Robin Park is talking about storytelling in many different ways. How storytelling can lead to transformation. How storytelling is political. Right now the topic is what happens when injustice happens within your own community. Even if it’s named and analyzed it can be ineffectively addressed. Robin says that survivors in activist communities often wind up leaving. But if there is a cycle of abuse within a community, it will recur, just as in domestic violence. This is so practical and important. Says that what prevents organizing communities from putting principles into practice regarding abuse, is that they can’t forgive themselves. We have a writing exercise right now where we are supposed to writing about a time when we saw an injustice happen and didn’t do anything.
I’ll write mine here. What I remember is being in a feminist organizing context, walking down the street, we are five women, three women of color, and I am one of two white women. We are walking in an unfamiliar city and we want to get to where we are going. We are excited to be together and walking quickly and talking. A group of men are watching us, and I remember feeling unnerved that they are looking at us. We walk quickly. As we pass, they say lewd things to the women of color. They ignore the white women, but their comments to the women of color are uncool. We all walk past them as a group, and when we get beyond them, the women of color walk together talking about what happened and I and the other white woman talk about other things. Why? We are just happy to get beyond the menacing men, and glad nothing happened. But for the women of color, something did happen, and what it was, in part, was my inability or unwillingness to deal with the racism of the encounter. I wished later I and the other woman who didn’t talk about it, had joined the conversation of the three women who talked about the racism of the encounter as we walked on to our destination. I remember feeling relieved that “nothing had happened” but even that reflex added to the violence of that experience.
Now Robin is asking us to write again about our own forgiveness of ourselves. If we can forgive ourselves that will affect our responses to other people. “If you want to paint the world the way you want it, you have to paint yourself first.”
In relation to the story above, I forgave myself because one of the women who was harassed initiated that opportunity. She talked to me about how she felt and I apologized. I told her I recognized what had happened and I was sorry. I wonder what I would have done if she hadn’t done that? To move beyond, I want to learn from this experience to not wait until the person who was hurt speaks up. I knew it was wrong, but it felt to risky to say something. I didn’t want to make things awkward. But they already were. I’ll be ready next time, is what I told her. I want to be ready next time. Even if it doesn’t feel safe time to say something to the men as we pass, I will check in and say I saw that, are you okay?
Speaking up is risky. But not speaking up is riskier.