Abuse, Trauma, and Abandonment Were the Centerpieces of Tina Turner’s Farewell Documentary
What the film didn't discuss was how racism, Jim Crow, and inequity were the roots of Turner’s abandonment and trauma issues.
Trigger warning **Discussions of child abuse and racial trauma**
Tina Turner Lived Most of Her Life Unloved
I finally had the opportunity to watch Tina Turner’s documentary and I loved it. I’ve always had so much love and respect for Black women hailing from the Dirty South who made it out. I also love the stories of Black perseverance from the era of Jim Crow. Life was hard and people trying to shake Jim Crow, the poverty from sharecropping, segregation, and the impacts of generational racism had an uphill battle. No one Black gets out of America’s racist systems without scars. Although Turner’s documentary did not dare graze the role of racism and inequity in her lifelong sorrows, I could see it clearly throughout the film so I decided to discuss it a bit. Racism is in everything in America, and the trauma and abandonment Turner experienced as a child followed her throughout her entire life.
One of the most hurtful moments in the documentary was when Turner showed a photo of a beautiful, flawless self minus the makeup and hair questioning why no one could love her and why she wasn’t good enough. I had to sit with that for a moment because it was a question many Black women ask themselves throughout their lives.
Many Black women see themselves as smart, beautiful, funny, talented, and when we need to be, assimilated, but that’s still it’s not good enough most times. Sometimes, Black people, even our own men treat us as bad White Supremacy does. Turner’s story is intense, it’s complex, and it’s the trauma she’s endured most of her life begins with the story that’s often glossed over, racism, inequity, and poverty in the deep South stemming from racism and Jim Crow.
Most of us Black folks who have parents who are Tina Turner’s age (she’s 81) likely have heard similar stories of poverty, abandonment (either temporarily or permanently), sexual abuse, or we’re dealing with parents and family members dealing with the psychological effects of Southern poverty and racism from an era that has left us with many unwanted gifts. Both my mom and dad are suffering from mental health issues stemming from the harshness of living their childhoods during the Jim Crow Era, an era America has yet to repay us for. We’re the third generation of people dealing with the effects of inequity.
Turner’s documentary highlights the devastation of White Supremacy. No matter how big we make it, no matter how much money we make, or how many White folks awards we earn, the trauma stemming from childhood abandonment because of extreme poverty in the South never leaves us.
The documentary helped me to better understand the psychological childhood trauma many older Black women carry stemming from racism and inequity in a way we rarely see it, and how unloved so many Black women likely feel despite so-called success.
Generational Abuse and Abandonment Was Everywhere
I’m not sure what the deal was with Black women having children and abandoning them in the South after the Reconstruction Era, but there were lots of women and men leaving their burdens on already struggling relatives to find greener pastures in the North. Many women abandon their children like my grandmother abandon her six children with her father who already had 12 children and a wife that died before half got old enough to raise. My unwed maternal grandmother, being one of the older children in her family, was bringing babies home faster than my poor, sharecropping great grandfather could get his own out. I’m sure he was pissed and tired. Two kids drove me crazy, I can’t imagine having to feed, clothe, teach, and think for twelve, and then some of your poor daughters started having babies and bringing them home.
There was a lot of childhood abuse and neglect in Black families stemming from racism rooted in the abusive practices of slavery and sharecropping. These abusive tactics taught by White slave owners and sharecroppers led to the fleeing of Black women and likely the abandonment of Black children like my mom and her siblings, including one with special needs.
Tina Turner didn’t talk a lot about the abuse she endured living with her relatives after her mother left her, but she implied there was some. She made it known she was never loved or wanted, and that had to hurt. My mom tells similar stories. My grandmother didn’t come back for her kids either. She went on to become a nurse and lived her life childless, leaving my mother and adopted siblings to pick up the pieces of their lives alone.
My great grandfather made my grandma put half of her children for adoption because he simply couldn’t afford to feed any more people, plus he was old, too old to be caring for little people. My maternal grandmother kept two of her youngest kids (daughters) who would go on to become physically, emotionally, and sexually abused cotton pickers, which led to her doing whatever she could to escape that life when she became of legal age.
