Insisting on One’s Right to Exist: Reflections on the Latest Public Annihilation
I have had so many thoughts and feelings since I first learned of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s existence and read the outlines of the experience she – with great concern and caution – has shared with her member of Congress and now, to her great peril, the world. Everything – from my own lived experiences to the frameworks I’ve studied and worked with for understanding power dynamics, social norms, issues of gender inequities – all these have gone around in my mind, over and over, as I sought words to express how I understand what is happening — how it feels, and fundamentally, what it is about.
After much reflection, and considering many ways I might express myself, it comes down to the essence of what is horrifying about the current conditions in this country. Before I say what I need to say, I offer this preface — I realize what I’m describing is in no sense new, or new to this country — far from it. What I’m describing is a dimension of what is possible in human nature and in human culture — it is always present to some degree and we are always at risk for it to become more prevalent and extreme.
That said, what is at the heart of what we are experiencing is the reality that for people with less power in this country, no matter what we say or do, what actions we take or don’t take, how polite or strident we are, it is necessary to assert, over and over the following.
WE. ARE. NOT. THINGS.
We are required by the highest and best that we’re capable of to stand our ground and say that we refuse to be dehumanized, objectified, assaulted, menaced, demeaned, terrorized, raped, humiliated, trafficked. We. Refuse.
Just as we are not things, people with power and privilege are not gods. They are not a master race, entitled by their wealth, their skin color, the gender, their religion to wealth, to coercive power over, to guarantees of access to every resource they can imagine. No one is a god. No one deserves to be treated as entitled – just as no one deserves to be treated as an object.
It is dizzying, sometimes, to have to state something that seems so obvious as a basic tenet of what it means to live in a civilized community. But the events of the past two years have demonstrated that the worst in human nature and culture is never far from dominance, and can move into the foreground with ferocious speed.
This week, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is the courageous person among us who stepped forward to talk about being assaulted, objectified and dehumanized – knowing, sadly correctly, that this would only lead to a repeat of the experience with new levels of ferocity and danger. And Brett Kavanaugh, Republican leaders in the Senate, and the president have shown what it looks like when people who believe in their own entitlement – yes, superiority and even godliness – are affronted by a human they cannot truly see as real and worthy who insists on her right to exist and be heard.
What is happening to Dr. Blasey Ford – the vicious attacks, the death threats – is not more extreme that what has happened to countless other girls and women, boys and men, people of color, LGBTQ people, people experiencing poverty, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, people of non dominant faiths. That is not the point. Dr. Blasey Ford is this week’s courageous human who has taken the risk for all of us, in insisting she is human and has a right to be heard.
Will we leave her out there on her own, to be attacked and have her life destroyed for the audacity of claiming that she is real? If not, what do we do? If we fail to stand with her, what does that make us, as we – for the moment – avoid being in the crosshairs, hiding, crouching and afraid?
I wish I had a brilliant new strategy for fighting this descent into dehumanization, into authoritarianism, into tyranny and fascism. I don’t. I do know that it is time to insist, at every instance, over and over, in a multitude of voices – we are human. We do not accept your right to harm us.
We demand our right to exist and to be heard. And we will never stop. Never.
This declaration is dedicated to survivors, and to those we have lost to dehumanization and, violence. To Trayvon Martin, to Brandon Teena, to Anne Frank, to Anna Politkovskaya, to my family members murdered in the Shoah, to all those whose names we will never know because they were destroyed and left unnamed and unmourned — lost to us all forever.
The author chooses to be known as N. Bayarski – a name that is not the one she was born with but instead is a tribute to one of the lost.
This is a personal essay. All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.