I remember my father came to visit but never stayed too long.
I remember how his gap-toothed grin sauntered in and out of the revolving door of his daughter’s life.
I remember how when he returned, no matter how many days, weeks, months or years had passed, I pretended like he never left.
I remember that he turned his back on me so many times I couldn’t remember his face.
I remember loving him anyway.
I remember looking for love in the laps of horny teenage boys.
I remember learning that love and sex clashed in the charming patois of fuckboys.
I remember police sketches hanging in the lobby of men who raped Black girls in stairwells.
I remember the dirty condoms that littered my path down three flights on my way to school.
I remember only three words from my mother’s brief lecture on the birds and the bees: Don’t get pregnant.
I remember keeping my legs closed, but he remembered something else, so I remember it didn’t matter.
I remember leaving the playground before the street lights came on, the way my mother told me to.
I remember she kept what felt like a GPS tracker on my every move.
I remember when she finally cut the umbilical cord and let me out in the world alone.
I remember candidly indulging in all of my preadolescent vices: jaywalking, catfights and talking to boys.
I remember how happy I was to see my friend in the shadows of the summer sunset.
I remember it didn’t occur to me that even Satan was once an archangel.
I remember wanting him to walk me home, to mold the shattered fragments of heart in his calloused hands until I was worthy of the love my father was too selfish to give.
I remember how his lips lured me into his crooked trap before he forced his square hips between my thighs so that I couldn’t move.
I remember that his breath was hot like cayenne pepper, the kind of hot that lingered, the kind of hot that stung so bad you’d swear it burned through flesh.
I remember how his stout fingers slithered up my denim mini skirt.
I remember putting on my big girl panties that morning: a printed black g-string.
I remember how he asked This is what you wanted? like it wasn’t really a question at all.
I remember saying no, but he remembered something else, so I remember it didn’t matter.
I remember a scream, then a scuffle.
I remember the charging stampede of faceless heroes coming to my rescue.
I remember I ran away and never looked back.
Shame on the court of public opinion for prosecuting me for the planned plundering of my own pussy. Shame on it for pillaging my virtue and leaving me with nothing but this shame. Shame on him for swearing before God: I never touched that bitch. Shame on the jury for believing it was better to be raped than ignored. Shame on them for gathering a crowd for my execution. Shame on me for sharing my shame. Shame on me for not slitting his throat.
I keep my assault quiet for fear that any retelling of the event will remind me that my body doesn’t belong to me. Sustaining the memory is one thing. Memories are transient phenomena, murky thought bubbles that burst into extinction over time. Words, on the other hand, are tangible and by deliberately avoiding the words to voice my pain, I convince myself that it isn’t real.
I am on a date when the man who tried to rape me nearly a decade ago walks into the restaurant. I order a veggie plate with all of my favorite things: baked macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens, and a side of cornbread. As my stomach threatens to explode onto the grease-stained linoleum tile, I am learning what I want isn’t always worth the sacrifice.
The man’s eyes scan the room but they don’t recognize my face. I remember the weight of his boxy frame crushing me against the red brick wall as he unzipped his sagging pants, but he remembers something else, so I remember it doesn’t matter.
I tell my date we should take our plates to-go and that I’ll wait for him outside. He offers to join me and we make our way towards the exit when his eyes recognize a familiar face. When he hugs my attacker, I watch the crumbs of self-esteem I’d managed to salvage gobbled up in their embrace. I want to skin them both alive but my torment is invisible in their exchange daps. My companion later shares that they are old friends, like brothers. I hear what he means but doesn’t say: Bros before hoes. I throw my veggie plate in the trash and my date with it.
My auntie says to mourn for girls. Boys get dicks, while God cursed girls with slits. Pussy is the most coveted entity in the world, but it doesn’t belong to the woman who wields it. Black pussy is more likely to be raped, beaten or murdered than any other pussy in America. Thank God the baby is a boy.
My favorite cousin is pregnant with her first born. When she says she wants to breastfeed her son, I recall a meme I saw on Black Twitter featuring a slave woman breastfeeding a white infant. All of her womanhood spills out over her unbuttoned blouse as the child suckles at one of her bare nipples. She shields her shame with a closed mouth grin, but it sneaks out through her tired eyes. The child is ravenous. He grips her breast with his tiny hands as if to suck her dry. I wonder if she’ll have any milk left to feed her own child. The photo caption asks the question that has baffled our nation for centuries. How could black Americans and white Americans nurse from the same breast, but we couldn’t drink from the same water fountain?
