An Open Letter To the White Man Who Takes,
To you, the one who wears your entitlement with the same self-assured ease as your cashmere coat and your ability to laugh at things that are not at all funny and your disbelief that you have ever had any advantages in life and so it must be something special in you, something earned, that lets you enter into other people’s places and bodies and lives and casually pick up their most needed things and walk out winking, deepened in your declaration that the world is indeed your very own oyster, all of it made just for you.
To the ones who stood in the front of the classrooms, giving out good grades in direct correlation with quality of cleavage. Who took hand jobs in exchange for access to education. Who corrected speech to put us in our place and rolled eyes when asked real questions. Who said "you are too pretty to be smart" and then "too smart to bother yourself with writing stories about domestic abuse because it is only women who will read that kind of drivel and if you want to make it (and you do want to make it, don’t you?) then you need to listen and learn from the greats," all of whom are white men. White men whom we never really mention had some woman somewhere taking care of them and doing their laundry and listening to their shitty first drafts and pretending to like it.
To the ones who beat my body into a mess of muscle and shivering skin. Who broke me until bleeding and left me to lie there. Who felt it acceptable to take all your rage or your confusion or your wounding, all your hatred or your fear or your own numb dissociation, and pound it into my own flailing protest and walk away unscathed and unseen. Because you could. Or because you wanted to. Or because you felt incapable of stopping yourself. You, who chose to do this, were allowed to do this, and left me with the medical bills and brain burned with the way your voice was mocking and the way you smelled on the back of the neck right where the rough of your hair gave way to pale skin.
To the ones who watched. Who said nothing. Who did nothing. Who looked away or walked away and now claim the status of one of the good guys, one of the not all men, because as you say you never took fist to face or held a woman down with your own hands. You only did it by doing nothing, by participating in the system that will, weeks or months or years later (and this only if she beats the odds by actually seeing her perpetrator arrested, charged, and on trial) blame the woman who was assaulted while you stood there silently in the other room and twisted the cap off another beer.
To the old (and sometimes young) ones in your uncomfortable looking suits who spends immoral amounts of money to run for office and then sit in seats of power and weigh the pros and cons of someone like me who once had a uterus getting to make her own decisions about the care of her own body. Who decide and demand that a woman should be required to give her body to grow a pregnancy into a possible birth of life, though you have never demanded the same of your own body for things like kidney or bone marrow or sections of the liver which also could keep a being alive who is already alive and here and in desperate need. Who tell me how pregnancy works and how abortion works and how rape works and how birth control works and tie down and bind up my own body with legislation and say it is for my own good.
To the ones who paid me to care for their children and upon returning left the wife at home to drive me to wherever I said I was going next and let their hand move from steering wheel to stick shift to the slip of skin of exposed thigh, and said "thank you for understanding and I’m always here for you if you need me," and when I said "you can just stop and drop me off here" and started to open the door, threw hands up in the air as if injured and said, “What? No hug goodbye?”
To the one who takes up so much space. Too much space. In the conversation. In the classroom. In the work meeting, the voice loud and insistent upon superiority for things banal and tedious in their boredom. At conferences and on panels and in the front of the room. On the subway, with your legs spread wide open as we trip over your feet and hold on hoping not to fall. In line at the grocery. On airplanes, placing both arms on shared armrests with complete disregard for the bodies sitting on either side. In positions of power and influence. On all the dollars we use and the painted portraits in all the buildings that preside over important decisions and all the statues built that I have to see and walk by when wanting to enjoy the heat of this city in the summertime and the way there is often a horse involved too or some kind of charge happening in case we forget the heroics of who you were.
To the ones who told me god hated girls, and punished the disbelieving, and cared about exposed knees and the status of my soul so much that it would take obscene violence to purify so as to be let into his good graces. Who spoke to god, and spoke for god, appointed prophet and given all the keys to all the rooms and so there is no such thing as safety. Who entered into every thought, words in repetition, and in creating a world has the power to decide even the details and so it becomes difficult to know if my face or name even exists or if the erasure succeeded so completely I became invisible.
To the ones who decided, without my consent, what my earliest sexual memories and stories would be.
To the one who claims spiritual enlightenment and seeks solace in nature and works diligently to affirm your status of conscious and deeply present, but doesn’t pay child support on time or doesn’t pay it all because you chose to do something else with your life altogether. Who nourishes your body with organic food from the earth and makes sure to mediate in the mornings and feels sadness for those who care about consumerism and have given themselves over to the rat race, but don’t provide the health insurance for your children for which you are legally required to do so and choose instead to invest in correcting others when they speak, when I speak, because you are so sure your wisdom will open wide all the doors and women might then stop complaining so much or blaming so much or being so offensively demanding.
