Footnote to Yesterday’s Disclosure

As a footnote to yesterday’s disclosure, I would like to address an elephant in the room. It had actually been ASKED of me way back during my original court proceedings, in several different ways, why I chose my first husband; and that, in essence, what did I expect to get for marrying a black guy from the ghetto? This whole racist shame blame was one of the reasons I stayed married, and tried to make our relationship work, for so long. I didn’t want people to judge my experience as a blanket statement that all black men were a certain way….which I learned, was how many white people quietly felt.

And once I did leave my first husband, and I was asked to start telling my story to help others, I didn’t want my experience as a domestic violence victim to be founded on the premise of the color of skin of the man I married; that would be an evil betrayal of victims of all “skin colors”, including white, that domestic violence can only happen in certain demographics. It happens across, and up and down, the demographic board.

That being said, while I know that there are real men in every racial and ethnic group, I know from experience that there are losers too. Grown males being boys crosses all barriers too. I grew up with an uncle, a white guy, who ended up in prison for years for murder, but not before he first pulled a knife on, and threatened to kill, my aunt. My first husband was African-American and Caribbean. My second husband was Filipino and white. And my third husband was Mexican, Spanish, and white.

So please, when you read my story, throw all notions of racism out the door. The issues I’ve dealt with in relating to the men in my life are defined by the heart and character of the men I’ve chosen, not the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or even religion. It’s about power and sexism and patriarchy, and a crippling misunderstanding of what it means to love and respect women, no matter the cultural background.

My parents raised me to always look at the heart and soul of a person, not how they look or where they were from, to determine their value in your life. And I ask you to still do the same. The brokenness of the men in my life was not because they weren’t white, or were white, or rich, or poor, or from a dysfunctional family, or spoiled. Their brokenness was caused by choices they made that, as an adult, they still chose to define themselves as victims, boys, and in need of being babied at all costs, all the time, instead of being the men that they had the potential, and were intended, to be.

I saw that potential, and loved that possibility and often times promise, rather than who each of them very clearly lived their actual lives being. My mistakes were in misjudging character, not culture. Please don’t do the same. There are amazing men out there that never get the chance TO be judged by their character, because they are too quickly judged and written off by their culture and color.

Ecclesiastes Tattoo

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I come from a long lineage of very long marriages.

My parents have been married 47 years, and counting. They haven’t killed each other yet    (although they’ve had some doozies over the car AC, especially).  At the height of my parents marital stress level, right after my mom went back to work after being a stay at home mom for nearly a decade, I heard them arguing one night. This was the only time I have EVER  heard a SINGLE uttered swear word in my home growing up. It stressed me out. I asked my mom if she and my dad were going to get divorced. She looked at me increduloulsy and said, ” No. I made a commitment to God to love your father until the day I die. I might KILL him so that day comes sooner, but I will never divorce him.”………ah….my life was rebalanced again….

My dad’s  parents were married 41 years before my grandma died.

My mom’s parents were married a month shy of 70 years before my nana died. 70 years!!! I asked my Boppo one day, if he had to do it over again, would he still have married my nana? He looked at me, ever earthy and blunt in nature, and said, laughing gruffly, “Yes I would; it’s been hell WITH her, but it would be hell WITHOUT her too.”

And even though none of these marriages were perfect, they were what I aspired to. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. Period. I saw life as something less than the ideal if I had to walk it alone. And THAT was coming from an only child who loved solitude and being alone.

My parents were a cross-classism couple, my dad being from a working class, “Oakland flatlands” family, and my mom being from a white collar “Kensington/El Cerrito hills” family. Progressive and all-inclusive was how I was raised. Color and class didn’t matter. All that mattered was whether someone loved God, and respected himself and his family, or not. So to marry someone outside of my given social status was irrelevant to me. Love conquered all. I saw itplay out  repeatedly within the four walls of my childhood home.

When I got married to my children’s father, it was for a lifetime. Come hell or high water. Come interracial couple backlash. Come class conflict. Come parenting challenges. Come financial issues. Come drug addiction……..come domestic violence…….come child abuse………

Slowly my ideal dream of being married for a lifetime, and being a couple like my parents and grandparents, slowly slipped through my fingers like sands in an hourglass. I fought it. Boy did I fight it. Probably 11 years too long. I gave up everything to keep my marriage in tact. Because I believe that marriage is worth fighting for; that the person I pledged my life to, to love in good times and bad, sickness and health, deserved my loyalty, because, if you aren’t supported in your own home, nothing else makes much sense.

