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A Meditation on Self-Recovery

By d’bi.young anitafrika

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault, incest and abuse.

There I was, unable to complete the poem. A friend rose up from the audience. Joined me onstage. She held me gently. She whispered, you can finish it, this is why you wrote it. I breathed deeply. My erratic heartbeat recovered, found the rhythm of my voice. Shame, pain and self-blame writhed into righteous anger. I used that anger to spear my way through a prism of silence, centuries older than I was. All the way to the last word on the page, on that stage, so long ago. It was my first Dub poem about childhood sexual trauma. 1998. Seven years after the abuse had ended.

I was living in Montreal. Within two months of being there, the flashbacks started. One night I called my mom, as a last resort, to talk me out of killing myself. It was during that conversation, that the truth spilled out of me. He had started touching when I was three years old. He stopped when I was thirteen. My mother didn’t mention to me then, on the phone, that I had come to her, like this, before. That a five year old version of me had told her that auntie A’s husband had offered me money in exchange for touching me. She had gone and spoken to her big sister, my aunt, whose husband was the pedophile, about it. Having done this, my mother thought the abuse had stopped. My mother’s telling had not stopped the violations. Her big sister, auntie A, maintained her romantic relationship with the pedophile. They had children together. Two daughters. And I erased the first childhood call for help from my memory.

Sometime after making that phone call to my mother, she called a meeting. We went to see the family, to collectively address what had happened. At the gathering, my aunt A cried. She apologized for what her partner had done. The pedophile was not present. She had not yet brought him to the new country, where most of the family had migrated to. My aunt A then moved on with her life. I did the same. A few years later I heard that they had married. Was that before or after the family? I don’t know. But they married. My aunt A brought the pedophile to the new country. I stopped visiting my family; in silent protest. The years went by. Twelve of them. During that time, the pedophile molested another young womxn in the family (that we know of). The girl spoke out. The pedophile left town. Three years passed. The pedophile returned. My aunt A took him back into the family to live with her and their children and grandchildren.

Flash forward to December, 2018. Twelve years had passed since I saw my family. I decided it was time for my sons to meet their great-grandmother; to meet the people who I was raised by and with. I pushed the possibility of encountering the pedophile deep into the abyss of survival mode. The first few days of the trip were exciting and joyful. Reuniting with my favourite aunt B, my cousins and seeing my grandmother, confirmed how much I had longed for them. It was a good idea then, to have a family get together. The entire family? My heart skipped into its habitual arrhythmia.

On the day of the family gathering I had a severe panic attack. As everyone arrived I sat upstairs losing my breath with each moment. My mom came to check on me. Then my auntie B. Then my cousins. I was about to die from the insides. The sound of my auntie A’s voice downstairs made me quiver with fear and anger. Was the pedophile with her? The fact that he wasn’t, didn’t stop my unquenchable swirling panic. Years of healing does not stop the body from remembering. The folks who had gathered around me were deeply distressed. Some to the point of frustration; some to the point of blame. I listened. I cursed. I cried. I shook all over. I allowed my body to move through fear, anger, sadness, emotional fatigue and eventually, calm. After some time, I went downstairs and greeted everyone, including my auntie A. At the end of the night I went to bed.

It was my auntie B’s idea to confront the pedophile. We drove over to auntie A’s house, met by my mother and my auntie C. It was a disaster. One that I was waiting for. Hoping for. Longing for. All my life. I spoke exactly what was done to me by the pedophile. In front of my auntie A, B and C. In front of my mother. And in front of all the rest who had come. When the pedophile began questioning me as if I were on trial for being sexually abused by him at three years old, my auntie B cut in, under a breath. She cut him to silence, then insisted that he name openly, what he had done to me. While articulating an apology, the pedophile began to cry. Some of the womxn in the room went to console him. Who was consoling me? My son. My eldest son. My eldest son leapt to his feet and was having none of it. His righteous anger leaping out of every part of his long limbs. In that moment of mayhem, he was the father I mostly never had as a child. In that moment of madness, my son, filled with righteous anger and sadness and compassion for me, defended the little girl he saw, when he looked at me. A little girl who never had anyone get so blind with anger, at the violence a human child suffered, while the adults looked the other way. My son called in the pedophile to take responsibility for what he had done. My son insisted that the pedophile be held accountable. He chided his elders’ passive complacency and complicity. Tears flowed from his eyes as he refused to be a part of the ongoing violence against Black womxn’s bodies; the violence against his mother. My son would not condone pedophilia or toxic masculinity. That moment changed my life. I witnessed the end of a vicious cycle. And the birth of a new one. There was a new generation in my family. The Right-of-Passage belonged to the elder in the room – my son. The Right-of-Passage belonged to the child in the room – me. Ase ancestors.

There are pedophiles in our families. And we harbor them. We protect them. We lie for them. We turn a blind eye to their monstrosities. We get separated from our families. We die alone. Sometimes we maintain intimate relationships with pedophiles because we do not want to die alone. How are we accomplices to the misogyny? The patriarchy. The mental unwellness. The sexual abuse? How do we make cultural allowances for sexual violence against girls. Children. Womxn. People? How do we sleep peacefully with this knowledge? How (do we?) rehabilitate pedophiles? What role does taking responsibility and accountability play in a process of rehabilitation? What is justice for those of us who have been violated as children by pedophiles? What role do all of us play in this ongoing brutality?

