Breaking Down The Unaddressed Side Effects of Being Forced to "Respect" and Fear "Authority" and How It Rolled Over Into My Adult Life
I'd like to think that most parents "meant" well and were only passing on knowledge taught to them through other elders of the community. But honestly, sometimes it feels as though these lessons were taught with the intention of silencing children so that adults could prey on their vulnerability, specifically.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Black children, specifically Black girls, are groomed from birth to be silent. To be fair, it is important to acknowledge that prior to the 1995 most of the lessons being taught was still heavily influenced by the lessons passed down through the generations dating back to slavery, while leaving a trail of abused and neglected youth to "figure it out" on their own. Most children born after 1995 were lucky enough to be born into an era where Black youth was allowed more room to be "free". We can blame the crack for that, and perhaps crack had a lot to do with it but the truth of the matter is that most of these "lessons" existed long before a crack or a "rock" entered Black neighborhoods. These were lessons that were taught to our ancestors as slaves and have continued to reek havoc on the Black community, particularly Black women, to this day.
To be fair, there was a time where some of these lessons made sense. It was a matter of life or death and certain codes had to be followed in order to ensure the safety and well being of everyone involved. Unfortunately, although much of the world has changed and evolved for the worse, those same lessons have not changed. What worked in 1950 isn't going to work in 2018. Hell, we are just now entering into dialogues on how beating your children is, in fact, a form of child abuse.
The other night I was sitting on my patio and jotting down thoughts and ideas that came to mind. As I often do, I pulled on memories of my own past to try to assist in the creative process. As I peered off into the moonlight I remembered a moment when I was about 5 years old that I never forgot. It was one of those lessons that sticks with you throughout your entire life and usually, you don't realize how damaging and/or sick the lesson is until you get to a point in your life where it just simply doesn't make sense.
"You do whatever it is that you are told to do and if you think that it is wrong, you tell me later.” This is what I learned at an early age. This was my mothers attempt at keeping me safe. I get it. It should be no surprise that as I got older I struggled with boundaries and speaking up for myself. I don't really fault her for it. I have accepted that a lot of the decisions my mother made were largely influenced by her husband, who was 30 years her senior when he met her as a green little 19 year old.
The idea of simply just doing it came from my dad (stepdads) belief that children did not have any business or rights to question adults or reject an adults request. Although I am sure stipulations and circumstances applied the undertone of how it was said to me did not reflect those special circumstances nor did I possess the mental capability at 6-8 years old to be able to differentiate when something did or did not make sense. All I heard was, "Don't talk back to adults, do as you are told or thats your ass." And I liked my ass.
It was made clear to me early on that this was a dictatorship. One in which I was meant to follow at all times. And what made matters worse was that a lot of parents extended that dictatorship to other individuals including grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, babysitters, teachers any other adult figure over the age of 21. So many of us were practically handed to our abusers because of the ownership adults had over us. Imagine how many girls and boys were told to never question in adults authority and as a result molested and assaulted because they were afraid to question what was happening to them?
“I brought you in this world and I’ll take you out...”
I blame Bill Cosby. It seemed like every Black parent at some point has been guilty of repeating that classic line that Heathcliff Huxtable made famous when he looked Theo in the eyes and told him that he was going to do what he said followed by threatening to take the boy out (kill him) because he created him. Most of us can attest to growing up in homes where our parents made it abundantly clear that they will do us harm in order to get us to “act accordingly”. An action that has unfortunately been passed down thru the generations. Black people know better than anyone what it was like growing up in Black households.
Okay, so perhaps it wasn't entirely Bill Cosby's fault. Beating the hell out of someone or threatening to do them bodily harm in an attempt to get them to do as they are told is an old slave master's trick that, to this day, is still used as a tool for manipulation and control. Slave master's used whips, chains and anything else they could pick up and swing to keep their property in line. Out
Having my life threatened as a child was a normal thing. In fact, the first that came out of my mouth when presented with the opportunity to do something I knew I had no business do was that my mother was going to "kill me" and I meant that. Point to any Black person ask them if this was a shared experience and I can guarantee that at least 90% will say that this is a song they know all of the words to.
