In honor of Black History Month, this month we will be featuring blog posts from some of our educators who discuss topics like race, intersectionality, and language and how it intertwines with sexual violence prevention. [Blog 4 out of 6.]
By Greg Geffrard
I was the only male in my family growing up. My grandfather passed when I was 7 and my father only existed on the fringes of my childhood. Despite growing up in the absence of prominent male figures and living with three generations women under one room, there’s one truth from my youth that I am consistently grappling with: I did not grow up a feminist. If anything, I grew up resenting women. Every authoritative figure in my life, every rejection note from unrequited adolescent “love”, every attempt at acquiring a moment of joy was stalled by the women in my life, young and old alike. Watching a plethora of men come into our lives who loved through their dominance (and fists) only helped exacerbated this growing animosity inside of me that manifested itself in the only way stunted emotions do: tethering on the spectrum of extremes between silence to rage. It was effortless to disregard the harm being done to the women in my family because I saw it as a norm whilst not understanding the extent of the enduring legacy of violence Black women have been subjected to throughout history. I am still unlearning the allowances I am afforded as a man in society as long as the harm is aimed at a marginalized minority. Despite possessing this dominance over women in social and personal spaces, I felt no closer to a sense of fulfillment with myself outside of fleeting moments that I could brag to my boys about (in those brief moments in my life when I had men I called family)
There’s a madness that occurs from having to constantly adjust to an ever-vacillating barometer of acceptance in society as someone in a Black body. Trayvon Martin would have been 24 years old earlier this month so any rebuttal about my articulation about where my fear of being myself in public spaces comes from (compounded by the history of imposed criminality that surrounds my existence as a Black person in America) will be met with resistance. When I walk in front of an audience and see other Black men in the audience, there’s an instant connection due to this specific shared social reality. They seemed almost resigned to this notion that they will be perceived as wrong despite no evidence to prove this. See: Emantic F. Bradford. Despite walking into these Upstander Intervention classes with a plethora of questions, I find that most also walk in with the answers if you allow them to speak long enough to connect the dots.
As a first-generation Haitian, I often tell folx that I have an “inherited American history”. My family was not here for the lived history of America before the 1980’s but as a Black person in America, it necessary to possess a comprehensive the history of Black Americans; the past helps to dictate the present circumstances I must adhere to navigate this American landscape in this body. There are constructs in this experience called life that exist outside of our control for a myriad of reason, with the primary reason being that we did not create the circumstances. I did not formulate this patriarchal system that society operates under, I did not create gender disparity in wage disbursement, equity, representation but it would be irresponsible of me to believe that I can only focus on that which directly affects me. As an educator and person in this world, I actively engage with numerous amounts of individuals in conversations and have found one element to be paramount in our understanding of each other: empathy. All harmful actions have one thing in common: you can only harm those you have access to. I can invest in the emotional well-being of those I have been allotted the most access without going bankrupt. I have a responsibility to Black women because not only did they grow me into the person I am today, but they consistently invite me into their personal spaces. The least I can bring to the conversation and a willingness to listen to what they require of my while humbly being invited into these sacred spaces away from a world that has deemed their pain irrelevant as both women and Black people.
What can be done? The acknowledgment of a reality that may not be your own as being valid is the place to begin. A denial of history through self-serving opinions that are easily dismantled with historical facts has rendered us mute in fear of engaging in “divisiveness”. I have been guilty of denying truths I have seen with my own eyes which is made easy by the rhetoric, or lack thereof, in our society when speaking about the ramifications of disenfranchisement on marginalized communities especially to the youth striving to survive in these communities. See: LGBTQIA+.
What has been reinforced during my tenure at Catharsis Productions is that utilizing humor to combat absurdities is a powerful tool, but progress comes from truthful reflection, accountability and a desire to actually change. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone you care about if you have harmed them and what solutions you can create together to rectify that harm. Reverse the person asking the question. Repeat with everyone you have a personal relationship with. Expand the circle and conversations Repeat. Acknowledge. Repeat. Grow. Repeat. Listen. Repeat. Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. Let us actively create a foundation that invites people with their multitude of experiences in and repeat an inclusive history one person at a time.
Greg Geffrard is a Haitian American who was born in Miami, FL. Greg comes to Catharsis with over 8 years of teaching experience and longs to live in a world where equality is not only a word written in doctrine but illuminated in action.