Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Two children, one adult; fleeing domestic violence.
This was the category assigned to my family after becoming homeless and seeking shelter. I had filled out the application and inadvertently downplayed the physical abuse as secondary while explaining that vandalism and theft were the consequential cause. Thankfully, due to the attentiveness and understanding of the intake representative, we were categorized appropriately.
Urban Resource Institute and their People and Animals Living Safely (PALS) program would become home to my children and me, along with our dog Coco. They provided the safety of a private apartment equipped with all the necessities we would need to begin healing. During my first group meeting, I was introduced to the other residents. Looking around, I saw every demographic represented, I listened to their stories and for the first time, I wept. I wept because I could breathe. I wept because in hearing the experiences of others I began to fully understand and accept my reality; I had fled an abusive relationship and became a survivor. Prior to this moment, I did not classify myself as such.
In my initial assessment of this thought process, I believed my distortion of what qualifies as abuse stemmed from extreme circumstances depicted in movies and news. As I continued to examine the origin of my misconception, however, I was reminded of a colloquialism that may leave many people with the same level of delusion: "I do it because I love you."
Toxic and violent lovers aren't the only ones that say this and believe it.
Corporal punishment can be found cross-culturally, yet research shows Black Americans whup their children more frequently than others, putting us at a higher risk of social service oversight and furthering the degradation of the Black family. This deeply rooted norm constructed from the very beginning of our existence in this nation as enslaved people highlights the abuse at the core of our worldview.
While slavery advised the masses on how to invoke obedience and maintain order, it was in our freedom that Black Americans became devoted to this practice. Whuppings became a resource utilized to survive. It’s more favorable to be whupped than hanged. It was better to be physically punished by our family than have others brutally punish us how they saw fit. Recent studies show these fears have not lessened with time. While I understand why these were the choices of our ancestors, have we not come far enough to see the negative cycles of this principle? It teaches children that if you upset someone who loves you, it may lead to physical correction and that it’s OK. Furthermore, it complicates the definition and recognition of domestic violence.
In healing from my own abuse, I found that it is possible to unlearn some of these destructive tendencies. Intergenerational violence is not exclusively a Black issue. However, as we combat the over-policing of Black bodies and build brighter, healthier futures for our children and future generations, dedication to this outdated form of punishment does more harm than good. We have a responsibility to find safer, less damaging ways to discipline our children and educate the masses in order to stop this cycle and never repeat it again.
So, what does a domestic violence survivor look like? Anyone. But what does change look like? We the people.
Hope Victoria is a domestic violence survivor, Urban Resource Institute ambassador and motivational speaker with an emphasis on trauma-informed storytelling.