That escaping was marrying my father and continuing the cycle of abuse and abandonment she’d experienced as a child. My mom is still dealing with her abandonment issues today. She’s seventy and running from her mental health issues and trauma as we speak.
Turner’s documentary gave me pieces to a puzzle of my own mother’s life. I could relate to Turner’s feelings about her mom. I also could see Turner’s mom not being kind enough to admit her own failures as a parent. Both my mother and her mother behave in the same manner. Their unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions and the inability to lay blame where it deserves to be is all evident. Tina Turner’s documentary showed the layers of abuse and abandonment, and how never get over the trauma stemming from it.
While Tina’s mom sent for her to move to St. Louis at the of 17, the most important years of a Turner’s child development were void of love, protection, nurturing, and compassion. The absence of a loving parent and the nurturing necessary to protect oneself was likely the primary driver of her being enamored by her predatory, abusive future husband, Ike Turner.
Abandonment and abuse were two constant situations Tina Turner seems to not be unable to escape. Because Turner was telling her own story, she was very generous in the telling of her own lack of parenting, admitting she and her abusive husband toured eight months out of 12 for years, leaving her four sons to be cared for by others for most of their lives. She too abandoned her kids.
In Turner’s effort to be different than her mother, she ended up becoming the same as her mother. She wasn’t there to provide the supports and protection necessary for proper child development. Turner was also absent during most of her own children’s tumultuous teenage years.
Her being absent was a choice, a choice she appeared to regret immensely.
Tina’s oldest child Craig, one she had when she was just 18 years old, committed suicide back in 2018. He was prominently featured in her documentary, a final goodbye of sorts. Craig Turner likely suffered mental health issues due to the trauma he suffered from being a primary, secondary, and tertiary victim of domestic violence, but also because his mother spent more time on the road than she did child-rearing. Many Black folks of Turner’s era were busy working, overcompensating for the childhood poverty and lack they experienced in their own lives. This thought process was a huge mistake many are now learning.
Their kids weren’t happier. Their kids felt abandoned. You can’t have a do-over. Once it’s done, it’s done.
Tina Turner’s life story was an extremely painful story to watch, but it’s a story that should be told more often by Black women of a certain age. There are likely millions of Black women born during Turner’s era and prior to it who were products and victims of child abuse and abandonment. Black women go on to continue the cycle of abuse and neglect either directly or indirectly with their own children.
Even with Turner’s best intentions, she spent more of her time working than she did raising her sons. Turner’s documentary highlighted how fame and money couldn’t substitute good old parenting and being present. As Turner appears to be dealing with her trauma, she also appears to be making peace with the things she didn’t do herself to protect her children from her abusive husband. It was interesting watching Turner describe her mother, but then also follow in her mother’s footsteps.
The Role of Racism and Inequity Played In Abandonment and Abuse of Black Children
Black people were often left poor and destitute in the South because of slavery. Freed slaves were given nothing to start their new free lives. They remained poor because of Jim Crow. Black folks in the South were also poor because of sharecropping. Going North was the only way for many Black folks to escape poverty and make it to a better financial class.
While the Great Migration may have been great for African-Americans seeking a better life, it was horrible for the large numbers of Black children abandoned, left with poor relatives who could barely take care of themselves. The reason for the Great Migration of Blacks was racism which led to a lack of political, economical, and social opportunities in the South. Jim Crow ensured White folks received preferential treatment similar to the treatment and preferences they received during slavery where Blacks were considered chattel.
Black people in the South couldn’t afford to have children because they had no opportunities, but they did anyway. Back in the old days, Black people had large families for two reasons. One reason was that there was no such thing as birth control. The other reason was Black folks needed help picking cotton and doing other jobs for sharecroppers and they needed help to survive. The more Black people born into a household, the more people poor Black households had to help feed the family.
More Black people = more Black help.
Desperate people will do desperate things to survive, and there was a period of time in America where in order to survive, Black people had to abandon their families, including their own children, to survive these racist States of America.
When I look at the hardships Black women like Tina Turner, my own mother and grandmother experienced during their childhoods and after they had their own kids, I feel confident laying the blame directly on White people in America and the systems that made it damned near impossible for Black women to live. The abuse Black folks received from White folks in the South during Jim Crow was passed down to the children of the abused. My grandmother, my mother, and now I am by-products of White Supremacy.
