Pain and Rage, Anger and Empathy

Or, Why I Can’t Get Out of Bed After Yesterday’s Kavanaugh Hearings and What I’m Trying To Do About It.

Before I say anything else I want to simply express gratitude to Dr. Blasey Ford for testifying yesterday, for telling her story under oath and in public, and for doing so despite her admitted terror. A link to the full transcript is here and all quotes come from that transcript.

Like many survivors of sexual violence, the Kavanaugh hearings have been difficult for me to watch. They’ve even been difficult to read about. The details fo Dr. Blasey Ford’s story hit awfully close to home for many of us, and for me they trigger memories of my own assaults but also a deep and painful empathy with her as she exposes herself to the pain of criticism, the threats to her family, and the reliving of her trauma.

The rage I felt while listening to Orrin Hatch was so strong it made me sick to my stomach. He dismissed claims brought by a woman because she’s represented by a “porn star lawyer” and claimed that the treatment Kavanaugh was a “national disgrace.” It was, he said, “worse than Clarance Thomas,” and that he “didn’t think it could get worse than that.” Of course it was the way that the Senate treated Anita Hill that was the disgrace. He asserted that we should assume based on Kavanaugh’s adult life that he couldn’t have been sexually violent as a kid even though we all know that people who go to church and coach softball teams are also sometimes molesters. (See the Catholic Church for thousands of prominent example.) At one point I posted on Facebook that, were I not on a train, I’d scream. I posted it in part to prevent myself from screaming. When Senator Coons, a Democrat, asked if Kavanaugh had ever become aggressive after drinking I wanted to scream “he’s aggressive right here in front of you even when he’s not drinking.” It was almost comical at that point. Except it was real, and it was sickening.

That rage. When have I felt that kind of rage before? I feel anger and rage of that same degree every time I read about the horrifying injustices that are endemic in the United States. I felt that same level of anger and rage when I read about children being taken from their parents at the border. I feel it every time I read about another unarmed black young person shot and killed because someone felt unjustifiably afraid. I feel it even more deeply when that someone is a police officer.

As that rage washed over me today, again, bringing me back to tears I realized that in this instance my rage is so much more deeply personal than which I feel about other outrageous injustices. It is easier for me let my outrage at those injustices filter through a cold abstraction that creates emotional distance and allows me to think, act, and write strategically. This rage touches such a personal experience that I can’t think about the situation without breaking down in tears. My partner was just as outraged, but not nearly as personally affected, and for a short while we had a rough time during which I couldn’t even easily listen to him talk about the hearings because it was just so much more abstract for him.

As my partner held me while I cried some more, I thought about all the times I’ve talked to black colleagues or friends or family members after one of those horrifying shootings, and how, though I acknowledged and believed I honored their pain and anguish, my rage and anguish could not possibly be as emotionally painful as theirs.

I am grateful to Dr. Blasey Ford for her courage in sharing her story despite great cost to herself and her family. I am grateful to her also for something she couldn’t have anticipated: her act, and the pain I felt as I witnessed the fallout, reminded me to be so much more thoughtful in my support of others I witness injustices that for me are outrageous but which for those around me are not only outrageous but also much more deeply personal. Given the number and breadth of the injustices committed by this administration every day, it’s a promise I expect to be tested frequently. I will work hard to live up to it.

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