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By Jas Riley with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)



Thursday, June 05, 2014.


As a bright-eyed, eager, and naïve 21 year old, I donned my uniform with a clear awareness that my purpose for joining the service was for upward mobility. I did not anticipate leaving the post during break to discover I was pregnant. Troy drove me to the store to buy a pregnancy test and held my hand as we anxiously waited for the results. He held me as I cried and didn’t ask me how it happened. Mel sat with me while I talked to the guy who was responsible and listened while observing my response as we heard the guy on the other line say, “I knew you were pregnant; I was waiting on you to get back to me.”


He proceeded to tell me that he had to create a legacy. As I cringed in agony, Mel held me and cried with me, never asking why I had had sex with that guy. I wanted to scream that I pushed him off when he took the condom off, but I did not.  Anthony drove me to the abortion clinic, waited with me, and cared for me practically hand and foot for a month while I recovered. They never told my secret because they understood the shame that I was and that I’m still coming to terms with. 


The shame I felt for trusting someone who could behave in such a way, the shame of promiscuity so often associated with Black women’s pregnancy, the shame I felt for having no attachment to the fetus growing inside of me, and the shame I felt for not knowing if this was considered a violation of some sort.


He did not look like a terrorist and he certainly did not consider himself one, but his actions—his purposeful blurring of the lines, his calm demeanor when he spoke to me, his complete disregard for my person nurtured in his misogynist tone which suggested that I should somehow be grateful that he wanted me enough to make me the mother of his seed— terrified me and still affects me. 


Sexual violence and its perpetrators are often unassuming. The situations that yield such experiences are often so bound up in extended intimate relationships and a culture of sexual over-determination that the ability to recognize them as violations, or the desire of the victim to do so, is difficult to access. This is to say that the discussion on this touchy subject can never be directed to only those men “who would never have sex with a woman against her will and never want to be caught up in stupid situations that can be easily avoided” (Watkins).


While I am just beginning the healing  process six years later, this incident forced me to recognize the ways Troy, Mel, and Anthony (two heterosexual and one queer black man) showed up for me. They did not judge me or pose thoughtless questions that would position me as essentially responsible or reckless, but, somehow, my twenty-one year old self—the one who had lost her virginity at twenty and only had one other sex partner beyond this guy—knew to be afraid to speak, to be ashamed of my actions, to blame myself, and to keep it a secret. These men showed up for me when I could not possibly show up for myself. The love demonstrated in their actions was radical!


For some of us, conversations about sexual violence do not move beyond such a limiting format (talk), so the extended imperative is to have discussions to entice debate. These conversations often turn into a show of muscle to flex a narrative of Black or African American exceptionalism.  And for many of us, the realities of sexual violence significantly impact our lives even though our stories are considered simply unremarkable.  So words and the passion animating an underlying desire to one-up a seeming enemy rather than sincerely understand the pain associated with various intricate forms of sexual violence and their impact in a culture that still does not know me—a young, Black woman—can be suffocating.


The sting of abortion from an act our culture deems inherent to my deviant nature demands that I question my ability to engage in pleasure, as well as my belief in the possibility of my own victimhood. What I need you to do is recognize how your words have violated women, to take off the blinders of exceptionalism, and see me. Don’t feel sorry for me, but move for me! Recognize the history of non-subjectivity your senseless questions and trivialization of the likes of me as freaks invokes and how it registers a personal injury. Recognize how your inherent distrust or the ill-informed misbelief that your plight as Black man is somehow more significant enacts a similar historical violence that informs my present being. Be careful with your questions, throw down your defenses, and act in community WITH me.


“Consent to not be a single being” (Glissant) and act out of love and compassion rather than blame. We are in this together, so let’s not buy into an allusion of boundaries that will allow us to maintain such a harmful power dynamic that continuously fractures and intimidates any notion of a Black collective.  The impact of sexual violence and its intimate nature cannot and should not be reduced to simply a “healthy debate” (Watkins). 


I am hurt, but I don’t want to hurt you. I want you to “Get in [my shoes]” (Watkins).  I need you to understand what informed my fear and I need you to believe me and help me believe me by not referring to the likes of me, whose similar situations may or may not be informing their sexual decisions as  a “wolf in freaks clothing” and assuming that you know them.  Begin to learn to love me fearlessly like I love you. My peace of mind and the confidence that love as a verb from you encompasses does not threaten your manhood. And if you think it does, then you prove my point we need to do more than talk. Show up for me!




Jas Riley is a southern born Black feminist poet who wondered her way into the world of formal criticism somehow. She is currently a student in the English PhD program at the University of California, Riverside, where she studies African American Literature, Black Feminism, and Queer of Color Critique. 


Sexual Violence, Shame and Black Male Allies

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