The cycle of abuse and abandonment Turner experienced showed me how Black women are still living with results of inequity and racism some 60–70 years later.
Racism and inequity led to Black children being abused and abandoned during and after the Great Depression. So many African American women and girls never had a fair shot. Being born Black was a tax they’d have to bear the rest of their lives.
For people who believe racism is in the past and that people living today have no involvement in it, I ask you to talk to an older Black person over the age of 70, and they’ll tell you all the ways racism has ruined their families, plagued their spouses, harmed their children, endangered their parents, and made their lives pure hell. If you’re White and living today, you’ve benefitted for decades from Jim Crow.
Black progress has always been a problem because of racism. Turner’s documentary highlighted the untold costs of progress for Black women and girls. The price is too damned high!
Sisters like Ms. Tina paid a price for being born Black and poor into families ill-equipped to care for them financially or emotionally. Women like Tina Turner have paid being born during Jim Crow. They pay when they are raised in poor sharecropping towns. Our Black sisters pay when they are sexually abused by family members and kept away from society left to deal with their traumas all alone. Women like my mom and Tina Turner pay when they waste their time on Black men ill-equipped to care for sisters dealing with childhood trauma because they have their own baggage. They paid a price when their parents abandoned them and never came back in search of greener pastures.
Black women like Tina Turner pay a price when they have kids, don’t raise their kids, abuse their kids, and in many cases, they too abandon them as their parents did. Sisters paid a price when they left one abusive relationship to the next. Black women growing up and living in the deep South deal with trauma, and it’s a trauma that can be inextricably linked to the sin America refuses to pay for, racism, and anti-Blackness towards African-Americans. No other group has suffered the losses and trauma Black folks have in this country, I don’t give a damn how loud they scream it.
If a Black woman of Turner’s stature was born in 1939 and is still reliving the traumas of her life in 2021 on her deathbed stemming from racism, we owe it to her to make sure another generation of Black girls don’t up grow the way she did. Racism is so much more than just calling us N-words, or discriminating against us, it’s lots of intricate mazes and indirect ways the spider web of White Supremacy ensnares us and never lets go.
African-American trauma is unique, real, and White people must pay for the centuries of trauma they have and continue to impose on Black women, the givers of life to Black communities.
As we deal with the lack of economic and social progress in the Black community today, we should also remember the unresolved emotional trauma Black women endured stemming from poverty as a result of racism. Devaluing Black people has a way of manifesting itself throughout our lives in ways most non-Black people ever see.
Most of us Black people know this burden, which is why we find much peace and joy amongst each other unless we are prevented from being around joyous Black people the way Tina’s husband did.
America teaches Black people indirectly that we are not of value. Black people can be abandoned and Black lives can be destroyed directly and indirectly from racism and in many cases by our own broken people. Racism kills everything it touches. Everything.
Tina Turner is dying now. Her documentary was her way of telling her story, in her own words, and on her own terms. Rudely bombarded with questions about her abusive ex-husband, Turner used this final opportunity to speak about how she was doing. In her interviews throughout the film, so many White reporters insensitively forced her to relive her trauma inquiring about Ike Turner, missing all the Black girl facial expressions, the eyes, and the Black woman “sick of this” faces. Turner told us how she was doing, and it was not well with my spirit that someone could live so long and feel so unloved.
Tina Turner broke Rock and Roll Music records, played in sold-out stadiums to thousands, and maybe she’ll finally be placed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year. Turner’s abusive ex-husband made it into the Hall of Fame before she did despite her being far more successful without him because is responsible for creating Rock & Roll music that led to the genre so many people enjoy today.
African-American women often pay heavy prices for racism in our society. We carry the burdens and are often left behind and rewarded last. We stand around silently in pain with a smile in our own brokenness as those we’ve tried to help are rewarded.
If you have the opportunity to watch Tina Turner's documentary, please do so, but do so with an open mind. While the film examines the abuse, trauma, and abandonment Turner experienced much of her life, when thinking of the cycle of abuse and the driver inequity, I’d ask readers to factor systemic racism into the equation.
