By: Atiba Nicholas (MCJ Writer)
The hit TV series, Greenleaf (OWN), boldly challenges taboo topics and brings to the forefront the reality that we are only as sick as our secrets. As the shepherds of Calvary Fellowship World Ministries, Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) and his First Lady Mae (Lynn Whitfield) have had their world turned upside down with the return of their estranged daughter, Grace (Merle Dandridge). In Season 1, Grace’s main mission was to uncover the decades of sexual abuse by her Uncle Mac, which led to her sister’s suicide. As Bishop’s brother-in-law, right hand and legal counsel, Mac had the ability to cover up and get away with his indiscretions through a tangled web of efforts by the Greenleaf family to profit from their church and ascend to notoriety. As the skeletons were emptied from their familial closet, the intersection of church politics, capitalism, gender, sexuality, external politics and religion created a unique cultural mix worthy of exploration. This show is unapologetic in its examination of the real costs of these constructs disguised in biblical misinterpretation. The season finale’s dramatic sermon placed the pain of women who have survived sexual assault front and center while shaming the bishop and others for turning a blind eye to misogyny.
The black church aside, it is simple and even acceptable to be openly enraged about a myriad of issues plaguing our society
The black church aside, it is simple and even acceptable to be openly enraged about a myriad of issues plaguing our society. Many of these social ills, including systemic oppression, racial discrimination, gender bias, drug addiction, poverty and homelessness, come with few judgments and little expectation of personal shame for having fallen into to these traps. Perhaps attributed to large scale, visible cracks in the concrete of our societal framework; but what about those “crimes of silence”? Often kept on the hush are the breakdowns in our personal history that cause generational patterns of psychological damage, invisible scars and victim blaming.
Our cultural emphasis on family secrecy, a long history of mistrust in the justice system and the fear of tainting our family name has all contributed to the silent code we have established pertaining to sexual abuse. Without question, blatant conversation on this topic causes deep-rooted mental and emotional anguish across all sectors of the population, possibly due to its existence somewhere in our own family’s history. The unspoken commitment to denial is the very reason intrafamilial sexual abuse is destroying the innocence of our children. While predatory sexual behavior knows no race, class, economic status, religion, or gender, the cultural conditioning that occurs within the African-American community creates the perfect breeding ground for reinforcement of false truths about sexual abuse.
Until we are willing to shatter the code of silence and appropriately intervene, we will continue to further traumatize victims of these horrendous acts.
When any person, child or adult (male or female), musters up the courage to confide in someone they trust and that person does nothing, we are essentially telling them that they are not worthy of protection and support. Black men and boys have the added battle of attempting to understand their sexuality outside of the abuse, a contributing factor to why they never share their secret. The fear of ridicule and shame causes them carry the burden of abuse with them throughout their lifetime.
Sexual victimization during formative years drastically increases the likelihood for other types of abuse to occur in adulthood. On top of disrupting healthy emotional growth of a child, the challenge for them to process and cope with their abuse can become unbearable. It can also shape a child’s understanding of love and sex in a way that causes them to associate intimate relationships with pain and cruelty. Additionally, the lack of psychological support surrounding abuse prevents a child from being able to redefine their understanding of intimacy, making them increasingly more susceptible to future abuse. (http://www.ebony.com/
Open dialogue, educational resources and support systems, regardless of age, are crucial to preventing recurring patterns of abuse. We cannot assume that our precious little sons and daughters will somehow be automatically exempt from the traumatic experience of predatory abuse. When a person does not feel safe in their environment, including church, they will naturally develop intense anxiety. By forcing children to exist in the same environment as their offender, they will spend most of their life in fight or flight mode. We cannot leave the task to someone else to educate and keep a watchful, empathetic eye over our loved ones. If we expect others to be courageous enough to speak their truth, we have to be equally as willing to start the conversation in support of their strength.
Here are some Pointers for Parents: (http://www.naasca.org/2011-
Calmly and clearly, teach your children about personal safety, in age-appropriate ways, from age three and up, each year adding on more age-appropriate details. Role-playing different scenarios is a very effective proactive tool. Try to prevent your children from learning about this in a much harder way.
Be wary, and openly communicate through calm and concerned questions, with a child if he or she appears to be uncharacteristically uncomfortable or expresses negativity around a particular adult or teen—even if the person is a neighbor, close friend of the family, relative, or respected community member.
Be wary, and openly communicate through calm and concerned questions, with a child who is receiving special favors or gifts from an adult or teen.
Be wary, and openly communicate through calm and concerned questions with a child, if anybody—including teachers, coaches, counselors, youth group leaders, doctors or babysitters, as well as relatives, ever meets privately in a room with a closed door with a child for any reason, or goes off with them to any place where they are alone. If a child discloses that he or she has been sexually abused, never blame the child for any of their actions or for not telling you sooner. Victims of abuse require support.
If a child discloses that he or she has been sexually abused, don’t rely on anyone else to fulfill your obligation. Call 911. An abuse hotline can also serve as a first step for help making the safest decision in your situation. Remember that perpetrators can look you right in the eye and lie easily. They are masters of deception. Leave investigations for forensic experts. Hospitals are another way to get immediate attention.
Kudos to OWN for re-engaging the conversation. Fans are at the edge of their seats to see how this story unfolds with GiGi – the Truth Seeker – at the healm! Season 2 is set to be another attention-grabber with Uncle Mac released from jail and revealing deeper family secrets in exchange for his own freedom.