I used to be very pacifist as a child. I thought that being pacifist meant not using or condoning violence in any fashion. I included my own intentions, energy, thoughts, feelings, words and actions in my pacifist policing of myself and self-expression. I was a very gentle spirit inside and probably thought white hippies were my allies.
I was bullied. I was cussed and yelled at. I was shoved around and pushed down. I was whispered about and ostracized. I was called names and used as entertainment. I was beaten.
I was shown images of Black people during the Civil Rights Movements and slavery, sprayed with water hoses, marching peacefully, attacked by dogs, singing, lynched, holding picket signs, burned, praying, raped, sitting quietly, beaten, dragged, spit on, caring for white children, tortured, working to death, mutilated, in chains–accepting it with quiet dignity and never raising a hand to their oppressors.
Even as a Southerner, I grew up with the American Melting Pot Edition™ of Martin Luther King being taught to me in school, the fuzzy, fluffy, nonviolent preacher. No one taught Malcolm X though he was mentioned.
In my practice of pacifism, however, I believed it meant I had to accept any kind of treatment and violence perpetuated against me, verbal/physiological/psychic/emotional/spiritual/mental/physical violence. To honor pacifist beliefs, I had to accept violence to show others that violence was not the way.
To be pacifist, I had to not be angry because anger is an expression of violence.
But wherever I went, no matter what I did, I was never okay with being treated like shit or watching others get treated like shit. No matter where I went or what I did, everybody would always tell me how angry I looked, how bitter I was. And then they would tell me how I should be kind to others, smile, be pleasant. The same people who had beat me, humiliated me in front of bystanders until I cried or was unable to speak for several hours, the same people who never spoke up for me when I couldn’t speak up for myself, the same people whose influence stunted and destroyed my early formation of my sense of my physical body (body shaming and verbal/physical abuse). The same people I wanted to save with my pacifism.
Pacifism and these people were teaching me to slowly be killed, to be poisoned and stabbed, violated and beaten…and to enjoy my own murder with a smile.
If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.–Zora Neale Hurston
Still to this day, when I fight back, when I tell my truth, still believing that peace is the way, I am viewed as violent and uncivilized, angry and bitter. I was violent and uncivilized, angry and bitter, when I was pacifist, too. Can’t win for losing.
Anything that I do to defend myself that is not passive is going to be perceived as violence in the interest of those who are threatened by me.