Racism has produced generations of broken, emotionally unwell African-American people who have been left trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Tina Turner was a direct victim of the racism and inequity that left her sharecropping family poor, driving her mother North during the Great Migration. Turner’s son Craig is an indirect victim of racism. He was born poor, adopted by an abuser, a man her mother chose because she lacked the awareness of the characteristics that make a good (and bad) man. Husband and father Ike Turner likely dealt with the racism involved in being taken advantage of by White record labels and promoters. I’m sure he came home and took his anger and frustrations out on his family. Black men often do that when they can’t lash out to their White employers and bosses. He was also a sexual sadist, something we don’t often discuss in the Black community. What drove him to be such an evil abuser? We will never know.
I’ve personally experienced verbal and emotional abuse personally from my now ex-husband because of workplace racism he was unable or unwilling to do anything about. It sealed the coffin in our marriage, but not before leaving scars I’m still dealing with today.
Racism always has more than one victim.
What I witnessed in the Tina Turner documentary was victimization, the kind that doesn’t result in physical death, but the soul dies. It’s the kind of victimization that results in a lot of losses, some big, some small.
Turner was a primary, secondary, and tertiary victim of systemic racism in its purest form.
Desperate people did what they thought was best to survive the harshness of Jim Crow and Black Codes after the Reconstruction Era ended. Black people abandoned their children leaving them to be abused and neglected by family members to escape America’s legally sanctioned inequity program. And while it’s up to us primary, secondary, or tertiary victims of racism to decide whether they’re going to repeat the cycle of abuse or break it, breaking it looks differently for victims
White people must accept responsibility for the victimization of Black women like Turner and even myself. As primary, secondary, or tertiary abusers taking part in a system that rewards Whites for practicing inequity and discrimination, you must accept your roles failing to right wrongs that have damaged generations of African-American people.
Until Black people are made whole, America will never be great. You can skip over us and go on to the next grandfathered immigrant group all you like, but the trauma White people have inflicted and continue to inflict upon us will remain a shit stain in the underwear of America they’ll never be able to wash away.
How do you allow such beautiful Black women to suffer alone?
The trauma from the racialized experiences of our ancestors and elders explains why we’re all emotionally drained by the George Floyd trial and everything to do with America at this point. Turner is a few years younger than my 92-year-old maternal grandmother, and my grandmother’s life is similar in poverty, struggle, and unhappiness from growing up in Jim Crow. While my grandma’s mind is going, she can still recall the trauma she and her siblings endured being born during the Depression and in Jim Crow. She hardly has anything good to say about her dad either.
Violence, inequity, and racial discrimination, and trauma are backpacks of burdens Black people cannot seem to rid themselves of. We cannot get rid of them because White people never change. White systems never change. White politics never change. White people refuse to apologize. White folks hate reparations. White policies never change, therefore, Black people are unable to heal and grow.
We’re preparing the next generation to live with generational trauma caused by White folks. There are no pink pussy hats or public service announcements for Black girls dealing with racial victimization.
We’re on our own, and we’re all we got. No one knows our pain like my sisters.
My people cannot be well as long as oppression and racism exist. The nature of Whiteness is to destroy and destroying Black families has been a mission of Whiteness since we arrived in this country on slave ships. Elimination and extermination of free Blacks after the Emancipation Proclamation looked a lot like what Tina Turner describes in her childhood and upbringing.
Even though Turner is what society deems a success, the scars left behind from growing up during Jim Crown haven’t gone anywhere. Of all the things she could be remembering, that unresolved trauma from abuse and abandonment, the failure of Ike to apologize, her mother never wanting her, and the trauma from losing her oldest child to suicide haunts her on her death bed.
We Black women sit, silently, remembering, tormented, and tortured, feeling unloved, and often unfulfilled. Racism does this although most of us are unable or unwilling to credit racism for the misery it causes us.
Racism breeds a number of consequences most racist and apathetic bystanders never see.
Most folks never connect the traumas of racism to the dysfunction of our mama’s and dad’s, or why aunts and uncles are estranged from our families. The secrets, the addictions, and the dysfunction Black folks are unable to outrun.
Tina Turner’s husband talks about the nightmares his wife lives with and the regrets, not knowing what love was for half of her life. I’m thankful her husband was able to give her the love and protection she needed, but I can’t help but replay how Jim Crow and slavery had a direct role in her lack.
