The Connection Between Supremacy and Sexual Abuse
In the second episode of our series about sexual abuse, Dan and Rachael are joined by Linda Royster, licensed therapist and teaching staff at The Allender Center. Linda defines supremacy and the misuse of power as it relates to sexual abuse, violence, and racism, and how it is in direct opposition to true Shalom.
Please note: This is a sensitive topic and you may want to use discretion if you are listening with younger listeners.
- Listen to Racial Trauma and White Supremacy with Linda Royster and Wendell Moss
- Read Racism and Sexual Harm, a blog by Abby Wong-Heffter
- Listen to Part One of the Sexual Abuse Series: Pornography & Our Stories of Desire with Jay Stringer
About our guest:
Linda Royster has been called to traumatized populations since 1997. She has worked with latency age children, adolescents, and adults in hospital, academic, and non-profit milieus, respectively. Linda holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology Graduate School and is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate who works therapeutically with a diverse clientele. Also, she authored the addendum of the 25th-anniversary re-release of Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan Allender. Her addendum addresses issues that African-American women survivors of childhood abuse might face. Linda is a facilitator with The Allender Center. She is deeply committed to the recovery, healing, and well-being of her people.
Dan: As we enter the discussion on factors and realities about sexual abuse that often don’t get addressed or named. We, Rachael, have such a privilege to have a dear, dear friend and colleague and just significant leader, uh, on our and others’ behalf with us, Linda Royster. And Linda has been on before. But let me introduce her as a North Carolinian therapist, who is also on our Allender Center executive leadership team. Uh, she is a teacher. She is a wise woman, and I was smart enough quite a while ago to invite her, to join me in writing a section of healing, the wounded heart, where she addressed the reality of sexual abuse, particularly for African American women. And again, uh, in that context, um, one of the realities that you brought to the forefront was the issue of supremacy and power. In some ways, let me start it by saying that all power that is misused sets up sexual abuse. In fact, it’s actually a form of sexual abuse. As we know in the seventies, feminists were loud and clear that rape as an example is not primarily, hardly at all about sex. It’s about power. And I would add merely about power, but about the power to degrade and what you have brought us as the Allender Center and what we are inviting you to put words to is that every form of supremacy, uh, whether it be patriarchal, whether it be classism, whether it be, uh, racism, all forms of supremacy, uh, is a set up for abuse. And in that sense, it’s a violation of human dignity by putting somebody under you, uh, and subjecting them to your power control. So, given you have done a lot of thinking on these issues, let me simply say, oh, Linda, what an honor to have you with us. Where would you take us friend?
Linda: Well, thank you for the invitation to be here. And, and I would say that it was your invitation to write a section of Healing the Wounded Heart, um, as it related to African American women, that I started to do more research and kind of let what I already knew settle in me. And it was a season where I just moved back to North Carolina from Seattle. So I had lots of time on my hand to simply write and play around with different thoughts and ideas and do research. And the more research I I’d done in preparation for the writing, the more I realized, um, that when I studied the impact of sexual abuse and I studied the impact of racial trauma, that I kind of backed into this awareness that we weren’t talking about separate categories, that we were actually talking about the same thing, and it kind of blew my mind in a sense that I experienced both, um, but had never really thought of it as being one. And so I remember reaching out to you asking, have you, do you know of anybody who’s writing about this? And it just, as far as we know, there was no one writing about that at the time. So I spent some time kind of developing what I would say is a theory, call it a theory or not. It is my understanding of the oneness of supremacy. And dare I say, in this context, white supremacy, racism as a form of sexual abuse. And so I kind of backed into that understanding of that’s, what it is, um, that we’ve been dealing with, which in one sense is why I think we get caught in a circle and not moving to resolution or any kind of healing, rather, of having experienced this kind of trauma is because we’re thinking of it as separate categories when it’s actually the same thing, two sides of the same coin, I believe, but to have this conversation, I think that we need to set the frame, um, in the sense that we need a foundation that can, that can hold this conversation. And part of that foundation is to think of the notion or the idea of Shalom. Shalom, being the perpetual it experience of wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, and prosperity. That’s for the collective, with personal benefit. It is not the kind of Shalom that’s built on the back of the oppressed. That’s something different from Shalom, right? So that as we move into this conversation, I want us to hold in mind that we’re moving from the place of Shalom as we talk about the assaults against it, and the manifestation of systems of supremacy that actually are, um, traumas of abuse that playing out, particularly sexual abuse
Dan: As we step in to a very, truly complex yet in some ways really simple category. I mean, uh, most women understand the power of supremacy, uh, and, and I’ve heard it so many times in other places like a, a friend of mine was saying I was in a meeting and this man was mansplaining me. And the idea that a, a woman would, be subjected to a man’s supremacy through the power of patriarchy, to be able to silence a woman in, in what sense, tell her what’s true, but also take ideas from her. And in some sense, take them as his own. There are very few women who would say, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So the reality that supremacy in any form is a form of degradation and also a use of others. So not only lust and the sense of I, I will fill my, my being with what have to offer, but in anger, I will find some way to make you pay to degrade, to belittle. And as you have begun to name that that’s true of all forms of supremacy for most white people, the category of that being true as a racial reality, there may be some sense of that, but also a kind of like what, so I think for many they can get it through the issue of gender. But it’s harder, it appears particularly in conservative circles to stand what you’re putting words to in, in the racial realm.
