I was not technically abused as a child, but I was not treated well. My father used to hit us when he was drunk. He never broke anything but he came close a few times, and my brother and I both thought he was likely to kill us one day. I was chronically terrified.
My mother ridiculed everything about me, from my ideas to my appearance to my speech patterns. When I was small she would threaten to give me to an orphanage when I misbehaved, and would laugh when I tearfully begged her for reassurance that she would keep me. In middle school, before I could earn money to buy my own clothes, I was teased about the cheap, ill fitting clothes she bought me, even though she was well turned out herself. When I came home in tears, she would tell me that no one liked me because I wasn't likable.
I wasn't allowed to wear a sweater indoors, or to have more than one blanket on my bed. I was always cold. One winter I could see my breath in my room. My parents told me I was exaggerating until my brother discovered that there was a broken valve on my radiator, and no heat was getting in.
When I got older I learned that a number of adults were concerned about my welfare (more than that of my brother, whom our mother favored — he got the worst of our father's rages, but that was considered part of the normal father-son relationship at the time). They just didn't know how to help. Children were considered their parents' property back then, and outsiders were not thanked for intervening.
At the time, though, my experience was that nobody cared. This was especially true at my church, where I felt safer and more welcomed than at most other places. Everyone talked about being kind and loving, and since I had a nice voice, I was a valued member of the youth choir. I let my guard down there more than I was able to do anywhere else. On more than one occasion I reached out to a clergyman (they were all men then) or a friendly Sunday school teacher, only to be told that my situation wasn't that bad; think of the poor orphans overseas we collected mite for; I had a good family, plenty to eat, and a nice house. Things would get better with time; I would go to college, move away from home, fall in love.
They weren't wrong. I definitely had it better than starving orphans, or than children who were beaten and burned. And I did move away, go to college, and fall in love. But the message I took was that they didn't feel I deserved a loving home, where I felt warm and safe. That somehow I wasn't as worthy as their own children.
I have been thinking about these experiences lately when reading white journalists' responses to the activists of Black Lives Matter who disrupted a rally for Bernie Sanders. I truly believe he is the best candidate, and that he intends to do more for disadvantaged populations than anyone else who is running. But telling people who are less privileged to be grateful for what they have, and to be patient and wait politely for their situation to improve, is sending the message, intended or not, that they are less worthy and deserving than people like us.
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