One point on which Creflo Dollar and both his daughters agree is that he walked into the kitchen and said, “Why are you crying?” He already knew why. I imagine that he asked his question with a bullying tone; I imagine there was an unspoken threat behind the question, a threat with which too many are familiar: I’ll give you something to cry about.
And to the question with the obvious answer, to the veiled threat, she didn’t give the response Dollar required. According to Dollar, his daughter didn’t give enough deference to his privileged position. She didn’t acknowledge his authority. She “became very disrespectful.” He told the police that he approached her to “restrain” her. That’s his report.
I have a report of my own, one from my own kitchen floor. Distance, linearity and many of the things you expect as Western-trained academics are impossible for me. See trauma theory. See black women’s biomythographies. See yourself in the mirror and try to tell, in five minutes, a very very bad thing that happened.
In the kitchen, I triggered my mother. Her thumbs pressed my trachea and she shook me back and forth like a button-eyed rag doll. I didn’t know when she would stop or if I would still be alive when she did. My first mind said, “This is Momma,” but my second mind made my hands spring out. I can still feel her flesh moles under my fingernails, my hands trying to pry her arms away, her eyes wide with shock as she realized that this “bitch” was fighting back. She threw me on the ground.
I love my mother. She is my closest friend. I’m not half the woman she was at my age. She knew what had to be done and she did it. She worked very hard to insure our financial well-being. She is the funniest woman I know. She encouraged me to speak up, to speak back, despite the consequences. Her violence didn’t make her a monster; it made her thoroughly American.
I don’t have to tell you why I feel the need to defend even as I tell my truth. You already know. It is the reason you tell similar stories with laughter, with nostalgia for the days when children didn’t criminalize their own parents, didn’t dial 911. IN the court of public opinion, minority parents have already been condemned, especially against the mythology of passive white parenting. Perhaps that’s why we defend our parents with silence or a laughter that shows our appreciation for bringing us up right.
I am fifteen. My mother doesn’t like me and she’s told me so. I want her to like me. I want to be a good girl, but I keep being bad. I have an attitude. I don’t understand that there are things I cannot have and I continue to ask. I have little respect for authority. I don’t appreciate her sacrifices because I don’t yet know them. I hide in my room. I am moody. I withdraw. I am sometimes not courteous. I think the world revolves around me, around my desires. I am fifteen and developmentally appropriate. This fact doesn’t excuse, to my parents, the types of offenses I commit.
I want to tell you what it feels like to be kicked. You curl into a ball. You know the fight is over and you’ve lost. You realize you never wanted to win. You try to protect your face but not your eyes because you need to see her feet so you can roll to avoid the blows. You scream, “I hate you.” She says, “You know what? I hate you too!” You believe her. You think you always will.
After my mother choked, stomped, and punched me she kicked me out of the house. My father stayed in the basement. My brothers watched from the dining room. I rang the doorbell and asked through the closed door if I could use her phone to call my best friend to pick me up.
My brothers later told me that they’d laughed that night, laughed at the sight of two crazy [women] fighting in the kitchen.
My mother, like yours, was raised before Oprah and the eighties research on child-centered, intentional parenting.
She deserved respect and confused it with fear. And who was supposed to teach her the difference? Public libraries closed before she could leave her desk. AOL searches and instant information were years away. Which friends of hers had not been beaten? Where would she have taken a child development course or a class in adolescent psychology? She worked too hard and too long to come home and be challenged by a doppelganger with an attitude problem. I get it. And I’m glad no one called the police. Jailing half of my parents would have created more problems than it solved.
Besides, I’m anti-prison industrial complex and for a judicial system that considers the needs of the victim. The media coverage of Creflo Dollar drones on like an extended episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; the victim is forgotten after the first five minutes and the rest of the episode focuses on the psyche of the perpetrator.
What are Creflo’s daughter’s needs? I can’t speak for her, but I can imagine that what she didn’t need was a standing ovation for her father or a bunch of nostalgic people with internet access telling pornographic stories about the beatings they meted out to their own children. I imagine that what she needs are consequences for the perpetrator and a guarantee that this will never happen again.
I want to tell you what happens when you survive the kitchen floor. You get up. You’re not a girl anymore. If no one stopped your parent, you feel like you will always be by yourself. You think there is something inside you that will always bring out the worst in someone else, and you believe those who tell you the same. You spend a lifetime creating opportunities for apologies, which are delicious to you. You attract bullies and people who like or love you with conditions. You want someone to change you, to make you better, more loveable. You pursue a sorority. You join organizations/ institutions with strict rules. You love an angry God. When you worship, you cry “I’m not worthy!” You mean it. You keep going to school because there are so many adults there with the power to validate or reject you. Rejection is best; it gives you a chance to be a better girl. You ask people, “Are you sure you like me?” You want strangers to promise to love you forever. You don’t trust that the people who do love you won’t change their minds. You bully your brothers, your lovers, your friends. You apologize and apologize and never feel forgiven. If you are lucky, your parents will be the last people who hit you. You will live much of your life fixing your face up, lest someone give you something to cry about.
I am not here to deliver maxims. They are not helpful and they invite arguments I don’t want to have. I know what I know and my bones remember. I’m a poet. I don’t want to tell you what to do with your children, but I will teach your children how to tell what you did.