On Leaving

written by AMANDA K GROSS

I started making Trauma Containers soon after purchasing a home in a city still new to me. I wasn’t actually residing in my relatively new home at the moment of their first construction. Instead, I was taking my first Restorative Justice course at my undergraduate alma mater and was feeling overwhelmed by the stories of violence that had led the family members of murdered loved ones to sit down with those who had committed the violent acts in an effort to reconcile, possibly forgive, and restore — or maybe more accurately, transform — what had become harmful relationship.

But this post is more about divergence than conjoinment. And at the time, I was motivated by my own personal overwhelm from hearing other people’s traumas, not from experiencing my own.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

I needed a way to hold their stories respectfully, but I also wanted a container external to myself, with a lid so I could write down the bits and images of their stories, which kept following me across wakefulness into my dreams.

My first Trauma Container was small and soft and green with a button and string. She fit cozily in the palm of my hand. After a heavy case study was shared, I would write the stickiest of details down, whisper a prayer for the people involved, and neatly roll up their traumas so I wouldn’t internalize stuff that wasn’t mine.

Thus began a decade of me and Trauma Containers. They took on many forms over the years and evolved as gifts for friends embarking on hard journeys, as a collective activity for White Women’s Group in initiation of our anti-racist family history projects, as a personal tool for processing my internalized dualism, and as a vessel for healing intentions. My most profound experience with Trauma Containers has been in using them to acknowledge, process, and (usually) release specific relationships… with myself, with other people, with communities, and with places. These relational Trauma Containers eventually leave me. (Maybe you’ve had a glimpse of one at a public park or found one alongside the road.)

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

Last year I turned thirty six and decided it was time to uproot and leave the City of Gray. This was a decision I might have made sooner, which, in retrospect, I probably should have realized sooner, but I was comfortable (enough) in my solitary space, distracted by a self-imposed excessive workload of VERY IMPORTANT and PURPOSEFUL anti-racist lifework, and affixed by something I’ve now come to understand as depression. (Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, folks.) In fact, I only came to clarity and commitment around leaving due to some major disruptions and upheaval in my home, work, and social life.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

But even after I knew I was ready to leave, knew I wanted to leave (for my mental health, I may have even needed to leave), I still spent most of the last year holding on, weighing myself down by obligation, a sense of responsibility, and a fear that the deepest desires of Amanda Katherine’s heart would reveal themselves to be racist, individualized actions driven by access to privilege and not-at-all in alignment with collective liberation. Most of all, I feared repeating a multi-generational trauma pattern of fleeing, which both historically reinforced my ancestors contributions to white settler colonialism and, in return, enabled them to repeat it.

Instead, I chose another family-iar pattern (so many patterns to choose from!). From the dropdown virtual menu of inherited multigenerational coping mechanisms, I went with the classic martyr-freeze response. I chose in my daily routines and in my relationships mostly not to fight for myself. I chose mostly to endure. I chose mostly to follow the lead of a handful of Black women and repress/suppress/ignore the discomfort in my gut and tightness in my right rhomboid.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

This time around, the depth of my perfectionism has surprised me. There are layers there that I didn’t notice before: a whole driving-force layer of perfectionism, which has been steering a lot of my work with Mistress Syndrome over the past six years. I have preached that there is no one right way, but I have been practicing a few hard-and-fast rules. For example, I have been so committed to the idea that the right way to do anti-racism work for a white person is to have accountability to and follow the lead of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color that I have created an unhealthy (and unsustainable) power dynamic in some of my closest relationships. I have nurtured distrust of my ability to see, know, and understand my own whiteness — especially to know which is my Self and which is my very sneaky false white self. I have been at times very confused about which parts of me are ME and not just white violence in disguise to the point of shutting myself down and limiting a full range of self-expression.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

I feel angry at the way these anti-racist rules for white people were taught to me and at how I chose to learn them. I feel hurt by how I feel harmed within these relationships. I struggle to direct my hurt and rage at the abstracted systems and cultures which led to the interconnected playing out of our harmful coping mechanisms and not attribute my pain exclusively to the individuals with whom I have shared such intimate spaces. But mostly, I feel angry at myself for not fighting harder for me in those moments when I invoked self-sacrifice instead.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

Leaving town, as I have come to accept, is, of course, like my ancestors, facilitated by my privilege. Not staying to fight the local fight alongside my Pittsburgh community is, in many ways, a manifestation of individualism. And, also I am increasingly okay with that.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

Leaving, is the most compassionate act I have done for myself in a long long while. I am finding joy and agency and energy and excitement in this liberating practice of self-compassion. It does not necessarily surprise me that in selling my home, scaling down my work responsibilities, and letting go of relationships, I feel freer. What is currently a most delightful surprise, is that through accepting it all, I am experiencing a deep and buoyant joy.

