I remain appalled by your barbaric incarceration. Any system of justice that is capable of convicting a victim of crime in the act of prevention is deeply broken. In an effort to stay in solidarity with you throughout your new trial, and accept my responsibility as a man, I have re-examined my own childhood experience with domestic violence. Its consequences are far-reaching and long-lasting.
I’ve been noticing how I always play a supporting role in life. I can be found in the background, making sure everything and everyone is OK, but seldom out front leading the charge. I’m good at pushing others forward, but what holds me back from being more visible, more publicly significant? I’ve been able to specifically trace the answer to my father’s fist.
My father was a large white man who carried himself with an air of importance. When he entered a room, deference was automatically conferred upon him from both strangers and those who knew him well. He was likable in a Ronald Reagan sort of way, charismatic, charming, and attractive. You got the sense that, if he chose to, he could dominate any situation.
That was in public. In our family, his domination was secured by violence. One of my four older sisters was hit regularly. The earliest episode I remember she was six and I was two. I thought he was going to kill her. Another sister was hit on only one occasion, but she had two black eyes and bruises all over her body. My mother was hit multiple times. Once, I saw him throw a heavy object at her head barely missing her temple. The object flew through a window shattering the glass. My mother’s life was that close to ending in murder.
I wonder, if my sisters or my mother had access to a weapon in those irreversible moments of horror, would they have used it as a warning to interrupt the violence? Of course. I think anyone would if they knew what was coming. It has to be stopped. When I got big enough to interfere with my father, he never hit anyone again. I never had to use my physical strength against him. He knew that I was willing to and that was deterrence enough. Marissa did not have that option.
Also, I wonder how a shot from a gun in my family’s middle-class suburban home would have been handled by the authorities. It’s hard for me to imagine that the incident would have led to any criminal charges at all. As a black woman, Marissa had two permanently systemic strikes against her before the event even occurred.
I was hit, too, but the role of witness to violence against women I loved had a more insidious long-term effect. The answer for why I always play second fiddle is that public prominence makes me feel that I am like my father, and I decided in that moment at age 2 that I never would be. That decision has allowed me to lead a life without committing violence. It has also stripped me of the ability to be who I really am. My 57-year-old body is an exact replica of my father’s at the same age. I still carry such rage and shame from what I watched him do that it is impossible for me to fully inhabit this body with pride.
I have built a life based on not being someone else. For 55 years, I have been driven by the need to take a different path than my father. This legacy is a type of violence in itself, because I am still living under his dominance. I am a rebel, but the target of my rebellion still owns me because I live in reaction to his actions.
Today, for Marissa, for my sisters, for my mother, and, of course, for myself, I commit to a different path. I will claim this body as my own despite the self-hate I will need to feel. I am not my father when I take up space to stand tall and visible. But much more important than that, I am deeply myself (like me before 2) as I openly express the full power of my experience, my intelligence, and my love.
FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!
A Witness in Solidarity