Warning: this post discusses abuse.
My second husband was abusive.
I’ve mentioned this before, though usually in passing. He was abusive in most of the ways you can imagine, though thankfully with direct physical violence only once. We split two years ago this June, and as you might expect, I’m still sorting out the emotional rubble.
As best as I’ve been able to, I’ve pieced together what I think happened; how I ended up with him in the first place and how our relationship continued the way it did. I’m fairly certain he is a narcissistic abuser; every way he used, manipulated and abused me falls in line with the pages and pages I’ve since read on the topic.
One aspect of his game that I’m only now unraveling (there’s a hell of a lot to unpack) is the racial aspect. He used to tell me how much he was into “Middle Eastern chicks” and I assumed that was a compliment. But looking back, I don’t think it was.
First, I think he specifically targeted me for a number of reasons, one of which was my race. He knew it was part of what made me insecure and vulnerable (especially back then, I was quite young at only 21), and he also knew it would make him look progressive in his ultra-white circles. Never mind that he, the whitest Wisconsin-ass white boy in the world, picked the world’s lightest-skinned minority to demonstrate how “progressive” he was. But I remember how excited he got when he realized we were an “interracial couple.” He loved how dangerous and cool he thought that seemed. I was not nearly so enthusiastic. I knew damn well that it would mean a hell of a lot to some people—and that I would be the one to suffer the negativity—and that it shouldn’t mean that much to us, the people actually in the relationship. This should have been my first red flag.
The second aspect to this was the way I was treated by his friends. I didn’t have my own friends; the first few times I tried to make them I was abused and told my taste in people was awful and that they would corrupt me, so I gave up trying. All our friends were his friends, further isolating me. And his friends were all other Navy guys, very few of whom were nice to me (if we’re still friends, you nice ones know who you are, and thanks for not being ass-wipes). If you recall, we are and have been at war with…terrorism, I guess? It’s intentionally vague. Basically as far as these Navy guys understood, the people of the Middle East as a whole were the enemy, and they never bothered to get more details about my heritage than “Middle Eastern.” They used to “jokingly” call me a terrorist and make stupid jokes about burkas. They made sexist jokes galore, “make me a sandwich” kind of stuff. They objectified me for my race, treating my culture like a curiosity. They were so weird about my Turkish coffee and reading fortunes; I became this mystic caricature to even the ones who were trying to be nice to me.
And he loved that I was popular with his friends and made him look cool, so he didn’t even try to defend me or represent me to them as a whole person. He never told them to cool it with the racist or sexist jokes. In fact, he would often join in; offer me up as a sacrifice to be made fun of or to be used as parlor entertainment.
He also used me as a buffer. He had some pretty gross racist, sexist, classist and homophobic stances, especially when we first started dating, but he seemed to want to fit in with a more progressive crowd and used me—in my status as a racial minority as well as my personality, my activism, and even my being from Portland—to cover his own ass. He used who I was to get out of being who he was. I was not my own individual self, but an accessory of his; something he would put on when he wanted to appear a certain way. And my race was a part of that.
I didn’t have enough self-confidence to call him out for any of his racist shit toward me (and really I’m only just now putting the pattern together) but I did try to call him out for saying shit about black people and Mexicans a few times, and I was ripped apart.
This aspect of my abuse only scratches the surface of what I went through, but I think it’s important, because it’s also an aspect of my PTSD, and I know I’m not the only person of color who has been through something like this. And the racial aspect of mental health and abuse is so rarely talked about.
I don’t have a lot of advice about this. I’m still putting the pieces together, and I’m certain my experience was mild compared to the racist abuse so many other people of color have experienced in their relationships. But hopefully by sharing this I can be part of a desperately-needed conversation. Please feel free to message me privately firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like, or to be part of a larger conversation, share your story or thoughts in the comments below. I just ask that you remember to be kind.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please seek guidance and help. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has information, a hotline, a live chat option and they do really good work.