Relationships/Family Justice

Abuse and Accountability: An ethic of resistance

Cass Albert

In her national bestseller Salvation: Black People and Love, author bell hooks says, “We can not effectively resist domination if our efforts to create meaningful, lasting personal and social change are not grounded in a love ethic.” 

Effectively resist domination… not grounded in a love ethic. When I read these words, I stumbled, seeing the words “domination” and “love” in stark contrast with one another. Many questions flooded my mind as I wrestled with the ways in which I had succumbed to domination, control, and abuse of power that was presented as love. Is it possible that a version of love has been manufactured and sold to the masses that isn’t love at all? Could it be that we have been conditioned to accept others’ acts of domination and control because we have not been given the tools to “effectively resist”? 

I recalled the many times in my life where I could have resisted, stood my ground, set a boundary, or simply called it what it was: abuse. Merriam-Webster defines abuse as “improper or excessive use or treatment; misuse; language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately and angrily.” 

Over the past few weeks, the internet has been full of reports, commentary, criticism, and even humor regarding an incident between Kirk Franklin and his oldest son, Kerrion, that seemed out of step with the elder Franklin’s public image. I do not wish to offer specific commentary on the incident between Kirk Franklin and his son because I lack the appropriate context and relationship to the situation to make a definitive assessment. I hope that there is both healing and accountability. 

I also hope that, regardless of what one thinks about the incident as a whole, we can see how the words that a father used toward his adult son are “language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately and angrily.” His words were, by definition, abusive. When we fail to name people’s actions for what they are, we disarm ourselves from being able to “effectively resist domination.” 

Perhaps we don’t have the courage to hold others accountable out of fear of being seen as disrespectful or combative. Perhaps we lack the language to call something abusive because we are conditioned to accept certain behaviors. The unfortunate consequence of our silence is that the people who suffer, the subordinates (children, church members, employees, spouses, etc.), remain in their place, and those who exert dominance maintain their power at the expense of others’ dignity. 

I hope that when we see people acting abusively toward others, we will be courageous enough to hold them accountable. I hope that when people act abusively toward us, we are bold enough to call it what it is and get help. I hope that we all can learn how to “effectively resist domination” and declare that love does not perpetuate pain. May we all find people and places where love is pure, abundant, and healing.