Violence by Every Other Name

Last month, my boss created a problem. It was out of nowhere. He began an inquiry into my attendance despite having exchanged emails with me throughout the day. Because our incredibly unreliable work from home software will randomly show you as inactive during the day, he elevated an inquiry about my attendance and asked for an enforceable policy he could use to punish me when the system shows me as offline. All this because the software listed me as out of office for 7 hours on the same day he and I were corresponding.

When he sent the email, he didn’t realize that it would be forwarded without removing his questions. He did not know that I would see him ask another team member if I had scheduled the day off. He didn’t realize that I would see his question about the online status policy he requested. He did not know that this email would pass, unaltered, through 3 other people before being sent to me, where I could see his seemingly benign question that resulted in 4 people questioning my availability during working hours. The fact that he did this on the same day that we’d exchanged multiple emails tells me that he knew I was working but was looking for some leverage to take punitive action against me. His initial act and his subsequent actions were violent and were meant to undermine my credibility and give him power to act against me.

He claimed that his question was to minimize confusion for people working remotely — that if my status wasn’t accurate, it could be confusing. We’ve been working remotely for over a year, so we are familiar with the quirks of working from home. There was no reason for his actions, yet I spent weeks trying to find a reason to make his actions logical. The thing I refused to accept was that his actions were logical as his goal was violence.

He would never say that. In fact, once he realized I saw the email, he immediately back-peddled. He didn’t apologize but he did attempt to explain why he’d asked the question. He never acknowledged that he knew I was working or that we’d emailed throughout the day. Even he couldn’t downplay the violence of his actions and instead opted to rebrand it as concern and a desire for clarity in workplace operations. If I haven’t been clear before, let me be clear now — this is workplace violence that he initiated and then tried to mask it as something other than violence. This is not debatable.

While this is concerning, the part that bothers me the most is my desire to legitimize his violence. I find myself revisiting this event and looking for reasons he would have done this other than his desire to be violent towards me. Why? Why am I trying to clear his name when I know he tried to do me dirty? What the fuck is this impulse in me to make this situation seem any less violent than it was? This man was looking for a way to punish me over something he knew wasn’t true and then tried to make it sound like he was being conscientious and here I am trying to help him.

I find myself looking for any other explanation for his behavior. I am still trying to convince myself not to trust my assessment. I keep looking for any possible justification, even though I have his every action laid out before me and nothing he did was justifiable. This desire to create a reason for his violence is that white supremacist patriarchal capitalist brainwashing in action. It’s the part of me that’s programmed to undermine my truth to give this white man the benefit of the doubt.

This pattern of behavior, this need to make people trying to harm me seem less dangerous than they are, is dual in nature. It’s a protective response because he continues to be a threat, but it is also a harmful response because I’m telling myself that he is less of a threat than he is. This duality is a key component to the oppressed experience. As someone with an oppressed identity living in an exploitative and oppressive culture, I cannot function if I am paralyzed with fear. I also cannot survive if I don’t recognize threats. Trying to live while constantly assessing threats and actively minimizing them is stressful, exhausting, and fucking awful. Yet, this is what it is to live among violent oppressors.

The benefit of the doubt is a staple weapon in the arsenal of whiteness. I have another co-worker who constantly creates problems for the work we do with marginalized populations, which is fascinating to watch when I’m not disgusted by it. This woman is silent 95% of the time until it’s time to disrupt the work with insignificant details that serve only to delay everything. I’ve noticed this tendency repeatedly, yet the common belief is that this person is merely inept. When the people affected by this continuous ineptitude are those with marginalized identities, when do we stop calling it ineptitude and start calling it malice? This person’s work is primarily with those at marginalized intersections of identity and her “ineptitude” undermines the work being done for these people. Nobody stops her. Nobody removes her from the equation. Instead, she is paid to cause harm while telling herself that she is being helpful and everyone around her enables this lie and perpetuates her violence and anyone speaking against her is punished because the status quo is violence against intentionally curated populations and fighting that makes you the enemy of the state. My fat Black woman existence makes me an enemy of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism.

Navigating a world designed with the intent to exploit people is awful. It feels fucking impossible, especially when every violent act against you has been re-coded as “incidental harm” or “unintentional injury.” This re-coding is the result of violent people defining the narrative to fit their needs. This allows them to be violent with zero accountability and zero restitution. The “two wrongs don’t make a right” “turn the other cheek” “be the bigger person” bullshit is encoded into every level of amerikkkan society and this messaging tells us to accept and endure the violence in our lives. We are not conditioned to seek justice — justice is disruptive to the status quo. Instead, we are conditioned to seek lessons in our abuse and learn from them. We are told the response to violence needs to be non-violence. That through loving our oppressors, we shall gain peace and freedom. I don’t believe I need to say that this is a fucking lie, but just in case I do — that shit is a motherfucking lie. The reality is that it teaches us how to be better victims until we are non-functional and easy to discard. Victim blaming at its best.

