I have been finding my father all over the place.
My first stop was Ancestry.com. It seemed like the best way to begin. I entered in his information and my mother’s information..
There they were. I found the names of 25 of my ancestors. I found their names on Census, public and military records. People in my family that were the first (so far) to be freed from slavery. Some working in fields illiterate while younger members of the family attended school. I found the suggested plantation my family was enslaved upon.
Family lore tells me it was Fort Hill or what is now known as Clemson University. The jury is out about that. However, my pompous African-American Studies professor from college who mocked me arrogantly about the myths of African Americans…well, I just wish I had his email address. :)
So, what am I looking for?
When I attended an African American studies course in college, we were required to read several books. One of them discussed the idea that sexual assault perpetrated against slaves caused a shift in their culture.
I know, this sounds very Captain Obvious. Bear with me.
- Common place rape of slaves by masters who could have been raping their own daughters, sisters, etc.
- Forced copulation for improved slave population .
- Public fondling at slave auctions.
- Powerless family members having to watch the victimization of other family members.
This is a piece of my family story.
My great-grandfather was born a slave. He died when I was one or two years old. No one knew how old he was exactly. All I really know about him was that he was wearing a knit beanie the first time he held me in his arms. He looked at my bald head and said, “Gurl, you gotta grow some hair on that head. It’s cold out there!” It was summertime.
The thought still makes me smile.
I am a piece of my family’s story. What happened to me does not make me special. It makes me a link in a culture ruined. Sexual abuse was the disease that followed us like a scourge from the plantation. It was headed my way long before I was born.
We, the African-American culture specifically, talk a lot about moving on. We hush, we distract, we keep moving forward. We forget to heal. We are too blessed to be stressed.
I just want to know. I want to know if anyone else saw the disease-spreading. In a space free of blame or guilt, I just want to know if anyone else saw the symptoms. The manipulative power of a pedophile is such that they go unnoticed. Not completely but those in their presence may not be able to see the whole story until it is far too late.
It is far too late but I want to know the symptoms. I want to write them down, share them and say them aloud. This is how future diagnosis is made.
This is how I heal.
Surviving sexual abuse did not make me special. It shattered me. It made me a master at puzzles. It made me the final link in a diseased family story. Although, I hate the idea that somehow this happened for a reason, I will say it made me a little fierce.
I will write the symptoms down for you. We have some links to cut.
“Perhaps the greatest horror of slavery was that you were denied your own children. You were denied indeed your own birthright. You were born into the world, but the self that you were, descended from your family, …was taken away from you. You were suspended in time. You were in limbo. You could not even have your self under slavery. Your selfhood was denied.”