weight and most painful of all, the boy who pushed me during sex to do things that physically hurt me. I thought I had safe guarded myself by choosing among my long term friends, but his struggles with work and depression brought out a dark side I couldn’t see and couldn’t have predicted. In Boyhood the mother marries a mean drunk and it’s easy to judge, but how could she have known?He was an educated guy with a job, just the kind of guy that people were judging her for not being with not five minutes in the film earlier. It’s easy to pass judgment on the screen but much harder when it’s not strangers.

I was saved by the men I call my uncles as a little girl and I was saved by my friends in my adulthood. They gave me a place to stay as I fled, countless hours of coaching and just kindness and love as they reminded me who I was. Nothing else saves women but their community, that’s why abusers always try to shut them off from their community. But in a world where I felt I had to apologize and feel embarassed for my failure to predict the future, how can we possibly protect each other? Something is lost when our communities no longer feel responsible for to each other and there are probably lives being lost because of that. But it’s also the same forces that protect rapists, we blame victims for crimes committed against them, crimes they could not have predicted or controlled. No man presents himself as a dick during the courting process and often the abusive ones are also the best manipulators and actors. We could try to stay a few steps ahead, they identify as nice and nerdy and then we finally catch on, they claim to be feminists and we catch on; they will adjust to what they have to adjust to. We have to stop asking women what they failed to do to stop monsters and start asking why the monsters exist and why we aren’t helping to fight them.

My mom’s high IQ didn’t save her. My best friend’s high self esteem didn’t save her. My Stanford degrees and training didn’t save me.

My community did.

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Identity is More Complicated than a Facebook Picture

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This isn’t something I’ve talked a lot about except with a few friends back home and with my parents, but I want to talk about it now. When I am in a room of only white people I get extremely uncomfortable. I am white. The first time in my life that I experienced this was when I got to Stanford, where despite all promises of diversity, people are still very much segregated on campus. It was presumed that because I am white that I would go hang out with the white kids. But every time I tried to do that, I ended up getting into arguments with people about race and class, because they assumed that I was “a member of the club” and would say horrifically bigoted things casually. The problem is that I have very little in common with the white kids at Stanford, because Stanford receives applicants from and admits very few poor whites, despite the fact that poor whites are an enormous portion of the population (not Stanford’s fault, I am evidence they want to do the right thing, it is indicative of how bad our education system is). However, even then, I would have only had something in common with the poor whites who grew up urban like I did (a very small segment of the population, as I unhappily found out when I had to have a discussion with a poor white kid from Arizona who needed to be educated), so really, I was uncomfortable in the white communities. In several meetings I would look at my friends in communities of color and say: “look, I know I am white, and I know that means I have some advantages, a fact I know because I grew up white in a non-white community and I am the “whitest” of my siblings, but you know I grew up in the same neighborhood as you.”

I had more in common with the Hispanic kids from South Central Los Angeles than I didn’t with 98% of the white kids I interacted with on a daily basis. And the only time anyone thought that was weird or unusual was when I went to Stanford, I had been living with that reality, very comfortably for 18 years at that point. In fact, the idea that it should not be that way was shocking and horrifying to me. This is why I was uncomfortable in rooms full of white people. I know a lot of people are going to be mad at me for saying this, are going to think I am being a jerk or unfair and that’s fine. I’ve done this before, but I think we have to talk about this, because my whiteness privileges me to a lot of things, including shallow introduction in a community that feels as foreign to me as China did.

I am white. I have no delusions about my whiteness, my mom didn’t run around lying to me to convince me otherwise. Everyone at my high school knew I was white, they treated me like I was white, and yet, I am not white in some key ways. I used to come home from parties at Stanford fuming, and my friends would blame my anger on me. Why can’t you pretend? Why can’t you go with the flow? Every time I heard something like “poor people should serve in the military more frequently, they are better at killing” or “they only got in because of Affirmative Action” I had to call home and release my uncensored, uncodeswitched anger on someone. People didn’t realize, of course, that I got in because of Affirmative Action, my SAT scores weren’t poor, but they weren’t perfect either, I had no APs because the high school I went to didn’t offer them, Stanford admitted me on the hope that because I was under-resourced that I would flourish with the right resources and they were right. I listened to my friends call EPA ghetto, when EPA was the closest thing I had to home. People told me poor kids didn’t succeed because they didn’t work hard enough, and I thought about the kids back home that were working too hard to go to college. And every time I got mad, someone would say, why are you so angry. My response then and now is the same, because in my eyes, they were talking about my friends and family, and anyone who grew up in urban working class culture knows that you don’t do that without a fight.

This is what I am fighting for, every single day. People asked me why I was so upset about Trayvon and I said “because he could have been one of my students, my nephew, my significant other, my friend.” This is personal for me. And as much as that fact made it difficult for me to go to Stanford, that is something I am so incredibly grateful for, I would have and did make the choice that it was more important to cling to that than to fit in, and it is the choice that makes me happy every single day. Because as I look at the comments of this case, as I argue with people in education, as I take care of my kids in my classroom, the words those people and they and my ring in my head and I can’t help but be grateful for the richness in my life that I have because I was raised to believe that all people were my people. I believe Trayvon would be alive today if each and everyone of us thought of him as being one of our children. I know this, because I have seen how fiercely everyone, rich people included, fights for their own kids.

I had perhaps more impetus than others to not pass. My mom, when I graduated from Stanford told me she was proud because she had wanted two things for me; she wanted me to get a world class education and she wanted me to hate yuppies. My mom’s code word for privileged people is yuppies. I don’t hate privileged people. Hate doesn’t have the kind of power love does. Hate cannot sustain you. But love, love will last you a life-time. That is what most poor kids are fighting for when they fight; for love. For the love of their families, their friends, and their significant others, and their neighbors. We grow up in a world where we know our neighbors as if they are our own family. When I came back for my favorite holiday, the 4th of July, I came back to a multi-ethic neighborhood hosting a block party, where I taught new immigrants how to use sparklers and where food was shared. I grew up in a community. And that experience was painful, and it was hard, but I CHOOSE to see the beauty in it and what I got out of it, just as I CHOSE while I was at Stanford to see the good there. Both places did their damage and their good, but at the end of the day, I still think Stanford has more to learn from my community than my community has to learn from it. They can start with understanding what a community is, and end with knowing what it means to love thy neighbor.