There’s a soul behind the face.
There’s a heart behind the actions.
There’s a story behind the violence.
I had a major realization a few weeks ago while watching a documentary about sex trafficking in Chicago. The statistics were mind-blowing. I have learned a lot about trafficking, prostitution, and the sex trade in the past few years, but I had no idea how pervasive it was amongst the youth, specifically in Chicago.
That the average entry age for prostitution (i.e., trafficking) is 12.
That the average age for boys to start buying sex is 14.
That mothers sell their daughters to drug dealers to pay off debts.
It starts making you really angry at the money-handlers, the dealers.
Behind the face of every child and women trafficked is a pimp that is controlling and dictating every move and action.
The pimps are typically men that are extremely manipulative, controlling, narcissistic, abusive, and greedy. His women are his property, his means of support.
What’s equally mind-blowing is when a pimp leaves that life and is truly a changed person. It’s radical and can be sometimes hard to process. Such an evil person now changed? It’s only possible through life-changing redemption.
Very few pimps leave that life, but I came to hear the story of one.
In a documentary called “Dreamcatchers,” I heard the story of Brenda. She is from South side Chicago and lived in prostitution and trafficking for 25 years. After escaping from that world, she dedicated her life to helping youth and women ensnared in the same world she had been.
In the middle of the film entered a new character, Homer.
Homer, now an ex-pimp, had been the best friend of Brenda’s former pimp. Homer controlled, abused, and sold women just like the rest.
Years later, he changed. Radically. He left behind everything and became an advocate against the street life he used to live, now championing women and the cause of anti-trafficking.
But it wasn’t the incredible life change that grabbed my attention the most.
It was his story, his past.
Homer grew up with a terrible family life. He watched his mother be physically abused by his dad. He knew growing up that this probably wasn’t right, but because his mother never left, he began to believe that this was the way to love. So it was at home that his world-view of people and women evolved.
His dad was always a very angry, resentful man. His dad, now elderly, was actually in the documentary. He was talking with Homer in their home, and his dull, seething anger was incredibly obvious. You could see the dysfunctional home life in real time, though years later.
As Homer talked in an interview later, he described how his father’s anger and home life directly influenced his own life. Homer succumbed to anger and hatred as he himself was physically and sexually abused as a child by people in his life.
With this skewed world-view and mental disorientation, he ran headlong into drugs, alcohol, and sex. It moved naturally into violence, theft, and using prostitutes. As he observed the “benefits” of pimp life, he went full throttle. Women ceased to be people. They were now objects, his property.
Did he ever think that he would be a pimp? “No,” he said. But it was a path, a road that the culture around him gave as an opportunity to find his identity.
But the most telling point of all of this was when the interviewer asked him why he thought his father was so angry and abusive. “Well,” Homer replied, “My father’s father treated him the exact same way.
“I knew my grandfather briefly. He grew up in Alabama and later moved to Chicago. And he was seriously full of anger and wrath. He took it out on his family and was abusive.
“In fact, I believe that if my grandfather had the same opportunity as I did with violence, drugs and pimping, he would have done the same things. He would have been a pimp. He would have been violent in community. I know he would have.”
When I heard this, my mind just froze.
Something clicked. Something I didn’t even wanted to think about or consider.
Perhaps you can’t separate history from hurt.
Perhaps the sins of your fathers could be your sins.
Perhaps there’s a historical root cause behind all the displays of anger, hatred, abuse, and violence.
Maybe the best way to help Chicago’s violence and trafficking issue dissolve is to help individual people be set free from their anger, which stemmed from pain, which stemmed from a deep wound…
…which may have been injustice.
I believe this ties in directly to all the talk and conversations around race and riots and protests that is getting media attention right now.
And I feel like something needs to be said.
White friends, here’s a word for us: we vastly misunderstand the struggle.
We think, though may not say, that the most violent parts of our cities are where the population is heavily black or minority, so they are the cause of it. It’s just their nature.
And if it’s just their nature, then the solution doesn’t involve our empathy. So we don’t have to feel sorrowful– simply offer pat solutions that gives us the sense we’re involved without actually struggling through the emotional issues with them.
And we act on it.
Sure, maybe not outrightly. That would be hypocritical to our loving, accepting, and religious culture.
But our lives speak louder than words.
Our friends aren’t black (Don’t agree? Scroll through your Facebook friend list right now)
Our churches aren’t diverse (Should not my church reflect the racial percentage of my city or community? Or at least talk about pursuing that?)
Our businesses don’t want to sell to blacks (What I learned from conversations at one of my jobs)
We (might) invite black friends to come into our world instead of us going into theirs.
We make light jokes about, “The war is over. Slavery has been illegal for a long time. That was resolved years ago. You should be over it by now.”
And by say that we’re basically saying, “I don’t care what you feel. You should not feel that. Since I think you should be over it by now, then I don’t have to care about your struggle with it.”
“Wait a second, Angela,” you may interject. “You’re saying that the black culture is still hurting from the slavery that was ended after the Civil War way back in 1865?? C’mon…”
I’m saying that I realized that Homer’s great-great-grandfather could have been alive around the time of the Civil War. And the way he could have been unjustly mistreated may have been the seed of anger that grew into abuse. And abuse is proven to pass from generation to generation. Just like it has in Homer’s family.
Yes, I am drawing conclusions and making some assumptions and trying my hardest to understand people’s actions based off their past. And it seems logical, that part of the issue of trafficking I see in Chicago is stemmed from a dysfunctional family life.
Does that give excuses to those that come from dysfunctional families? NEVER! I would never look at the women that Homer prostituted and say, “Well, he was simply a result of his family’s anger which was incited by injustice several generations ago. He shouldn’t be held liable.”
Obviously not. I think you and I both get that.
But I think we need to think a little more before we post and blog and discuss. I think we need to work hard to be intentional about how we diversify our minds, and then our speech, and then our actions.
Guys, it’s really uncomfortable. But get over it. Living this way is meaningful and may not just change you; it could change your community and our entire national culture.
I don’t have any to-do lists for you or how I plan to solve these problems, both of the white misunderstandings or the black realities. I’ve probably offended someone on both sides by making some generalizations.
Yet I believe that dysfunctional can become functional and it can happen in a kind process. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone walk with you through your struggle and say, “I hear for you, I want the best for you, and I empathize with your pain, even if I don’t totally understand it.”
And don’t think I’m really good at this. Do I struggle with discrimination? Have I discriminated before? You bet.
But I’m becoming more aware. More aware of myself, more aware of the struggle, more aware of the past. And being aware makes me fight against my tendencies to only be around people who are just like me and make me feel really comfortable and good about myself.
I think we all need to hear this and ask ourselves the question,
“Am I the one that needs to change?”