Linda: You know, Dan this in, in one sense as I was putting together this theory, if you will. It really stemmed from, from something that I had heard a snippet of what you said in class one day, and the very rare occasion that I was late to class and just that was walking in and a door that’s on the opposite side of the room that I usually went into the classroom. You were in the midst of talking about, um, the example of, I think, a father beating his child and how that was an arousing, the anger was an arousing, experience. And so I think that snippet of that teaching that day kind of lodged in my mind and, and I had never thought about it, that kind of violence being arousing. And so years later, as I’m thinking about this theory, and I’m thinking about the violence of sexual abuse, and I’m thinking about the violence of what happens with racism, and it’s easier for us, I think to think about it, if we go back a hundred or so years, 200 years when we are in the throes of slavery. We’re in the throes of lynching and we’re seeing it, you know, people were being lynched regularly. People were caught in a degrading dehumanizing system of human bondage that we could start to see more easily, the connection between racism and sexual abuse. It seemed, it would seem that it’s harder today, but we can get to that. But if we were to go back to, I would say the origination, uh, uh, of how this country came to be, it was birthed out of violence. It was birthed out of not just an emotional or psychological violence, but physical violence and the enslavement of people in this country and the absolute loss of authority over their body, that slave holders could do what they wanted at will to those that they enslaved or to indigenous populations. We can start to see how one way of controlling a population is to exact a sexual violence, is to humiliate, to try and take away humanity, to try and take away value or worth. Right? And if, if we were to look back that era in our nation’s history, it wouldn’t be difficult for us to find those stories over and over and over and over. It’s there. Now, if we fast forward to today, and like I said before, it might be a little bit more difficult to see the connection, because as far as we know, you know, this system, as we knew it a couple hundred years ago, doesn’t exist in this country anymore, but there’s still oppression. There’s still degradation and dehumanization. And so where that takes me is to having us think about what we know about sexuality. And I think that we have thought about sexuality as this one compartmentalized aspect of our humanity, um, that you in, in the Christian conservative Christian context, you don’t engage your sexuality until your wedding night and then it’s turned on and then you have access to it. But I think we, we don’t, we haven’t been conditioned to think of our sexuality is that each of us has it, it’s unique to each person it’s both socially and psychologically created, that it is both ever morphing and fluid component or aspect of our humanity. And I would say that it sits at the core of our humanity. It is our unique way of being both physically and spiritually. And it is storied. Our sexuality is storied. It takes place within a context. So if we were to think about our sexuality as like the uniqueness of who we are and how we bring ourselves into the world, then it, it’s not that big of a leap to say any racial violence is an abuse of our sexuality is an Ab-Use, an abnormal use of our sexuality in other words of our humanity. Right. But I think we might have, it might be problematic if we stick within a compartmentalized way of thinking about sexuality, as opposed to thinking that it actually sits at the essence and core of who we are as human beings and any misuse of our sexuality of our humanity is a form of abuse.
