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DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR?

August 4, 2020
dignity

By Tianna Bartoletta

I hope you’ve never been raped.

But one in five women, and one in 71 men have.

And so odds are, you know someone who has been…even if they haven’t told you.

And if you still think you don’t know anyone who has been…allow me to introduce myself.

Anyway…

there is a moment… a moment when you know you’re about to be violated where you make a split second decision.

Well, it’s more like a rapid fire question. Do I fight? Or do I acquiesce and survive?

But fighting is risky. Fighting escalates an already out-of-control situation.

On the other hand acquiescing also comes with its own side effects.

For me, I was left beating myself up for NOT fighting. For essentially allowing myself to be violated, for giving my rapists permission to do what they wanted with my body. For sacrificing my dignity on the altar of survival.

The altar of survival…

I don’t usually sit around thinking about my own history of abuses, assaults, and violations but I watched a traffic stop of yet another black person getting pulled over and I thought for a split second, “just shut up…get home”

Yes sir.

No sir.

I’m sorry.

Thank you.

Okay.

Sandra Bland died in police custody almost five years ago. Initially pulled over for not using her blinker…

I watched the traffic stop via the Officer’s dash cam, and a bystander’s recording. And for a split second I thought again, “girl, please…just comply…can’t you see he’s looking for a reason to fuck with you?”

For a split second.

And then for some reason I had a flashback, my subconscious made the connection for me.

I heard myself saying, “thank you for not hurting me.”

Yes. I, Tianna mutha fuckin’ Tashelle thanked my rapist once upon a time, for not “hurting” me.

And all at once I understood that what we often see as “non compliance” or “resisting arrest” when watching this footage are people clinging to dignity.

Clinging to the vestiges of dignity that people who look like me have NEVER had in this country.

Black men, emasculated in front of their significant others and their children.

Black women, dragged out of their own cars simply for being irritated about being stopped at all.

These are human rights violations.

These are traumas.

They are lose-lose situations.

And one doesn’t simply get over them.

I got pulled over by a cop in college, who admonished me for not paying attention because I was “bopping along” playing my music too loud like “you people do” even though my radio had been off for my entire ride, I wasn’t speeding, and got no ticket. It was just a good day to be harassed.

I remember knowing on a cellular level that I needed to appease this Knoxville sheriff so that I could get on with my day and my life.

I remember immediately going into “yes sir, no sir” making no eye contact, both hands on the steering wheel.

I remember pulling away shaking in my skin, happy to be driving away, disgusted that I cowered to another human being that way when I had done nothing wrong.

The tragedy, when people say things like “stop resisting”, or “just do what they say,” is that a part of you dies when you knowingly and voluntarily submit to the violation of your human rights.

Your body keeps the score and it will never forget the time of death.

Like rape.

I will always know the sound of those voices, the smell of that body, the cadence of the breathing.

I will always wonder how things-how I- would have been different if I made the decision to fight for my life and my dignity,

And yet- when it comes to traffic stops and cops I choose survival.

I choose, again, to sacrifice my dignity on the altar of survival.

It’s not just a traffic stop.

It’s never just a run-in with the police, not when you look like me.

And, although our plight is fading from the news cycle, protests are getting less coverage, and hashtags less trendy this is still the daily dilemma.

Dignity?

or Survival?

And I ask you, straight up, what kind of choice is that?

Tianna Bartoletta is an American track and field athlete who specializes in the long jump and short sprinting events. She is a two-time Olympian with three gold medals. Follow her online at tiannabee.com. Tianna is also on Instagram and Twitter.

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