Never challenging authority eventually led to issues with setting boundaries around my personal space...
the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
"he had absolute authority over his subordinates"
I don’t know about anyone else but my childhood didn’t include me having much of a voice of my own. I am a grown woman raising a child and I still have problems speaking up for myself at times. Especially in the face of authority. I could attribute that to not being allowed to speak up for myself as a child as it was considered talking back or mouthing off, punishable by a meeting with a big black belt. I wasn’t allowed to speak my peace or express my thoughts or feelings. Decisions were made for me and I was expected to follow through with instructions to the tee without any objection, immediately and in a hurry. I was to speak and only speak when spoken to. When adults were in the room I was to either completely remove myself, even though I was in my own home, or I was to remain completely silent and stuffed away in the corner out of the way and out of sight. I was not to be seen. My stepfather was the enforcer of this rule. On the contrary, if spoken to I was to be "polite" at all times making sure to hold my head up, look the person in the eye being sure to maintain eye contact at all times while making sure to answer each question fully, topping it off with a good ol' "Yes Sir" or "Yes ma'am".
This was the recipe for always having the "respect of authority" that he lived by. He attributed all of his lessons to the time he spent being a Jarhead aka Marine. Can you believe this man even gave me lessons on how to "walk" like a soldier? Seriously, he would call my brother and I into a room, have us "forward march", line up side by side, hands to the side with our head held high while he said whatever it was he needed to say. At the end, he expected to hear a loud and clear, "Yes Sir". He thought it was the cutest thing in the world. He bragged about how well trained we were and, of course, all of his friends were just gitty with amazement. It was hell and to be clear, I refuse to allow my daughter to refer to me as "ma'am". A simple "yes" or "no" works fine for me.
I've always been a rebel. I have always hated any representation of authority. I've always believed that "authority" was about control and manipulation. I hated everything about having to be "uniformed". I refused, and still refuse, to work for companies that require employees to wear dedicated company uniforms or dress like a 60 year old executive prude. I have literally gone on job interviews, showed up, took one look around the office and walked out. Being put in a stuffy little box with no room to breathe is not something I am willing to endure just for the sake of a paycheck. It's one of the reasons why I have acquired so many different skill sets. It's my "guarantee" that I will always ben qualified to do something. Until I can launch my multi-million dollar business idea, this is the best way I have found that allows me some form of control. You have to get in where you fit in.
For anyone who has known me since high school, it makes complete sense why I would take on an extreme liking to law and have been working in the legal field since I graduated high school. The idea of not knowing what I am being accused of and not knowing how to defend myself or prepare to defend myself was like a bad itch located in the dead center of my back. Not being able to scratch wasn't an option. Go figure. I am kind of known as "Ms. Let Me Tell You Why You Are Wrong". Arguing, or "debating", with me is like stepping in front of Judge Judy. I don't show up to a discussion unless I am prepared to destroy and I always show up ready for war. I am sure that this in itself is a large part of why I could never be a "good Christian". There was no way that I was going to sit in front of someone and let them dictate how they think I should "live my life" without asking questions and questions were something that I had a lot of. That's one of the few lessons that I learned as child. Always seek out further understanding and determine for yourself what is being said. Because people are most definitely counting on you not asking any questions, or the right questions. That's how so many of us end up in the situations that we are in. We simply do not ask questions.
I guess when you grow up not having a voice of your own or being able to direct the flow of the things that are happening to you, and being forced to respect the decisions of people who are you using their position of authority to manipulate you, eventually you kind of develop extreme disdain for any representation of control. Because when it all boils down to it the reason why people want authority is for control. I never stopped to think about how being told to never question an adult or person of authority would affect me as an adult trying to set personal boundaries with in relationships. It never occurred to me that my reluctance to speak up for myself came from being conditioned as a child to just do it and cry about it later.
If anyone was ever wondering "how" a woman can do something like have sex when she doesn't truly want to and then call it "rape" later. Here you go. Here is a fine example of how "just doing it" happens and never gets reported.