Rachael: Yeah. Well, Linda, what that’s making me think about, and Dan, I’ve heard both of you name this reality in multiple different contexts, but this sense of like our sexuality is core to us being image bearers of God. It is a, as much as we want God to be without any kind of sex. Although we want God to be a man. Like it’s kind of a weird mind confusion. I mean, obviously Jesus was a man, but I just think, you know, people have a lot of issues if you use any kind of female gendered language or even, you know, like intergender language for God of the universe. But like our sexuality is core is a core part of us being image bears of God, the ways that we’re meant, uh, for that dignity, for that union, for that, um, the sensual, cause we think about, I think sex has gotten so reductive so reduced. And I think what you’re saying is it’s about bodies. It’s about something that’s core to our soul as human beings. It’s a part of how we worship. It’s a part of how we reflect the goodness of God and it’s. And so yeah, any sense of something that comes against that, that tries to either exploit, own, degrade, harm, control, is standing… You, you said this before we started the conversation live, stands in opposition to God Shalom to what we’re most meant for. And I think in some ways where we could maybe wanna let ourselves out the hook, well, I’ve never done that to someone is to actually take a step back and say, where have you exploited, controlled, harmed or benefited from the exploitation or harm or degradation of other human beings. And I think for me as a white woman, I feel, um, at a unique intersection of knowing in my body, the sexual abuse of patriarchy, we’ve talked about this, um, and to also have to contend with where my body has been used to sexually abuse others in this, um, in the notion of supremacy and where certain bodies get privileged and positioned over others. I think about, um, as a white woman, when we think about, um, the stories and the stereotypes of sexuality that are given the essence of purity, good, something to be protected at all costs, that’s not afforded to most other black and brown bodies in this world. And these racialized sexualized ways of viewing bodies that give people license to perpetrate further harm. We saw play out almost a year ago in Atlanta, uh, in what happened with the, um, horrific, violent murder of Asian women, um, at a spa and to not see supremacist structures of patriarchy and white supremacy colliding, Dan, your language of where lust and anger collide in a way that not just metaphorically cursing, God Shalom, but actually destroying God’s Shalom, bringing agents of death. And I know these can be hard. These are hard places for many of us to wanna sit with because none of us want to actually think we are perpetrators of sexual abuse, but what we know to be true you about God’s love and God’s Shalom is that any form of power that’s being misused is not just oppressive and destructive to the person it’s being directed at, but is, is actually destructive to our image bareness to, to those who oppress and not equitably. But to know that we are meant for deeper redemption, we are meant for a greater repentance and purpose and not, I don’t get excited about thinking about this. It’s actually heartbreaking and brings a lot of grief, but I want more liberation. I want more freedom. I wanna be more like Jesus. Um, I wanna be a part of bringing the Shalom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. And so I just, I think I feel grateful Linda, that you have brought so much of this content to our, to the Allender Center and your courage.
Dan: Okay. And again, wanna step back to something that you put words to Linda, and that is that, um, the crowds and we’ve got heartbreaking photographs of the crowds standing around limp, African American men and women being hung. And you can see a frenzied joyous, evil arousal, uh, in that, um, assault. So we are talking about the kind of sexual abuse where there is touch of primary, secondary sexual body parts. But what we’re also talking about is that there can be in a violence direct as in a lynching, an issue of arousal that needs to be named as also sexually abusive. But what I’m also hearing is, particularly in, in the important words you are bringing Rachel, the, you that we’ve got a system and structure of supremacy that most of us would never look at with the category of sexual abuse, but the violation of personhood of body always involves some degree of denigration and use misuse, uh, of the body. And in that, even if there’s not direct sexual abuse, there is a kind of violence that consumes and violates that is akin to, and indeed shows some of the same structures of grooming, powerlessness, uh, betrayal, uh, and in some ways this deepened sense of shame. So I, I would love for you, Linda, just to take us further into the intersection between what we normally think of sexual abuse and the larger category you’re bringing.