I am getting better at recognizing this pattern. It still takes a while because while I am accustomed to living in violence, it’s still hard for me to call it violence. It’s hard for me to say that I’ve experienced violence at the hands of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism my entire life. From teachers to classmates, bosses to coworkers, lovers to in-laws, the violence of this society is overwhelming, unchecked, and constant. Navigating spaces where I am continually surrounded by enemies, many of whom will lie to my face about being so…I’m to the point that I try to avoid predominantly white spaces simply because of their socially acceptable violence. They call it ignorance. They call it an accident. They claim they didn’t know better. Regardless of how they manipulate the language to avoid accountability, the result is the same: — they are violent towards me and I have to heal from the harm they inflicted.

We are taught to reclassify violence from birth. Violence from boys is reclassified as affection. Violence from white people is reclassified as misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Violence from adults is reclassified as necessary discipline. Violence from bosses is reclassified as professionalism. Violence from potential romantic partners is reclassified as love. Violence to our bodies is reclassified as self-care. Western culture is violence rebranded as civility and progress and that lie is shouted from the rooftops of the buildings built upon mass graves that continue to be ignored because, for white supremacist patriarchal capitalism, violence is the pathway to enlightenment.

For much of my life, I believed that violence was normal. I’ve been conditioned to internalize my pain, blame myself for being subjected to violence, and then accept punishment for any attempts to protect myself from this casual, socially accepted violence of amerikkkan culture. For too long, I existed barely protected and angry at myself for my inability to navigate this unceasing violence calmly. I’ve been reprimanded, punished, fired, ostracized, ignored, rebuked, and silenced throughout my life because I dared to question a course of action or set boundaries on how I want to be treated because I questioned the violence of whatever authority figure was in the room. From childhood, somehow, I understood that no one should have authority over me, and as an adult, I stand by that. No one has authority over me. You don’t get to control my thoughts, body, or emotional responses to shit as I’ve also learned that regardless of what I do, I will be met with violence that will be called everything except violence because lies when repeated enough, become truth.

I do not accept these lies anymore. I do not pretend violence is not violence. My boss took violent action against me. He failed this time, but he has the tools and the position to change that outcome, therefore he is my enemy. My “clueless” coworker is not clueless. She uses the appearance of ineptitude to mask her violence. I will not pretend she is anything other than violent. Every Facebook and Instagram violation I get for having cleavage or calling out oppression is violence. These platforms violently silence Black women constantly. Theft of one’s ideas and creative work is violence and white people do this shit non-stop. Emulating whiteness is violent. Anti-Blackness is violent. Mass media is violent. We live immersed in violence and call it entertainment. We call it sophistication. We call it fun.

Violence is not acceptable. It should never be acceptable, and we have to call it what it is because too many people cling to euphemisms to avoid dealing with this reality. We hide the terror we inflict and endure behind soft phrasing because who wants to admit they are a monster when the masses will swaddle you in your bullshit? Why be civilized when we can just rebrand your cruelty? Why see reality when lies feel so much better. We refuse to challenge societal violence so that we can pretend we aren’t surrounded by monsters cosplaying humanity.

I’ve been violent, mostly to defend and protect myself from the violence of others. This is not the same — except when I am at an intersection of privilege that isn’t shared by those near me. Twenty years ago, I was violent to the LGBTQIA+ community. It was before I understood privilege, before I understood power, and before I knew just how harmful my words could be. It doesn’t erase the violence I did and I am sorry for both the harm I caused and helped facilitate. My ableism is constantly violent, and I am working to change that. Regardless, I am calling it violent because that is what it is — intentional or not.

Look at your life, your decisions, your biases, and remove the cloaking device your mind has engaged to convince yourself that you are harmless. You aren’t. You are moving in and enacting violence constantly. Stop bullshitting yourself and others and own the harm you have done and continue to do. Admit to your violence and then work to undo that shit. Dismantle the violence of your existence and become a better you.

Violence has never been the pathway to enlightenment, but when dealing with violent monsters, it is a pathway to freedom from oppression. That is, if we are capable of understanding the difference between attacking and protecting. I worry that too many are not capable of recognizing the difference.

Fat, Black, Femme Geek. I’m a writer & cosplayer. My blog is www.talynnkel.com. My books: Breaking Normal& Still Breaking Normal http://amzn.to/2FW5kl3

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