When I was about 19 years old I met a young Jamaican dude one night while I was walking up Monument Street on my way back to the projects. He was a cute dude. Probably in his late twenties and with a quick glance over his car and appearance I gathered he was dealing some kind of dope and was doing pretty good with it. He pulled up along side me as I walked down the block and offered me a ride home. I got in and we drove off into the night. Again, completely green to the idea that I just got into a car with a strange guy I do not know. Then again, I was well aware but I didn't care. At that particular time my life wasn't worth very much to me so I willingly walked around with my head in the clouds because it was easier than dealing with reality and the source of my problems. He dropped me off in front of the spot where we sat for about 30-45 minutes talking and right before I got out, he asked for my number to which I obliged.
Two days later he was picking me up from in front of my cousins house down Perkins and we were off into the night. Now to be completely transparent, I was a very different chick back then. Back then my idea of a dope date was a chicken box (saltpepperketchup - gotta say it fast and as one word) some Hennessy and something to smoke while sitting in somebodies dusty ass apartment or row house. No mamas housing though. Come on, a girl has her limits.
Anyway, we finally get back to his one bedroom box of an apartment and I have a seat on the couch closest to the door still in my jacket, with my legs crossed in what most would interpret to be a "stand offish" in terms of body language. That is, someone who was actually paying attention or cared to. He walked around the place for about 15 minutes picking up trash, pieces of clothing and doing some last minute "housekeeping" that should have been done prior to my arrival. As I watched him fumble around with the TV I reached for my chicken box because I was hungry and over it already. Honestly, I was ready to go before we got to his place. The vibe was different from when we originally met, or maybe the night I met him I was just in a good mood at the time. I would have cancelled our "date" had my cousin not encouraged me to go because who turns down a date with a man who has a little bread, right?
Finally, he gets the TV set up the way he wants to and takes a seat next to me on the couch while grabbing his box. He asked me how the food was to which I replied "fine" and kept eating. He flipped through the channels until he found something that "I" thought he was going to watch. What it was I have no idea because the channel didn't stay there very long. After about 10 minutes of awkward silence he reached for the remote mumbling something about it being boring and needing to watch something more live.
He turned on porn.
Yes, he did. Clearly, one already being watched or one he planned on watching in my presence since it was clear from the persons in the film that this wasn't your average HBO After Dark special. This was a legit Booty Talk production. Now, right about here is where someone will fix their lips to say that I could have easily gotten up and left. I could have walked out the door or simply asked him to take me back where I came from but the reality was: it was damn near 2 in the morning, on the east side of Baltimore city, before Uber (and I definitely wasn’t getting into a hack), I had no cell phone and I could look at him and tell that he was not going to just take me home. He wasn’t a person of authority but his presence but me back in the mind of that little girl who was told to never challenge someone who, as a kid, assumed meant anyone who was older than me and big enough to beat my butt. Looking at this man he could have definitely did that easily without breaking a sweat. He had at least a foot and two inches in height and about 100 extra pounds on me it would have been nothing for him to forcibly assert his authority over me and already uneasy I wasn't about to initiate a war that I had already predicted I would lose. It was easier to just chill.
In less than an hour he was on top of me pumping away and either completely clueless or simply ignoring the fact that the tears rolling down my face as I turned away to avoid looking at him do "his business" were a result of me feeling ashamed, dirty, uncomfortable and counting every second until it was over and he took me home. To make matters worse, he thought it was some of the best sex ever and stalked me for two years.
I said, he stalked me for two years and I sure I saw him pop up a few times around the block. Two whole years of random phone calls from unlisted and/or blocked numbers. Two years of being a victim to what I like to call "date rape terrorism" and the only relief I received was when I finally changed my number after moving back to California a few months later. Because back then, phones didn't have free features for blocking numbers. Yes, there was time where you actually had to not only call to block a specific number but you also had to pay an additional fee.
Thank Mother Universe for the advancement of technology.
This is but one of many examples of how the conditioning to respect and "submit" to authority or persons who represent authoritative positions leave young girls and Black women (and yes, boys too) open and vulnerable for predators who rely on these taught lessons to get away with crimes against humanity.