Linda: Yeah. I, I think back to when I, um, when I taught this, uh, I think at an externship and part of the teaching is I, I kind of reluctantly showed a photograph of a scene of a lynching, um, where there are at least within the frame of the photograph, 50 people men and women who are encircled encased around, uh, a black man, you see this black body hanging from a tree. And I think the phrase that I used in that moment was that it was both limp and erect that this body is hanging from a tree that’s lifeless. And you have encased around him, people that were energized and enliven by that erection. And I would say, that’s hanging from a tree, right? Looking at the photographs and reading their faces, their body, that what they’re doing with their hands, how they’re looking into the camera, they’re not looking away. They’re not trying to hide. There doesn’t seem to be a look of shame on their face. There’s a brazenness and a boldness and particular energy in that particular photograph of celebrating, they are aroused by the violence that’s been done to that particular person to that particular body. Right? And so one thing that I wanna highlight this moment, we’ve been using the word degrading and dehumanizing and all forms of abuse are indeed degrading and dehumanizing. But how I wanna flip that a little bit is have us think about the fact that yes, those are degrading acts, but it doesn’t actually take humanity away. Right? So the man that’s hanging from the tree, who’s been lynched to death. I see his humanity. It hasn’t been taken away. That’s right. It has been assaulted. That’s right. And so I see the violence of the crowd, the violence of racism, the violence of oppressive systems that they’re attempt is to take away the innate value of another human being. It is ineffective, although it is cruel in its behavior and how it gets acted out.
Dan: Right. That’s a huge difference. Well, and, and essentially what you’re saying is the perpetrator is actually the one who’s dehumanized. Um, and in that dehumanization oftentimes turns even colder because there cannot help because of us being made in the image of God to do violence to another human being is a degrading of your own beauty and goodness as a human being. And so to justify, uh, I have to explain why we would do this to you or to this group. And the only means to do that is to find language that creates an assault, uh, to create images that have an assault and indeed a, a whole narrative that explains why this person, or this group is lesser than us. Uh, and almost if not outright deserves the kind of violence that’s being perpetrated. So again, the ultimate gas lighting, I’m actually doing you good by the violence because you deserve it. And that, um,
Linda: That’s yeah, that, that’s where I would say. And I think you both will agree that it’s the nature in one, in one aspect, it’s the nature of humanity to always look for ways to escape this sense of feeling the opposite of Shalom. And the opposite of Shalom is feeling fragmented, fragile, feeling unwell, or sick, emotionally, psychologically feeling frightful, feeling impoverished, or having an impoverished existence. And if that’s the case, then humanity will always look for ways to escape that. And I would say project that into someone else and not deal with it or that part of themselves that they want to get rid of, but they put it into someone else. And therefore the other deserves to be at the bottom of the rung. So therefore I have to be above and supremacy requires someone to be at the bottom. That’s the only way that it can exist, that someone has to be underneath it. But when we don’t deal with those split off parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or that we can’t bear to admit that’s true of us, then we place it into other people. And that can be incredibly, incredibly violent. And I think it, it’s also a form of cursing. And what I mean by cursing, it is to shut off another from flourishing. It is to hem, someone in, so that they cannot live into the fullness of the life that God has called them to or created for them. And it happens all the time. It, it happens in every culture across time across geography. We are living in the era where white supremacy, racism has such, has had such power and influence around the world. And it’s not been dealt with yet. It’s not been dealt with yet, but there are all kinds, all kinds of structures of supremacy within culture, within community, and certainly cross culture.
Dan: And you, you put it so well that you, you can look actually less than a hundred years, uh, to when lynching occurred. Um, but we’ll say at least occurred, uh, primarily in the 20th century, 19th and 20th centuries. Um, actually that’s just not even true. It happened from the beginnings of right, but we’re, we’re more aware of it from the 20th and some degree, the 19th century, but you, you were saying the realities are still present. Where do you see that being played out today?
Linda: This is where, I mean, there’s so many directions to go, but, uh, you know, both of us being in the field of, in the fields that we’re in, I, I think a lot about symbolism and I don’t think we talk enough about symbolism of guns and bullets. And so in this, in this season, I think, I think of what happens to black and brown bodies when they’re shot down. When the power of that tool is used to penetrate to take down and to do violence to a black and brown body, it’s used to control. It is used as execution. It’s… What does the gun, and what are those bullets? What, what do they symbolize? It’s power. It’s very similar to that. Black and brown body that’s hanging from tree that’s encircled in case by white bodies, that’s using their power to inflict harm, to exert authority to make that body do what it wants, what they want that body to do. So that’s just one avenue. That’s just one way that I think about like the symbolic records and of how harm racism, sexual abuse is enacted or acted out in modern day.
