Where Shame Has No Home

scarification african woman

…touch the scar to assure us the enemy lurking//will not bring shame where shame has no home.

from “Touch: A Letter to the Mother” by L. Lamar Wilson

I joined the ranks of the diagnosed mentally “ill” in 2006.

Now my cursor is staring at me—accusing, threatening, impatient, nervous, and ashamed; daring me to say anything else.

Silence, as Audre Lorde famously pointed out, has not protected me; cannot and will not protect me or anyone else.

Silence from a writer?  Ironic much?

My niece calls to tell she has “gotten saved” at church today.  We talk about that and my body before matters of school recess, dreadlocks (yes–lol!) and Shamrock shakes at McDonald’s.

My body is “skinny; well not skinny but smaller than everyone else.”  She wonders about my eating habits and then about “diets.”  She’s been watching the Biggest Loser.  She’s robust and healthy.  She’s 9.  I hear in the questions that she is learning early to be uncomfortable in that body.  I’m not over-reacting.  I was a 9 year old brown girl once.  And I also see what passes for “healthy” in the media.

An MA student in counseling tells me about her week of practicum at a local elementary school.  Two 9 year old boys are in the counselor’s office in the morning because one has started the rumor that they are dating.  This angers the other and incites their classmates to bullying.

The school counselor hosts a class discussion that afternoon, supposedly about gossip. “How would like it if I called you gay?” she starts.  One student says that’s nasty and the other says he would go off.  What is the message to any student in the class who may indeed be homosexual—that (s)he has a “condition” of which (s)he should be ashamed?  That’s the message I hear.

I read an article about a series of ads in New York that intends to discourage teenage girls from getting pregnant.  It features photos of mostly minority presenting infants looking sad, crying, or confused with thought bubbles that tell the potential mothers how hard their lives will be if she gives birth to them.

What is the message to girls who are already pregnant, to those with children they are trying to raise?

(For the record, and digressing I admit: I don’t know any mother young or otherwise who is or was completely prepared for motherhood.  There is, regretfully maybe, no textbook—only trial by fire from what I’m told).

What I mostly see in the ads is that to making visible the “mistake” of teen sex through pregnancy is the real mistake.

I doubt any of the 3 campaigns I’ve watched in action this week will serve to generate the desired effects.  Instead, they will probably effectively shame to silence.  Silence is fucking deadly!  Silence is the cancer that saw how many Jews killed in the Holocaust, how many sold into the Triangle Trade, that feeds sexual and human trafficking, and the endemic abuse of children in the Catholic Church. 

From Martin Luther King: History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.  He was speaking of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.  Silence is as tragic in any time.

I face my own silence, my mantras—the #thingsItellmyself hashtag that appears in my Twitter feed nearly daily—like the warrior I have had to be to manage and moreover survive.  Indeed, silence is as noxious to the silent as to those who do the silencing.

And imagine being the silent and the silencer—that’s who I have been.  I have been silent on the matter  because there is a cursor in my head that waits and anticipates what comes next.

The cursor anticipates the voices that speak in hushes or tsks; that call it a condition of leisure at best and at worst cowardly; shames with its accusing, threatening, impatient, nervous blinking.  It is uninformed and unfair; unwarranted and dangerous.  And it needs to stop so that what comes next is healing.

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