Black Girlhood and Learning to Survive

This essay was written in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

TW sexual violence

By Nobody's Darling

By  C 'marie

I understand now—a week from 24 years old—that surviving black girlhood is a revolutionary act.

The teachings of how to survive were subtle but they were there. They existed to keep me and many generations of young girls Out Of Trouble.

Before the phrase ‘rape culture’ existed in my vocabulary, I had already learned that my body did not belong to me. At seven years old, it had been ingrained in me to not say ‘no’ the first time I was inappropriately touched. I knew to call it anything but what it was. It was inappropriate unwanted touching that happened over and over until he got bored; he grew up and discovered prettier girls that had already developed breasts and butts. Girls that were his age, girls that I hope he asked before he touched.  

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase that I know I would have heard if I had spoken up. Boys will be boys; apparently, boys do not know that pinning you down or covering your mouth is not a friendly game and that goes beyond I’ll Show You Mine, You Show Me Yours. That is taking control. That is taking from someone else.

Between the ages of seven and nine, nearly every memory was removed from my brain. There are memories that I did not dare think about. What happened didn’t happen, because I never thought about it. Anger and resentment were exactly what I felt every time I saw him, though I wasn’t quite sure why. I convinced myself I was overreacting, that my feelings were displaced: I was the one that returned next door, I was the one that didn’t say anything, I was the one that felt uncomfortable but went along with it, I was the one at fault.

Sexual abuse often gets swept under the rug, especially when you are part of a Black family and from the same community as your abuser. Speaking up can mean ruining someone’s life, something I didn’t want be blamed for. Though I cannot recall being told that no one would listen or believe, I knew that saying he touched me would mean I was trouble. That Girl would be attached to me and my being. The elders in my community would warn future little girls to not be like me.

I cannot say I felt the love or warmth as I recognize it today, but I always felt the protection, the shield of family. That shield, even if it protects your abuser, is never lifted. Calling him my abuser has never seemed fitting. Nothing about him makes him mine. His actions are not mine.

He is a part of a cycle of abuse. It took me years to acknowledge the abuse since he was barely a couple of years older than me. He practiced what he learned from his own household.  There was another victim: him. I learned that right after he stopped, which might be one of the reasons why he stopped. His emerging manhood and his father being a cop meant he would never let anyone get close enough to know.

Most days I’m glad that he was the one that stopped, because I’m not sure I would have ever found the strength to not go back. I was a lonely child, missing the one person that was supposed to protect me and trying my hardest to not succumb to the voices in my head that told me over and over that self-harm was okay. Comfort led me there, fear is what made me stay.

His experiences don’t justify his actions. However, most of my anger is directed towards the adults that did not teach us boundaries, or give us space to speak about how badly we hurt.

I want to protect those girls. The black girls who are told to never say no. The black girls who have always felt alone. The black girls who are told they are pretty only from those who want to damage them. The black girls who desperately wanted to be heard but whose screams have never seemed loud enough to start a movement.

We owe it to them. I owe it to myself.