Rachael: Well, and, and we see that playing out so often with the justifications that come to have so easily taken a life. Um, and again, we’re in that realm of some lives being valued more than others being given the benefit of the doubt more than others. And, you know, I wanna put some more language to, for me as a white woman, understanding ways in which my body is being used to sexually harm others. Um, in this framework of supremacy, you know, we had the opportunity, I think almost three years ago now to go to Montgomery, to go to, uh, the national Memorial for Peace and Justice also referred to as the lynching museum. And there’s a walkway in the museum where there are plaques that about the reasons that black men and women were being lynched and almost every single one of them, not exclusively, but a majority… It was, there was some phrase of, because a white woman, because they annoyed a white woman, because there were accusations that they smiled at, at a white woman. There was some sense in which I had to contend with and confront this reality that even if my heart is not to be used in that way, that is a power in a system, in a collective that is being given to me, whether I want to be aware of it or not. And that’s what a supremacist structure does. This is what it does for any person whose body is prioritized, or at the top, as you guys have used this language the top of the rung, is a almost false sense of God likeness is given at the expense of other people. And for me, that was helped me understand what’s playing out today when we have this language of like the “Karens” and it’s kind of become a meme and a joke of the white woman getting angry at a group of people of color, you know, using her power and, you know, her entitlement to try to control behavior. But when we’ve seen these, these, um, stories of like a white woman calling the cops on people, usually for the most ridiculous reasons in the world, some kind of threat or, um, accusation that actually doesn’t hold any ground. And is what you’re talking about, Linda, that sense of fragmentation fragility, a kind of false sense of fear that the body is under threat, which is again, what happens when we’re in, in this supremacist structure. And I think it can be easy to kind of laugh it off and be like, oh, I would never do that. I’m not like that. But I think to begin to understand none of us get to escape these wicked systems of the world and pretend like they don’t exist. We don’t get to, like, I, I say this to men a lot, just because you don’t wanna like benefit from patriarchy doesn’t mean just cuz your intention, that you just get to move around the world as if your intention will somehow magically manifest, like it actually takes action. Right? So as I’m learning and it actually me off that my body as a white woman has been utilized to perpetrate harm against others, whether that’s happened particularly with me, which I believe it has in instances or where I’ve leveraged, that sense of my body is more important, more worth protecting. But what these women are doing when they call on an authority is they are really misusing power in a way that is deadly and dangerous. And I think to begin to understand what does part of healing from these systems or saying I’m gonna disrupt this system or I actually wanna walk in the way of Jesus. I wanna participate in God Shalom doesn’t mean I go, well, I no longer I, I reject that power. It actually means I have to move about in the world with the realization that whether or not I want that power, it is given to me by society, by our culture. So how do I actually want to divest from that? How do I wanna walk with a kind of humility, a kind of awareness that that kind of weapon of mass destruction is a, is with me as I move about the world, how do I actually be hospitable to the bodies in my midst? Um, and you don’t get to do that by being ignorant. And I think that that’s, that’s really, that’s a hard part of a conversation like this is again. And I think it’s the hard part of what you’re trying to say of like, we can go back and we can find these examples and they’re really clear. But then when we think about how those dynamics are still playing out today, we wanna be like, well, I didn’t do those things. I wasn’t at that lynching. Um, but not actually wanna do the hard work to see where these collective systems of supremacy, racism, patriarchy, classism ways we prioritize sexuality. And um, just, I mean, again, so many ways in which these systems play out. Um, I actually think we are missing out on a way of participating with the kingdom of God and we are participating in harm.
Linda: I, I just wanna give this, this definition of supremacy that serves a, kind of a, baseline for me when I’m having this conversation. And it is having a mindset, ideology or behavior that supports the belief of being innately personally and/or collectively superior to all others via authority, attributes, power, or status. Is there any space for you to, to own that you have participated in one way or another in a, in the system of supremacy, based on that definition of having a mindset, ideology or behavior that supports a belief of being innately personally and, or collectively superior to all others via authority, attributes, power, or status, any form, as we’ve been saying any form of supremacy stands outside of God’s design stands outside of the kingdom of God. Supremacy is warfare against those who are deemed inferior and it’s really warfare against yourselves.