Always "respecting" your elders means taking unnecessary abuse from entitled old(er) farts who use their age as a weapon to create chaos and confusion....
Some of these elders need to be cursed out. That is a fact and I won't take it back. I don't know what the starting age is for when someone technically becomes your "elder" but there are far too many "elders" running around using their little bit of age as a weapon and/or shield to say and do what they want simply because they are relying on that elder card to pull through like a good ol' hall pass. Then, they catch someone like me on a good day who is ready for the foolery and willing to spend some time. Then there is a problem. Now they are the victim and, of course, you immediately become the bad guy regardless of what was said or done to you simply because the person on the receiving end of your read happens to have a few wrinkles in their face and American (regardless of ethnicity) are obsessed with this idea of "protecting the precious elderly who are the gatekeepers of history" despite the majority (that I have encountered) being rude, cranky, obnoxious, entitled and excessively pushy.
A few weeks ago I was in the Dollar Store minding my business and waiting in the checkout line. While standing in line one of the employees signaled for me to come to her line since she was free. I obliged. As soon as I moved, the white man in front of me decided that he was going to switch lines too but he couldn't get in front of me without actually shoving past me. I could have let him go first since he only had 4 items but I didn't feel like it and since the clerk specifically signaled me to her line I remained in my place in front and continued to be checked out.
As I am thinking of all money I had spent in the short 2 hours I had been out, my right ear caught wind of the conversation taking place behind me between the white man and an older Black woman, and by older I mean she was probably no more than 45 but life saw it fit to make her look at least 55. The woman was telling the white man how I was "rude" and I should have let him go first. I waited and continued to listen until after I had been handed my receipt at which time I turned to both the white man and the elder black woman, looked them dead in the face and said, "You should really work on your whispering. Next time, speak up if you want to talk shit so the person you are talking about can respond accordingly."
Naturally, me having the audacity to speak to her that way took her breathe away but that didn't stop her from firing back. "You know you was wrong, you should have let him go first. You have no respect." Respect? First of all, lady, this man is at best 5 to 6 years older than I am. In less than 2 minutes I had told that woman where to go, how to get there, what time to be there. As I was walking out the store I heard her mumble something else, and like I said I had a little time to spare so I waited outside because I wanted to be sure of what was said. As expected, once she came outside and saw me waiting she immediately switched to victim mode. Suddenly, she didn't have time and it was stupid.
Yes, I am fully aware that I could have just walked away and "ignored" the lady, but I'm not Jesus and playing in my face isn't something I take lightly and I, as I'm sure many others can attest, have had far too times where people have tried to use their age as a "get out of jail free" card when side-stepping out of their lanes. Plus, giving the fact that if you were to see me in person dressed down without an ounce of makeup on you would assume that I was at the very least 18-20 and with makeup on I am about a good solid 25-26, at the most. It is not uncommon for people to address me as if I were some child that they could boss around or talk any kind of way to because, once again, they feel as though their "age" and their assumption of my age gives them an advantage over me, the one they presume to be a child/teenager.
So then I have to check them. *cues outrage*
A huge part of respecting your elders means never calling into question their knowledge or challenging their wisdom. At least that was what I was taught. You are to remain respectful at all times, opting to allow whatever said or done to you to simply be for no other reason than the person dishing it has a few years of age on you. The concept, in itself, is an extremely flawed teaching that has resulted in the mental, emotional and physical abuse of thousands of Black boys and girls that grew up to be adult men and women who take those same lessons taught and pass the on to newer generations so that the vicious cycle of abuse continues.
Knowing someone has the power to make you do whatever it is that they want you to do, without immediate questioning or pushback, is how so many of us became victims of predators. On too many occasions to count, my day ended with a belt to my backside because the word of a child against the word of an adult meant very little. Elders (who could be anyone from your 16 year old cousin to your 83 year old great grandmother) are granted complete authority over you based on age alone. If you have ever tried to defend yourself against the word of someone older than you to your parents growing up, you can attest to the fact that it was practically impossible. If someone older said you did something or that they did not do something, that was the end of the discussion and no further questions were granted. Ask me how many times I was accused of lying simply because an "adult" said that I was.