Until the day I realized that the refuge I had created for him, had conversely become a war zone, battleground for me and our children. And then I had a huge decision to make. Did I leave my marriage, and quite possibly save myself and my children, literally? Or did I hang out, and go down with the sinking ship, keeping the candle lit until the fierce winds engulfed it’s light?

I went to church that Sunday. The weekend where everything had come to a head. By myself, as usual, at that time. A white woman, in a predominantly black church, carrying a burden about my black husband, where I felt like years of racism and oppression and institutionalized “everything”, had fallen on my shoulders. So many things went through my head. Was his brokenness my fault? Was the fact that I was white push him over the edge? How did I reconcile what I know was a very traumatic past on his part, with how he was traumatizing everyone in his present? How did I extricate myself from an abusive marriage without the expected and judgemental mindsets whispering, “See, you should never have married a black guy anyway,” or, ” What did you do to him, you oppressive white chick?”, or ” He just needs to be understood, he’s  a black man in America. That should say it all.”

I struggled and struggled with this, until MLK’s words came to my mind. To me, how my then husband acted in the four walls of our home wasn’t based on the color of his skin, but the content of his character. And his own demons, black, or brown, or yellow, or white…. were winning, at the cost of all of us involved. It was a pastor at this church who said to me, “Marriage is a very personal thing; and while everything that happens outside of that home does effect the inside, each adult is responsible for what they allow of themselves, and each other, inside those four walls. God did not create marriage to be a punching bag of any kind, for anyone. And the second that you are afraid to be home, is when you need to forget everything that you think should hold you there, and fight for the things that should make you leave.Your children need to have a man in their life who handles himself as a true man, with honor and protection of those he loves, rather than abusing them. And rather than feeling like you are letting a black guy down, look at it as though if this is the only black guy your children will know, what will they think of them? The stereotyping can go both ways.”

The sermon that day was on detours that God puts in our lives. We are going one direction, and all of a sudden, the road verges sharply in another direction. And  those detours are God’s way of recalibrating our lives, refocusing our priorities, and rebalancing the status quo. The passage the pastor preached  from was Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for everything.

A time to be born, and a time to die; 

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to sew, and a time to tear;

A time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

and a time for war, and a time for peace. 

And just like that, I knew it was time to let go; to release what I had so tightly held; to embrace the unknown of a detoured road; to trust a God who loved me enough to disrupt the status quo, who embraces His people more than His expectations for His people.

And this tattoo was born. Changing Autumn leaves to represent the changing of our lives, and to celebrate the idea that sometimes certain dreams have to die before they can be reborn, that the Phoenix must burn before it can rise again.

 

 

 

 

Loving vs. Virginia, and me

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The courage this couple needed to have is amazing to me. When my children’s father and I got married, even in 1992, a lot of people were against it. Whispers here. Murmurings there. Slight looks. Knowing nods. Others verbalized that we were choosing to make our marriage harder because of the race difference, harder than marriage already is.
Our response was that we were going into our marriage having discussed those differences at length, understanding the challenges and the unique stressors that we were up against, and then we laid them all out on the table to deal with them. And we discussed that in fact there were similar, but often unaddressed issues, with couples who ARE ethnically the same, but deal with similar class and family issues, that can undermine all new marriages. In my own family alone, my dads father did NOT like my mom, and made it very clear, simply because she was from the “hills” of Berkeley, while my dad was from the flatlands. And he thought my mom was conceited simply because she wanted a college education….. Same color. Same European ethnicity even.
Then, when all hell broke loose in my marriage, some people responded with,”well, what did you expect? You should never have married the ‘black’ guy to begin with.”
My response, even after dealing with years of reverse discrimination in family law and with legal authorities? No. Drug Addiction. Mental illness. Childhood poverty. And unaddressed trauma and family violence know NO color barrier. And while institutional racism and personal discrimination DID shape and color his life, and our marriage, it was not the root cause of our struggle. We didn’t have our problems because he was “black”. We had our problems because he was human. And he needed to be held accountable to restore  justice because he was a human who had hurt another human, not because he was a man of color.

But maybe our American culture, rather than writing off groups of people as being different and therefore a threat, needs to address the humanity in all of us, and make sure that we all have access to the quality care and help that would make us equitably healthy individuals in the first place. Adults will still make choices, some of them horrific and despicable ones. I know. My kids and I are the recipients of them. But if we never grow healthy children of all colors, tax brackets, and geographic locations, the scales are tipped before the weigh-in even begins.

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