I am also experiencing a paradigm shift. Some of the rules I attached to are getting transformed in surprising ways; where once there were pedestals (for myself and others) now there are only bubbly, hot tubs.* A healing container of a different sort.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

In the month leading up to my departure, I began an outdoor installation of Trauma Containers, to honor the joys, triumphs, challenges, failures, and growth which have marked my time here and also as a parting gift to the land, creatures, and people.

Maybe you’ll notice them when you’re out for a walk some day.

Trauma Container Public Art Installation by Amanda K Gross

*Thanks to a dear friend for the suggestion to replace pedestals with a visualization of everyone in jacuzzis!

Only You

written by AMANDA GROSS

Meet Roger:

Only You Can Prevent Racism; Digital Image by Amanda K Gross

I was first introduced to Duke University’s report, Fighting at Birth: Eradicating the Black-White Infant Mortality Gap at the Allegheny County Health Department Infant Mortality Collaboration. This study cuts to the quick in a very helpful way.

I, along with 99% of white liberals, have a closely held assumption that as someone’s income, education, and access to healthcare and career opportunities increase, so too will their health, wellness, and quality of life. This concept of increased access = better outcomes is why I support a move towards universal healthcare, more public and subsidized housing, as well as free higher education.

Not so fast. (this study says)

While that is the case for white people giving birth to children, as seen through the Infant Mortality Rate, it is not the case for their Black counterparts. The Infant Mortality Rate (or IMR) is one very important marker of health. The Duke study shows that IMR actually increases for Black women as their education increases (especially for those who hold Masters and Post-Doctorate degrees), rather than decreases. As access to higher levels of income, education, healthcare, and career opportunities improve, health markers decline. Come again?

The study controls for a lot of things (you can read it for yourself to get all the details), ultimately coming to the conclusion that the increase in IMR is because of Black women’s increased exposure to structural racism and microaggressions. Or another way to think of it is that Black women’s IMR increases as they interact with more white people (especially of the middle-class and affluent variety) and begin to live and work in spaces that are even more culturally white.

Well, of course this makes sense because racism. And though this is consistent with what Black women have been saying for years, we white people love a good study. And so it was this study that got me all inspired.

The study reminded me of a horrid billboard campaign, which – speaking of incredible Black-led organizations – New Voices for Reproductive Justice had first alerted me to. While Black mothers are often villainized in the media as bad promiscuous single moms, this anti-abortion ad campaign was particularly heinous stating: The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.

This textbook victim-blaming technique serves as a handy distraction. The ad campaign wants us to think that Black babies are dying because of the bad choices of their parents (translation: abortion) rather than see the circumstances around them, structural racism, stress, and increased interactions with white people as the main factor in those children’s deaths.

I was taught that meddling in Black peoples’ business was the sign of a good white person, but since that approach isn’t really saving anyone but my ego it’s time to move on and be more helpful.

Both fortunately and unfortunately white people are the real cause of racism, which means we have the opportunity to be both the harm and part of the solution.

Remember Roger?

He’s making public service announcements aimed at white people through this Public Ad Campaign. As he posts them, please download the images and share widely!

College Classroom; Digital Image by Amanda K Gross

White Middle-Class Neighborhood; Digital Image by Amanda K Gross

Corporate Boardroom; Digital Image by Amanda K Gross

 

Godly Abuse is Nothing New to Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

written by AMANDA GROSS

The news out of Pittsburgh over the past week has been grim. Also stomach churning.

Across PA, the Catholic Church has been outed for the decades-long institutionalized practice of child sexual abuse. The Grand Jury named 99 priests from Pittsburgh and 20 from the Greensburg diocese. I’m not going to get into the gory details, but you can find more info and an extensive list of the priests here. Since the Grand Jury Report was released, hundreds more people have come forward with allegations not previously reported. And nuns are breaking their vow of silence about their abuse at the hands of holy men.

Spilt Milk; Mixed Media by Amanda K Gross

Our dominant child abuser narrative is that of the lone, sick, criminal abuser. Our crime and punishment approach assures us that locking up a few bad apples will solve the problem and keep our children safe. And so I am hopeful that despite the horrors, the discourse is shifting away from these lies. The Grand Jury report not only shows a clear, widespread pattern with 301 people involved (and 1000s abused), it also points to the institutionalization of abuse with cover up after cover up and a culture that punished whistleblowers and nurtured toxic discretion.

Of course the Catholic Church isn’t the only institution implicated in the recent exposure of sexual violence. Mennonite institutions are being exposed too. These patterns of abuse being made public have long been the norm in the film industry, in media, in U.S. Gymnastics, and in the U.S. Immigration System where thousands of migrants report sexual abuse including a 6-year-old girl.

