Since the release of our anthology, My Blue Suede Shoes, many people have asked me why I wanted to write a story about domestic violence.
When a lot of people think about domestic violence, they think about male-female partners sparring and fighting with each other, a la Chris Brown and Rihanna. But that is really just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the most devastating and least explored aspects of domestic violence is child abuse.
I’m really quite lucky because I had a wonderful childhood, a miracle considering that both of my parents were children of alcoholics. I also think I managed to raise my children with only a few abusive episodes (I don’t know if my kids would agree!). But as a parent and as a journalist, I noticed that child abuse is something many people limit to child sexual abuse.
In the black community, we don’t necessarily see “disciplinary action” as abusive. While there’s a cultural conversation around whether spanking is abusive or not, there’s certainly a line over which we all can agree that abuse is abuse. That goes past discipline, past trying to restore order in a dangerous situation. That really goes to intimidation, humiliation and constant degradation of the child and the child’s spirit.
I really wanted to write about how that looks in the black community.
When you talk about child sexual abuse, it’s more typical to hear about men being perpetrators. But when you talk about child abuse in general, over 80 percent of children are abused by their parents, male or female.
I wanted to talk about the mother as the perpetrator because we have this fantasy about the Madonna Mother, always cuddling their beautiful, innocent child. What we’re seeing now, especially in the black community where young girls are having children outside of marriage, is young mothers who are not ready to share emotional space with a child.
What happens is they end up feeling threatened by their own children. I see this a lot, not just with young mothers but with single mothers who feel like they have to compete with their own children to get their needs met.
You see mothers becoming intimidated or threatened by the attention and neediness of their own children. That threat becomes fear, becomes anger, becomes resentment…and before you know it, the mother becomes abusive with the child. At the bottom line, child abuse is a power struggle between parent and child.
The mother in my story, “Breakin’ it Down,” is a talk show host who is very popular. I wanted to write about someone that’s heady with power and from all outward appearances, looks like she’s got it together.
But beneath that mask lies deep insecurity. She has adopted a child in order to wrap herself in that cloak of the Madonna. “Oh look, isn’t she a saintly woman for adopting a child!” The child is part of her image, the same way her house and her car are part of her image.
But inside, she’s still a neglected little girl who wants her mother to love her. She finds that her daughter’s needs conflict with her own need to be the center of attention, praised and loved. Pretty soon as you might imagine, things go terribly wrong and she finds herself out of control with her little girl.
With fiction, people can fall into a character or circumstance and think, “I used to know someone like that,” or “Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt,” because it’s impersonal and not “real.”
Through fiction, you can get people to question why they’re relating to the main character, or ask themselves “was that abusive when I did that?” People can really start to interrogate their own lives or people around them with a lot more honesty when they’re not reading something that’s blaming or preachy.
We’re hoping that through these stories, people will start coming together, thinking about the issue, dissecting their own behaviors and thinking about the behaviors they need to interrupt. It’s great for a book club because it deals with different aspects of abuse.
My story in the anthology is about child abuse, but one story deals with incest, a very difficult topic. Another deals with a woman who is abusive to her partner.
And one of my favorites, Elizabeth Atkins’ “The Wrong Side of Mr. Right,” is about a woman who is headed to the altar with a man that’s becoming increasingly abusive. But she’s caught up in the wedding and ignoring her intuition.
By looking at these stories as entertainment, we can help our community learn, and ultimately, transform.
For excerpts, author bios, book club questions and Q & A’s, go to http://www.empowerourselves.wordpress.com