After a while, you stop defending yourself and apologizing becomes second nature.
I never defended myself because I always felt as though defending myself would just make what ever the situation was worse and the last thing I wanted was conflict or confrontation. Especially if I thought that conflict was going to end up on my front steps. Most can attest to the fact that the punishment for "mouthing off" or "talking back" to an adult or a person placed over you in a position of authority determined by age was severe. This was a real fear in a lot of Black households which is why no matter how many times we have seen it happen we are shocked beyond belief when we see non-Black children (specifically White children) talk back to their parents because for us we are constantly reminded, even in our adulthood, that we have no right to stand up to or challenge our parents. There are still grown adults who walk around proudly proclaiming and confessing to still be afraid to challenge their parents. There are fully grown adults who are afraid to be adults and live their lives by their own rules and on their own accord out of fear of what their parents will do or say.
Anyone who has spent any significant time in the Black church as a kid knows that this is one of those rules that the Black church lives by. Whatever Mother said, got done and any opposition or bucking was a surefire way to get you a first class ticket to the prayer line for whatever demon of disobedience was attached to you, of course, this was after you were forced to apologize and submit yourself as they sit there, smugly, grinning and fake accepting your plea for forgiveness all whilst knowing that they were wrong and are getting away with it. Situations like this were a norm for me. I've always had a problem with my mouth and I have always been a person who says whatever it is I am saying exactly how it came across in my mind. My filter has been broken a long time, and honestly, I have never had a reason to fix it. There is nothing wrong with me.
As a child you are at the mercy of your elders, their unsolicited opinions and their refusal to respect boundaries as well as your personal space. I have been touched without permission more times than I care to count under the guise of making sure that I was "presentable". According to whom? Seriously, who can up with the code of dress for the tabernacle and why are there so many rules? According to the good book, weren't I created to be naked anyway?
I remember a short time after returning to Baltimore after graduating high school in California I walked into the church without tights on (something I did often because I hated tights/stockings and I knew from an early age that "God" didn't give a flying figtree whether or now I wore stockings or not) and one of the Evangelists pulled me to the side and asked why I didn't have any on. She reached down and patted my legs with her hands, signaling for me to follow her into the bathroom to put on this extra pair she bought. The fact that they were entirely too big and were excessively saggy were of no concern. What mattered was that my legs were properly covered. I refused. Telling her that my mother was aware of the fact that I left without anything covering my legs and that I refused to put on some clunky stockings just to make her feel better. She was completely taken aback by my unwillingness to oblige and shocked that I "took such a tone" with her. I assumed that she would want to speak to my mother about my rebellious attitude so I directed her outside and walked away to continue living my life. I was informed later that evening by my mother that she was approached by said evangelist who thought my mother was in need of a talking to about her child's attitude and tone of language. But she miscalculated what she thought would be my mothers reaction and was met with a shift "Girl, fuck you. She's grown. Next time mind your business and leave her alone" and then, I exhaled.
I exhaled because this was the first time experiencing my mother having my back in a way that made me feel safe and it renewed my belief that I did not have to subject myself to unsolicited harassment and submit to the requests and demands of people simply because they held a numbers over my head. I have gone from being afraid to stand up for myself to being a complete control freak out of fear that if I am not in control of every single thing someone will come in, try to take over and rule over me. Everything has to be my way. I make very little room for compromise and once I've made up my mind that is it. As one could imagine it wasn’t long before this behavior began to effect personal relationships of mine causing the destruction of many that are, still to this day, unrepairable.
To be honest, this is probably the reason why I am single most of the time (even when dealing with someone).
A childs word means nothing because you know, all children do is lie.
“Children lie and change their stories…”
That’s what the police officer said to me in response to me asking why they refused to intervene when a boy snatched my daughters phone from her hands proceeded to smash it repeatedly into the concrete until the screen shattered. It wasn’t the first time I heard someone make reference to not believing children because they were “natural liars” and quite honestly, it sickens me. Children are silenced before they even have the opportunity to know what it means to be silenced. By the age of 10, children are already mentally trained to believe that their word against that of an adult means nothing and will more than likely be taken lightly. It’s wonder children trust adults at all.