Tina Turner was a product of Nutbush, Tennessee, a rural community with an economy focused on the cultivation and processing of cotton. The community was established in the early 19th century by European-American settlers who brought along or bought enslaved African Americans to develop the area’s cotton plantations. After the abolition of slavery, freedmen worked at sharecropping as the primary means of income.
While we revel in Turner’s success and listen to her stories about her horrific life, please don’t forget racism and inequity are the root causes of it. As she prepares to transition out of this cruel life, she is still a primary, secondary, and tertiary victim of American racism.
Tina Turner is the epitome of the plight of Black women living today.
We wear many hats and care for many people often without having the same done for us. It’s one of the reasons I call Black women my Sisters (and a few good White women who get it for that matter). Our shared racial trauma is the reason I’ve always worked hard to protect us. That historic trauma is the reason I write essays like this one.
We save everyone, yet no one seems to care to save us. We harbor these thoughts, feelings, and emptiness until the end of our lives. Tina Turner was rich, played in a sold-out stadium before millions, and at the end of her life, she’s able to say that bad outweighed the good. I appreciate her candor. I wished more Black women had the strength and gumption to be truthful about our racial trauma.
Life ain’t all gravy. We have issues. A lot of those issues are not our fault.
We need to cast some blame onto racism, Jim Crow, and American inequity as we blame mama, daddy, grandma, and poverty. America made us this way. We are America’s children, and she needs to claim the problems she’s made.
I need us to see the dysfunction of our collective. Understand the loss and the trauma caused by racism in America.
Black dysfunction, poverty, and trauma can be linked directly to the inequity created by racism. To deny the power of racism is to erase the Black struggle and ignore the historic inequities in our communities.
Unless America is planning on addressing the inequities that have caused traumas like Turner’s, my mother’s, or even my grandma’s, we’re never going to be better. America owes Black people a debt, and it’s outstanding. Our suffering will not end until America makes us whole. Grandfathering new racial groups won’t erase the history of the nation’s sins.
I’ll never stop asking for that debt to be paid to us. We are owed reparations, and I am tired of America making everyone and everything a priority except Black people. Turner’s trauma is my trauma too because that’s what Black folks do. We carry one another.
When you don’t invest in people, people will fail us, and there are a lot of broken, empty Black people living empty lives because racism and inequity robbed them of parents capable of giving them the love and nurturing necessary to become self-confident adults. America failed us.
Racism did that. Racism still does that.
Until America (White people) does right by us, no good will come to it.
When White folks are not primary perpetrators of crimes against Blackness, you’re secondary and tertiary perpetrators of crimes against Black humanity. One not knowing how they commit crimes doesn’t mean they aren’t committing crimes, it just means they are ignorant. Most times, wilfully.
At some point, the crimes against us need to stop so that Black people can heal. Inequity is a crime. Poverty in a rich nation is a crime. Racial discrimination is a crime. And while child abuse and abandonment because of poverty may not be considered criminal in some circumstances, they create broken people.
Why does America insist on having a society with so many broken, unhealthy people? Imagine living in a nation so broken, racist, and ageist people need to leave just to live.
I wonder if I will live to see the day America treats Black folks better, or will I be an old Black woman like Tina Turner reliving all the ways systemic racism and inequity played a role in my child abuse, abandonment, and less than stellar outcomes that I have likely passed onto my children in some way.
White folks perpetuate this cycle of abuse and domestic violence against us while they sleep and don’t give it a second thought. Well, I’m tired.
Black people are in a domestic violence relationship with White people and America. We must protect our minds, bodies, and souls at all costs, by any means. But as we do so, please remember our Black children.
Let’s not abandon Black children, for if we abandon Black children, there can be no Black future. If there is no Black future, then there can be no America. African Americans are the only group that keeps America somewhat honest. If we go, so does America’s integrity. It seems as though that’s their plan.
At the end of the day, White Supremacy is bad for everyone, including White people. White people are just too racist to realize it and Black people are too busy dealing with the generational trauma of it to place the blame where it deserves to go.
I hope Tina Turner and women like her are able to find some peace before they leave this earth, but it sure doesn’t appear she will. The trauma from primary, secondary, and tertiary racism lasts a lifetime and it never ceases.
Marley K. 2021
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