Dan: And you you’ve underscored in other contexts that often occurs through stereotypes that we’ve really not even deconstructed to actually say how’s it functioning to create this power differential and to degrade and stereotypes have immense power with regard to, black men are over sexualized. Uh, African American women are seductive and welfare queens and the, the, the framing of, again, justification for violence, even if it’s an internal stance of superiority and contempt, again, to keep coming back to this theme is not only setting up concrete, sexual violation and abuse, but indeed those convictions are part of a system of anti-Shalom against the body and hold power over others that is shaping public policy, shaping engagement in relational context. I mean, the number of times, dear friends of mine who are African American go into a store, get watched differently than a white woman or white man. All those categories keep coming back to, it’s not just wrong. It it’s a violation of dignity. And in that it is a violation of our sexuality that can almost inevitably move toward even more concrete sexual violations. Again, is that, where do you find your heart going?
Linda: The power of stereotypes? As I, you know, we talked about that when I, when I taught this at the externship is the power of stereotypes that influences every aspect of our existence. It influences every aspect of our existence from the, from the, what we might consider as the normal, every day, going to the store, being watched and suspected and being found guilty before there’s any proof, right? Um, to like wars are wars are launched because of what stereotypes people have about other communities, whole nations of people, wars are waged based on stereotypes and stereotypes are powerful. And for those who suffer the impact of a stereotype, it can be crippling. It, it can cause people to work really hard and endlessly to try and defy a stereotype,
Linda: Even though, even though it’s impossible, it’s impossible to get rid of a stereotype. If someone wants to hold that for you.
Dan: And as you said, Rachaell, or earlier, it, it can be the basis of being killed, uh, in a spa on the basis of assumptions, uh, about one’s being as a result of one’s raciality. So as we’re coming to something of a close, uh, there is, is no quick answer to any of this. And, uh, not even a, where are we meant to go, other than will we bear something of the reality of this is the world we live in. Uh, and as you put it, well, you know, we live with white supremacy, but supremacy structures exist everywhere in the world. Every nation, every community deals with this projection, this effort to identify with the powerful and oftentimes the, the violence that is erotic gets played out in one form or another by words, by actions, uh, economically, uh, in terms of imprisonment, in terms of how we would look at the opioid crisis, uh, when it’s largely white people who are addicted versus the war on drugs, when, uh, it’s primarily the African American community dealing with, uh, the outrage of, of, of, of cocaine. So when were moving in and through this, I, I would just love for you both just to put a few words to what’s next.
Linda: I, there again, there are just so many directions to go, but, but two that, that I will name is one, uh, in one sense is it is so much the work, the hard work soul work that we have to do that I think white people, people who identify as white have to do. What are those places of fear? What are those places of shame and guilt that you’ve not wanted to engage in your own life, your own family history, your own story that keeps You bound or keeps you, um, kind of quartered off from stepping into the more that God has for you. Cause if I believe God has called us to live out God’s kingdom on earth and it goes beyond religion or religious of affiliation. I believe God has set the structure in place that we are meant to live into it together, to bring God’s kingdom to earth. And if we want to be a part of bringing or living into God’s kingdom, then we’ve got to do some work to address those soul issues. That, that keep us that keep us, I say us because I’m, I’m thinking of humanity, but particularly that keep white people from stepping in, from leaning in knowing that you’re not going to disintegrate. If you actually start to see yourself and to see your family for who you are for who your family, your community has been and how, how your community has shown up and the harm… You won’t disintegrate, you can actually, you can bear it and you can actually heal from it. You can name what’s true. And then you can take action first with your own heart, with your own soul. And then, and then you can begin to change aspects of your world, your community, where you see injustices and where you see yourself participating in supremacist structures. You can change. It’s it’s it’s not easy, but it is possible.
Rachael: I’m done. You asked us both to talk, but I’m good. I don’t need to say anything.
Dan: No, I think we’re all. I think we’re at a point in saying, uh, thank you, Linda. Thank you. And we look forward, uh, to the writing that you will bring this world.
Linda: Amen. Thank you for the invitation.