When I was little my mother use to drill into my head that she wanted no one playing in my hair. My hair was long and thick and very rarely stayed in its place. I think at that point in my life (I was only about 5 or 6) my biggest fear was messing up my hair because I knew that if I returned home from school with my hair a mess my mother or father would beat me with the long yard length ruler dad kept standing in the corner of his home office. Either that or the traditional thick black belt. A common story for many of us.
I was terrified and I always went out of my way to tell people not to play in my hair, but for some reason that only made them want to play in my hair more. This was also probably had something to do with the fact that I went to mostly predominately non-black schools until I was in the 8th grade. The girls at my school were wearing messy buns and frizzy pigtails. Being terrified of being whipped over their hair was not something they could relate to. They would sit in class and braid each others hair, and of course me having the “different” textured hair there was not more fascinating than them coming to stick their glitter covered fingers in my neatly styled twists causing them to unravel, with a part of my soul dying instantly. My mother never believed me. I would come home every single day with my hair messed up trembling because I had spent all day long anticipating that ass whooping I knew was coming. All because Cindy thought it would be “funny” to kick sand in my hair after being told not to. And the teachers weren’t much help either. I guess they didn’t understand the big deal either.
My mother still believes that I was the one unraveling my hair and this is why I hate pigtails and have also refused to put them in my own daughters hair. Screw pigtails, honestly. triggert.
As much as I have tried to separate myself from the conditioned thinking that children are naturally deceptive I have, on more than one occasion, found myself grilling my own daughter for hours on end using every scare tactic and manipulation trick I can hoping that I'll get what I believe to be the version of the truth. Honestly, that's part of the problem. I don't really care about what it is that she wants to say or what it is that she needs to say. I am only interested in hearing what I want to hear. What I have already predetermined to be the truth. Some times I am right in my assumptions, but there have been more times where I can admit that my adult brain formulated an entire scenario based off my adult logic that a child's brain couldn't have imagined if they tried.
And honestly, lying is a part of humans nature. We lie. That is what we do. We all inherit the "lying as liar" gene from way back to the alien days. I hate that children are dismissed as pathological liars who will do anything to get out of trouble as if adults are not exactly the same, in fact, I'd argue that adults are by far worse because unlike the average child who is unaware of certain habits and problematic behavioral, adults are fully conscious and aware of their behaviors and are making an intentional effort to be deceitful.
Have you ever stopped to think of how the lessons laid out for us by our elders were the very lessons that ultimately made us vulnerable to certain traumas and traumatic experiences that we would later encounter as we got older?
I mean sure I got basic lessons like not talking to strangers or accepting candy from strangers aka people I didn't know. I knew that was wrong even though it seemed kind of contradicting because anytime one of my parents friends came around I was being forced to accept candy and conversations. We won't talk about how many uncomfortable hugs and kisses from hairy lipped old women I had to endure. The memory alone makes me weep. I was told not to get into strange vehicles with people that I didn't know, and to always walk on well lit streets at night. Ironically, strangers and people I didn't know were often tasked with the responsibility of picking me up from school or bringing me home from church.
But it was the smaller lessons that I didn't think twice about that set me up for failure. And I know at the time parents thought that they would doing the right thing by teaching these lessons, you know the whole pass the knowledge of our ancestors spiel, but most of which was passed down had been chopped, screwed and remixed down through the generations as far back as slavery which should have been an indication that they needed to be adjusted considering the changing climate in which most of us were born.
Not sure when or where it developed or, perhaps, its an inherited gene passed down from one of my rebellious ancestors but I’ve always been one to buck the system and push the limits just to see how far I can get. So it’s no surprise that from a young age I had a nasty resistance to being told what to do or made to do anything. It is probably why I have a tendency to go against what is currently popular or trending. I will intentionally hold out simply because the everyone else is talking about it. It can be quite problematic, but I don't care.
Who gon' check me, boo?