Aurora Levins Morales on abuse and oppression, from Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity pages 3-4
Whether it takes place in the supposedly private context of sexual abuse or the public and allegedly impersonal arenas of colonialism, patriarchy or a profoundly racist class society, the traumatic experience of being dehumanized and exploited strips people of their stories, of the explanations that make sense of their lives. Instead, it imposes on us the self-justifying mythologies of the perpetrators. We are left adrift, the connection between cause and effect severed so that we are unable to identify the sources of our pain.
Individual abuse and collective oppression are not different things, or even different orders of magnitude. They are different views of the same creature, varying only in how we accommodate to them. Child sexual abuse is explained as a psychological twist in the perpetrator; gang violence and hate crimes as psycho-sociological compounds of collective frustration, group dynamics and personal insecurities and aggressiveness; the massive perpetrations of poverty, pillage and war as byproducts of the efficient organization of society. But abuse is the local eruption of systemic oppression, and oppression the accumulation of millions of small systemic abuses.
However the abuse is perpetrated, the result is the same: abuse does not make sense in the context of our humanity, so when we are abused, we must either find an explanation that restores our dignity or we will at some level accept that we are less than human and lose ourselves, and our capacity to resist, in the experience of victimhood.
I call the work I do “cultural activism” because it does battle in the arena of culture, over the stories we tell ourselves and each other of why the world is as it is. It’s a struggle for the imaginations of the oppressed people, for our capacity to see ourselves as human when we are being treated inhumanely.
Aurora Levins Morales is a Puerto Rican Jewish activist, healer, womanist, writer and poet.
My adopted Dad mailed Medicine Stories a few months ago when he found out the type of work I was doing to heal from abuse and trauma. It sat on my shelf for a long time, but I’m reading it now and I can’t begin to emphasize how important this is to me, to helping me heal and restore my own vision of the world as a survivor. It’s intense and dense, so I have to take it slowly, but each page is like a breath of fresh air after suffocating for far too long.
Thank you, Dad. I love you.