To the one who wears a white coat and has a title next to your name that allows you to decree what I should or should not do with my body. Who refuses to listen to me. To believe me. Who says, “maybe you just need to sleep more,” without even knowing that I cannot sleep more because I am working full time and a single mother and in graduate school and have had cancer twice and so now there is bone loss and arthritis taking over my left hip and I know my risk factors and I know my family history. It is MY body after all. I’m the one who has lived here in it for forty years. But please, why don’t you explain to me some more how all I need is a good night’s sleep.
To the ones who go to personal development retreats and use soft words and speak of the divine feminine and the sacred goddess, who close your eyes when speaking so as to let everyone know you are deeply feeling, and then question why I am so angry, wonder if it might help for me to just release some of those negative thoughts so as to open to the abundance possible in right thinking. Who want validation for your emotionally stunted performance of self-actualization without confronting the misogyny and white supremacy that is so thick it surrounds everything, and we are choking while watching you release your inhibitions and find you “true self.”
To the one who pressed close with your paranoia and fear of my own separate self choosing something besides you. Who woke me in the night to make accusations about what I had been doing in my sleep. Who blamed and threatened to harm the bodies of those I loved and sneered the word feminist with contempt and broke into my home and read through all my things, even the box of the oldest letters in a closet I had long forgotten about. Who demanded I account for where I had been and how I spent my time and who I had just been talking to. Who did all of this, and bludgeoned me with verbal assaults, and then said, “It’s just that I love you. It makes me crazy. I just love you. And no one else will ever love you as much as I do."
To the one who speaks over. Who explains. Who tells me I am wrong, and that I don’t understand, and then turns to the others at the table or in the room or around the conversation and says what I just said, and nods your head slightly as if to wait for recognition and accolades for the insight.
To the one who breaks legal agreements and finds loopholes, regardless of repercussions to others. Who commits fraud and attaches my name to money owed I never knew existed and then does some emotional healing work around understanding how you no longer need to feel indebted to others, after their bank accounts are emptied. Who asks questions and does not hear no or believe no or honor no, and instead stands there righteous in certainty that you alone know what is best, and the rest of us are limited in our thinking and closed minded in our ways of being.
To the ones who forced themselves onto me when I said no. To the ones who did not ever ask for a yes, ask if this is what I wanted, ask if this felt good, and chose instead to press and place their body into mine with an insistence that implies expectation and assumption of being owed. Owed. As if my body is a sacrifice or offering, the thing handed out as a consolation prize for the difficulty of being here human.
The one of many.
And you. Yes, I am talking to you.
The one who knows you are part of this, and the one who will spit in my face denying it is your name located here in this letter, and the one who will read this and shake your head in disappointment at all those other men over there and not even consider for a moment that it is you.
The white man who comes and takes.
And takes and takes and takes.
You have taken my dignity, and my opportunity to learn and live and work in a safe environment, and the money I gave hours of my life earning with pride and love.
You have taken parts of my body, and my good credit record, and my ability to be with my own child.
You have taken my housing, and my name, and my no.
You have taken my sexuality and my memory and my range of motion.
You have taken the intimacies of my mouth and the stories I swore to bury and the hope of knowing what it is to not be afraid.
You have taken
what didn’t belong to you.
It never belonged to you.
It wasn’t yours.
(And it didn’t matter.
You took it all the same.)
Entitled and certain of all owed you, your life has taken from others, from mine, breaking in and breaking trust and breaking bank accounts and breaking agreements and breaking bodies.
And the systems allow you to, again and again and again.
And then turn and point the finger toward me, accusations made against me and my kind for all we have done to scrape by and survive your endless violent consuming of our own lives and beings and bodies.
And I have sat here, “taking it.”
Swallowing what is indigestible, gagging on my own repulsion and tremored terror at how deep the wounds and word go down.
Silencing the scream because I also need to keep my job or need to get in the door or need to do right by my child or need to stay alive long enough to leave.
Choking.on impossible choices so as to stay intact enough to crawl through toward survival even as we all know there are all these things taken and lost which will never ever be recovered or returned. It doesn’t work that way.
And while I’m sitting here taking it, I’m told I really should smile. I’m prettier that way. It makes people more comfortable and at ease. It shows I’m willing and ready to cooperate and be kind, which helps those who take what does not belong to them feel better about themselves and practice self-care for their self-esteem.
You take. And you leave.
My body remains, and it wears the map of your pillage, all the places you came and took, where you tortured and terrorized, where you battered my no and decided what of me you wanted or needed and what you were free to discard.
My personhood remains, and it is marred and marked by fractures where something in me was severed from the assault of living in your presence, and though it is you who caused the injury, it is still my life and so I am the one left cleaning up the broken bits and pieces and mending, always mending, stitching together from resiliency and old library books and the bravery of longing.
That I will make it through, into the arms of the irrepressible movement of life where I will know the deepest love and stunning intimacy and artistic revelation, is clear to me.
And, I will have to so do crawling and climbing through the wreckage of your brutality and ever present gaze and hand that reaches out to take just one thing more.
That is my one ask.
p.s. And figure the rest out yourself. God knows you have enough resources.