Content warning: white supremacy
I grew up in a family that was steeped in Southern racism, not saying there was not Northern racism or West Coast racism, just saying it was a racism that was steeped in a legacy of slavery and exploitation that felt different than other parts of the country, at least to me, and at least in relation to what I was able to gather about the world through library books and encyclopedias at the time.
I grew up before the internet was in every house and became a teenager just as diverse faces started to emerge in prime time television. I spent much of my childhood in a small Louisiana town with my grandparents. When friends called my grandma’s house, she would ask what color they were before determining whether or not I could receive the call. I was told it would be better to bring a girl home than a Black man. My grandpa thought it important for me to know where the hanging tree was, pointing it out on our drives “to town”. I was a child and these are the lessons I was taught. There was us and there was them and ne’er the twain shall meet.
I spent the rest of my childhood in Houston, Texas where my experience was tempered by a desire from my parents to white-wash my experience. They moved us to the suburbs to escape our Mexican neighbors. Ironically, they could not escape our class situation so I grew up in the most diverse school in our suburban district – the one all the working class folks attended. I share all this because I used to believe the things my parents told me, my grandparents told me, the preacher at my grandma’s church, the teachers at my school (who shared a white-washed legacy of the story of Texas and Mexico), the other white kids around me – I believed it because it was what I knew, what information I had access to at the time – to me, it was truth.
My radical transformation came in the shape of punk rock music and culture. I joined local groups working on things like housing access and police brutality. I went to meetings where folks actually talked about all of this and I heard people of color speaking about their experiences. I started to learn about systemic exploitation of people of color in service of white supremacy and capitalism. I also learned about feminism and reproductive justice and it was like a mask I had been wearing for 16 years shattered. Needless to say, I was a radically changed person and I remember my mother telling me she did not like who I was becoming. But I did.
There have been a few twists and turns in my path since my first 180 in life and I continued to be challenged to learn and grow.
I used to believe that our work to end sexual and intimate partner violence could be achieved in a vacuum. I did not necessarily have the words for that thought, but I used to think working on things like economic justice and racial justice and reproductive justice was work for folks like Virginia Organizing, Planned Parenthood, and the Richmond Peace Education Center. As a member of the Action Alliance, I remember taking my dots during a strategic planning session nearly a decade ago and diverting them from strategies like economic justice initiatives. I remember struggling to understand why that would be “our thing”.
Then, like before, I had a radical transformation. I learned from people who were talking about systemic oppression versus individual acts of prejudice. I learned about how self-determination and autonomy were often linked to one’s capacity to navigate a web of oppression and how financial exploitation was both a systemic tool and an individual weapon that hindered a survivor’s ability to determine their own path. It was such a lightbulb moment for me, that, much like when I first latched on to punk rock, it is so hard for me to remember the before, when I believed in another truth.
Because of these radical transformations and my openness to see the bigger thing of it, making the leap to seeing racial justice as a necessary part of our work to address sexual and intimate partner violence was easy. Easy for me. And because of my radical transformations, I can see how it can be difficult for others; for folks who have not had opportunities like I have had, to learn another way, to learn from others who have also moved on this path, to learn from mistakes, to be open to other truths. It can be difficult to see larger connections when the work of serving individual survivors and families feels so immediate and so enormous. It can be difficult to see the way to a 180 when the other side is beyond the shadow of the moon.
It can be difficult and yet I am inviting folks to try it. To consider what a world would look like if our efforts in service of a world free from sexual and domestic violence were linked up tightly in the work for liberation of all who are suffering from systemic oppression. It will require a radical transformation or revolutionary change which Brene’ Brown describes as “tumultuous, turning things upside down, you can’t go back”. She talks about vulnerability and courage a lot and I am inviting those of you reading this to dig in to your vulnerability and practice it, dig in to your courage and lean on it, and get ready for revolutionary change and radical transformation. We need to be in this together. Let me know if you’d like to talk!
Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.
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