Courage. Integrity. Accountability. Responsibility. Healing. Justice. Compassion. Transformation. For all of us!

 

D’bi Young Anitafrika staring directly into camera
Image courtesy of D’bi Young Anitafrika

Poem #1

You know I don’t understand
Why my auntie’s man
Insists on holding my hands
When I am sleeping

And if I opens up my eyes
And look into his face
Him tell me to ‘Shshshsh
Close your eyes
Don’t be shy
don’t make any noise
Cause we don’t want your auntie
To wake in the place’

He says
‘don’t tell nobody what is going on
I have a special love for you
Your auntie would not understand
Keep this between me and you’

Last week he took his time
And he climbed on top of me
Then he opened up his pants
And he held down my hands

And all mi feel is pain
Again and again
All mi feel is pain
Again and again

My auntie used to say
That in the olden day
They used to put hot pepper
In your punani

If you were raped by a man
And you were a little gyal
You are in the wrong
You made it happen

Auntie never mentioned
That in most nations
Little girls are children of lesser gods
We suffer little girls to go onto him
And all the little girls become toy to him    

My auntie speaking from a place of experience
Couldn’t circumvent the event
She was dependent on the economic prowess of her man
Molesting girls in the family
One by One

Now it hurt between my legs
When I am walking
I have to spread my legs apart
When I am walking
I have to sit down on the side
When I’m at school
Because the benches feel too hard

The children at school
They laugh at me
They point and jeer all day long
And and and…

My best friend Cuz
Said to look at my skirt
When I turned it around
There was a big alert

I was bleeding on my uniform
Red blood red blood on my uniform
I bleed and bleed on my uniform
Red blood red blood red blood all day long

Blood is the color of the rainbow
For brown girls who consider suicide
When the love is not enough

Auntie man I don’t like
When you touch me right there
Auntie say seh I shouldn’t let nobody
Touch me right there
Auntie man this is wrong
Please let go of my hands
Auntie man this is wrong
Please put on back your pants

Tonite I’m going to sleep with a knife
Cuz told me Auntie’s man at night
Should only touch his wife
I tell him I don’t want his special love
But he still insists to take me from above

Auntie’s man took his time
He climbed on top of me
I sank the knife into his spine
Mi sink the knife into his spine
He never held my hands
He never took off his pants
And all him feel is pain
Again and again
All him feel is pain
Again and again  

 

Close up of D'bi Young Anitafrika against black background
Image courtesy of D’bi Young Anitafrika

Poem #2

to all the enslaved african womxn who fought for womxn’s liberation
during the 500 year period of enslavement
to all the indigenous womxn who fought/fight against colonisation & imperialism
to all the domestic laborers who fought/fight corporate-agenda-serving labor laws
to all the lesbian, queer, trans womxn who die fighting for all of our freedom to love and embody ourselves & who we choose to be
to all the mothers, aunties, sisters, cousins, daughters, who fight against childhood sexual assault in our homes, workplaces, in our streets
to the founders of Black Lives Matter and the womxn who shoulder the movement
to the civil rights movement womxn
to the black arts movement womxn
to the mau mau and the ahosi
to nanny and amanirenas
to the guerilla womxn
to the courageous womxn unnamed
to the warrior womxn untamed
to the outcasts and rejects
the ones who will not stay quiet
the ones who are hated & feared by the patriarchs & misogynists
to the ones abandoned by our families in favor of abusers
to the survivors, the ones who are not liked nor loved
because we say no, because we resist
because we have no master
because we refuse to fall-in-line
we are not accomplices nor are we complacent
to the dangerous ones
to the butus, the ghetto ones, the untouchables,
the ratchets, the unrespectables, and disrespectfuls
the whores, the sluts
the hags, the witches, the shit-disturbers, the bitches
to all of us with a purpose & a promise on this earth

Today, After 27 Years
I Confronted The Pedophile
The Child Sexual Abuser
The Molester of Little Black Girls
And My Little Black Girl Inside Felt The Deep Love She Desperately Needed
From Me. I Stood Up For Her, Even While Terrified
I Spoke Up For Myself, Even While Feeling Bullied
Today I Understood the Meaning of Self-Love
Closure is The Beginning
A New Chapter
Ase Ancestors
Thank You For Walking With Me
There is No Equality Without Womxn’s Equality
A Revolution is Brewing


From touring the world as a Dubpoet, to curating international residencies for artists in the Caribbean, North and South America, Africa and Europe the creative endeavors of African Jamaican Canadian D’bi Young Anitafrika are globally celebrated. A triple Dora award-winning published playwright-performer (of nine plays, seven books and seven Dub Poetry albums), director-dramaturge and educator-scholar, D’bi Young is also the creator of the Black feminist praxis — the Anitafrika Method. She is the founding Artistic Director Emeritus of the Watah Theatre where she taught BIQTPOC artists in Canada (2008-2018) and the founding Creative Director of the Anitafrika Retreat Centre where she teaches artists globally. Anitafrika recently signed a three-year publishing deal with Playwrights Canada Press to release one triptych per year: The Sankofa Trilogy 2019, The Orisha Trilogy 2020, and The Ibeji Trilogy 2021. Addressing issues of gender, sexuality, race and class through her radical interdisciplinary arts practices, Anitafrika is currently engaged in postgraduate studies at Goldsmiths, researching the Praxes, Politics and Pedagogies of Black Feminist Performance.

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