When I work with adults, I might use an icebreaker I adapted from colleagues over a decade ago. Any group of people I meet will have a vast unspoken acquaintance with violence, from personal expereince and by way of witness. Without invading anyone’s privacy, I want to name these experiences. For one thing, they are going to be with us anyway, and better to establish a solid self-care plan if we acknowledge that fact before launching into potentially triggering activities. Also, it lends credence to my assertion that I am not the only expert in the room—nearly every student will have a story of self defense practice and success.
Most sobering and sad: it demonstrates indisputably that we live in a violent society. We lie to ourselves about this all the time, but when we actually take the survey, we realize that each one of us has absorbed countless acts of violence.
So I say, “Raise your hand if this is true:”
“You, or someone you know, has ever been mugged.”This is a subjective exercise. The point is that most people will raise their hands for most of the scenerios, so that the overall effect proves the point: “As a group, we’ve experienced, witnessed or heard about many kinds of violence and self defense.”
“You, or someone you know, has ever been physically or sexually assaulted.”
“You, or someone you know, has ever had to stand up for yourself in a confrontation with a superior, like a boss or a teacher.”
“You, or someone you know, has ever had an intimate partner who tried to control their behavior or finances, or who hit them.”
“You, or someone you know, has ever been bullied or verbally assaulted in response to something (real or perceived) about their identity, ie: race, sexual orientation.”
I’d never call anyone out for not raising their hand, would never say, for example, “Really? You don’t know six women? Because one in six American women has been sexually assaulted, and I find it statisticaly improbable that you don’t know any of them. For goodness sake, there are six women in the room with us right now. You are probably sitting next to someone who has been sexually assaulted!”
Because that’s not friendly. It’s sure as hell not good teaching. That’s just an anti-violence educator’s silent snark. It’s the rhythmic pounding of my head against the wall of silence and shame and secrecy that protects us from the reality of the rape culture we live in. Doesn’t protect us from the rape, mind you—just from the acknowledgment that it’s happening. All around us, to one in six of us, every two minutes.
There is one I’m just dying to correct, though. I sneak the information into my class plan six ways to Sunday, so that maybe the folks who don’t raise their hand on this one walk away with a shift in perspective.
But also, I have this blog. So I don’t have to resign myself to the forehead against the bricks. I can lay it out here for anyone who played along with the survey up top.
If you know a person of color— you know someone who’s been bullied or verbally assaulted in response to something about their identity.
If you know someone queer or gender non-conforming— you know someone who’s been bullied or verbally assaulted in response to something about their identity.
If you know a woman— you know someone who’s been bullied or verbally assaulted in response to something about their identity.
If you’ve ever heard a racial epithet, a homophobic slur, a catcall, you’ve been witness to the verbal and microagression that soaks our culture. It’s not even as secret as rape: it’s right there in front of us, every time someone’s called a bitch or a fag or a wetback. People say those words out loud every day. Some people even say them in public or in the news.
I beg you, don’t shelter those haters with your disbelief. Don’t minimize their violence. Instead, open your heart to those of us to whom those words are attacks on something intrinsic and beautiful about ourselves. Imagine walking the world in a skin perceived by some as an invitation to attack. And then, help us change that world. Because it’s going to take every one of us.