In any of these institutions, abuse is horrific and unacceptable and has long-lasting life-altering impact on the survivors. But with this recent news out of Pittsburgh, I have been thinking about the spiritual violence present when experiencing abuse from your direct line to God. Abuse of power comes as no surprise. And these particular abuses – sexual abuse at the hands of priests, abuse of children in immigration detention and at the hands of the juvenile criminal justice system as well as their predecessors in Native American boarding schools and chattel slavery all have a common root in 15th-18th Century Europe where clergy, jailers, and local officials institutionalized the sexual abuse of adults and children in the name of God.

The witch hunts of 15th-18th Century Europe set the stage for the legacies of abuse we’ve inherited today. Across Western and Northern Europe there were targeted campaigns spanning hundreds of years built around a document known as the Malleus Maleficarum written by Catholic clergy in Speyer, Germany*. This bestseller lead the way in the oppressive theology of the time.

As I’ve blogged about before: in campaign after campaign to root out evil, the witch became the criminal of her day, a convenient scapegoat whose tortures, trials, and burnings fueled religious, political, and social institutions. At the time of the Protestant Reformation when Europe was being carved up along religious lines, priests and ministers on both sides were back in demand, called in desperation to exorcise the demons.

Wooden Frame; Mixed Media by Amanda K Gross

New courts were established, expert judges and attorneys were required to legitimize fear and its antidote – law and order. According to historian Lyndal Roper, attorneys began to make “a fortune in legal consultations…” and established a lucrative system in “housing and feeding the children (awaiting trial) and paying guards to watch over them.” Men of God were ushered into the detention centers, torturing and sexually abusing both adults accused of witch craft (the high majority of whom were women) and children as young as seven with their Godly methods to test for witchery.

Outside of detention centers, mayors and other leaders vowed to purify their towns, platforming off of the fear, suspicion, and subsequent hatred. Using lessons of torture learned from the Inquisition, persecution of European Jewish populations, and failed religious crusades outside of Europe, entire societal structures and institutions were developed and called upon to root out this evil. And so we persecuted both our grandmothers and our grandchildren to the fullest extent of the law.

Sound familiar? The resurgence of the law and order candidate, being tough on crime, our U.S. juvenile justice system, detaining immigrant children, systematic child abuse in religious institutions, and misogynistic rape culture all have roots in these several hundred years of terror.

The Chickens got away with Jesus: Mixed Media by Amanda K gross

What I am saying is that religious child sexual abuse is not new and we know where it comes from. 500 years later the psychological consequences continue both for those doing the abusing and those being abused.

The European witch hunts broke the back of the Peasant Revolts and other class warfare that was threatening the European ruling class at the time by targeting poor older women, the keepers of their community’s historical memory, the weavers of communal networks, the advisors of resistance. The witch hunts taught our ancestors the psychological somersaults of cognitive dissonance and disassociation. What psychological toll would it take for you to turn on your grandmother, or your aunt, on your child? What psychological sickness might get passed down generation after generation?

Once you’ve accepted the abuse of your own mother, how much easier is it to accept the abuse of others’? The psyche of the witch hunts crossed the Atlantic in the minds and bodies of Europeans paving the way for racist colonization and for the racial category we know as white.

Of course the survivors of 20th Century Church child sexual abuse are not the only children of the witch hunts. As usual the ones who have come to be called white get a whole lot more press.

The torture and enslavement of children of African descent during American chattel slavery in which enslaved children were systematically raped, the children born from those rapes enslaved by their own fathers.

The torture and incarceration of Black and Brown youth disproportionately represented in the U.S Juvenile system and the School to Prison Pipeline is morally if not religiously sanctioned with droves of Christian voters supporting abusive “tough love” policies.

The torture and imprisonment of indigenous children at Native Boarding Schools, a forced religious education aimed at cultural genocide.

The torture and detention of immigrant children, separated from their families and left vulnerable to institutionalized abuse.

All of the above have been justified on Christian religious grounds at some time or another. What I am saying is that religious child sexual abuse is not new; it is old. It is old enough to know better.

We are old enough to know better. We are old enough to speak our truths. We are old enough to disrupt these cycles of abuse. We are old enough to share our own stories. We are old enough to equip our children with this knowledge. We are old enough to say “no!” and to teach our children to do the same. We are old enough to make consent an everyday practice. We are old enough to hold our friends, families, significant others, children, representatives, judges, and priests accountable.

We are old enough to uproot this invasive plant and to uproot it together.

Les Temoins 2; Pen and Ink by Amanda K Gross

*Anabaptists might note the importance of this location. Historian Silvia Federici makes the connection that witch hunts were most prevalent in places where heretics, such as the Anabaptists, had been previously persecuted.