The tribe finally gathers to celebrate the coming of our new prince. We toast to black love and puff and pass the blunts counter-clockwise in a ritual cipher. We occupy our days chasing faraway highs to avoid the familiar lows. My not-so-favorite cousin says he saw a real-life pimp at the airport with a rainbow coalition of hoes. He is impressed. You know a pimp gets money if he got a white bitch. Black pussy is more likely to be trafficked than any other pussy in America, but white pussy is more expensive. Thank God the baby is a boy.
In the case of Black Women in America vs. Propagators and Profiteers of the American Slave Trade, we charge the United States of America with sacrificing the black female body. We convene before an audience of international leaders at the United Nations for a tribunal and day of reckoning. We present over 600 stories of sexual violence against our sisters with no outcry from human rights communities, no process for justice, and no recognition of such violations and its impact on the culture of violence against black women today. I am a collector of stories.
My mother is raped on the middle passage long before our tribe set foot on in the hell we now call home. She slits my sister’s throat at birth to protect her virtue. The rapists are unbothered. There are plenty of sisters to go around.
My sister is raped at the age of four by a teenage cousin babysitting while her mother is at work.
My sister is raped at the age of eight by her mother’s boyfriend who faced the justice of her uncle’s shotgun.
My sister is molested from ages 8 - 10 by a neighbor who called himself “uncle.”
My sister is raped by a distant relative that her grandma met at a family reunion.
My sister is date raped by a man she met at the bus stop.
My sister is raped by a romantic partner who she’d been seeing off and on.
My sister is raped by an armed stranger on her way home from the supermarket on a Sunday afternoon.
My sister is raped by one of three armed robbers who entered her home after she forgot to lock the door.
My sister is raped by two unidentified stranger during a home invasion.
My sister is raped by two police officers.
My sister is raped more times than the human mind can fathom and yet her rapist will never stand trial. The white master plowed the parts of the enslaved black mother until her womb bore the fruit of America’s great wealth. The black woman’s body built this country. Like a mule, she carried its shit for centuries and, in return, 400 years since she arrived on these shores, her daughters are still being raped. Black pussy is the most coveted entity in America, but it never belongs to the woman who wields it.
My line of inquiry begins with a series of talking points outlined in purple ink on my pupil’s essay. We are in the midst of a modern women’s movement and, true to form, America has decided that the founder’s skin is too dark and her features too broad to stand at the helm. Hollywood’s elite have taken her place. His answers echo this revisionist history.
Q: Who started the #metoo movement?
A: I don’t know. Rose McGowan?
Q: Interesting guess. The founder of Me Too is actually a Black woman from the Bronx. Her name is Tarana Burke. What do you think the movement is about?
A: Sexual harassment in Hollywood.
Q: Yes and no. The movement has become associated with sexual harassment in Hollywood, but that’s not the whole story --
A: You sure about that? What about Bill Cosby? Harvey Weinstein?
Once again, I am faced with the moral dilemma of nurturing young minds at the expense of my personal dignity. Can I banish my ego and allow him to reveal his ignorance to himself? On days where pedagogy fails me, I turn to Google.
Q: Will you please read the first sentence of this statement from the Me Too movement’s official website?
A: “The me too movement was founded in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.”
Q: So there you have it. Makes sense?
A: Not really. If the Me Too movement was founded for black women and girls, why are they talking about celebrities on social media?
Q: Well, it depends on who you ask. Which victim is more convincing?
A: Professor, I think I want to change my topic.
I can’t change the color of my skin, but I can exchange my self-respect for a seat at the table.
Change my mind that my story will change things. Change is too tall a task. Change the topic. Change the channel. Change the world and change nothing. Times progress, but they don’t change. Changing hearts is far more difficult than changing minds. Change never comes soon enough.
Shamecca Harris is a creative writer and activist born and
raised in Harlem, New York City. She is currently an MFA candidate in
Creative Writing at The City College of New York where she also teaches
English Literature and Composition. Her essays and commentaries have
previously appeared in digital publications including Hello Beautiful and