I am triggered by the Macklemore/Lamar situation at the Grammys, but not for the reasons others seem to be.
I’ve had a stomach full of private pull-overs by “colleagues,” staff, board members, and students, all acknowledging “privately” that I had been “robbed,” “lied to,” “abused,” “put in an untenable position” (cold comfort). That’s the PRIVATE story.
Publicly, they’ve lauded their goodness (“we’re the best thing”) and cast conspiratorial whispers on whether I ever was “the right one” or whether I had lost my mind (“I’m really worried about Dr. Valerie,” complete with “the look”). They’ve chided me if I even LOOKED as if I was going to acknowledge my own pain from trying to survive in a system that was killing me. “You’re trying to destroy us!” I was told. “You HAVE to bless us as you leave!” I was told. No, really.
Never mind that I was LITERALLY dying. Bleeding out of every orifice (I mean every: eyes, nose, ears, vagina, rectum and open sores) while laying in my vomit from violent convulsions because I had a migraine that was trying to take me out. I knew, one day, it was going to kill me. I was going to die. Someone would find my dog sitting near me, whimpering in the shadow of my cold corpse. It would take a couple of days because–for all the talk of community–I wouldn’t have been missed until the second or third class and then it would be to reprimand me, not to check on me. Laying on the floor in my basement, I knew that I wasn’t even a cog in the machine: I was the nuisance everyone wanted to just disappear. Or as one person said: “If you’re so miserable, why don’t you just leave?” [unspoken parenthetical: and while you’re at it, you’d better not tell people we worked at making you miserable and stood back sympathizing with students while they accused you of things later proven a lie. You’d better not tell people we started blaming you for the abuse you were taking].
I left, not because I didn’t feel “called” to that place. I left because I was going to die. And cold comfort that after all the attacks, the lies, the abuse, the neglect, the reneges on promises, the silencing that two board members should pull me aside, or in the case of a local pastor, take me to lunch to say: “you’re right. We didn’t honor our contract with you. We did make you promises that we didn’t keep. We did demand you do things that your contract expressly said we wouldn’t. We didn’t befriend you. We left you to fend for yourself. We didn’t embrace you.” These words are sharp arrows in my memory tonight and a different kind of bleeding is happening. My one gift is: I’m not bleeding out and this time, I’m not going to die. At least not tonight.
For the most part, like Kendrick Lamar, I (and others like me) have just taken it and moved on. I mean, what can you do when people know something is evil and blame you and shun you for saying it out loud? Or, what do you do when someone refuses to pass the peace to you in worship because you decided to tell the truth about you: “No, I didn’t get kicked out of my house; no, I didn’t get fired; no, I’m not crazy. And yes, if you have issues with something here you should say so. ‘Your silence won’t protect you.'” What do you say when people insist that you didn’t give the institution a “chance,” even though you gave it four years while you were bleeding to death?
And it’s harder still when colleagues from other institutions who’ve been abused or maligned as much or more than you decide to join the chorus because they’re afraid of being kicked off their particular plantation, afraid that my ‘insolence’ will rub off on them. What do you do when they start writing a narrative about your life that is so far from your reality as to be laughable?
Yes, I walked away. A black woman tenured in America and I walked away to save my life. And for that salvific act, it is possible I may never teach again in a religious institution because truth-telling when you’re bleeding out is anathema.
My friend and I have been processing some of my experiences again for the first time in a long time today. I’m raw. So Macklemore’s private tweet to Lamar hit that exposed nerve like the sharpest knives. This time I decided to say, “OUCH!!!!