so this thing where white women think it’s alternative and rebellious to deface and dehumanize black women’s bodies by throwing them naked all over clothing & deface ancient cultural practices of black people and essentially laugh in our faces when we tell you NO THIS IS NO OKAY is NOT a thing that is going to happen. FUCK YOU and LEAVE. US (AND OUR CULTURE). ALONE!!!!!
- it is not enough to theorize anti-racism
- it is not enough to post anti-racist articles on facebook
- it is not enough to donate to anti-racist organizations
- you must evaluate your friendships, relationships, and casual interactions with PoC from an explicitly anti-racist lens
- you must challenge yourself when you feel entitled to their time, energy, bodies, or insight
- you must uproot your own inner white supremacist
- you must evaluate your friendships, relationships, and casual interactions with white people, both those you love and those you’ve just met
- you must challenge the people you love, and who you are afraid of losing, and name their behavior for what it is: violence
- you must uproot not only your own life, but the lives of those you claim as friends, family, and community
this right here
Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Black and Native American Women
Essay by a Gradient Lair guest writer, Lauren Chief Elk:
Black and Native American women experience the highest rates of violence. It has been largely researched and reported that the number one cause of death for both Black and Native women is murder. In the current mainstream conversation it’s important to have awareness of current rates of violence but also important to acknowledge the history of violence against Black and Native women. Violence against Black and Native women is historically a form of terror perpetrated by White men against both of our communities, and the sexual and physical abuse of Black and Native women was legal (1). Violence against Black and Native women was and is a pillar of both ongoing genocide and slavery. Both Black and Native American women face difficulties with the legal system. Many scholars, activists, and victim advocates have long discussed state and colonial violence against women of color, and the legal system reflects and reinforces that. This is directly a symptom of ongoing genocide and violence against our bodies not considered illegal.
It is difficult to be expected to report incidences of partner violence when police respond with dual arrests of victim and perpetrator as mandatory arrest laws have led to significant incarceration of brown and Black women who are victims of violence. There is also the threat of police officers assaulting us directly, even in the name of public safety (2). We live in a society that constantly tells us to just fight back or self- defend, but as cases like that of Marissa Alexander and as Project Nia points out, we have no selves to defend and are again criminalized (3). We also have to remember that in many places domestic violence is considered a crime against the State, not the person. This means the person who has been assaulted does not have the power to press charges—that decision depends on whether or not police considers your case worthy of building and whether the prosecutor considers charges worthy. In addition to domestic violence being a crime against the State, it is only a crime if the abuse fits the legal definition of violence. Law enforcement is predominantly looking for immediate signs of a physical attack, and in a lot of situations, signs of violence aren’t immediately available. With the idea that Black and Native women are “unrapeable” (courtesy of stereotypes and myths about sexualities) and are immune to violence (not considered women) complaints of domestic violence are taken even less seriously. It is very clear that Black and Native women are deemed not worthy of equal rights and protections and this is proven by lack of prosecution (and reporting) for women of color.
This year the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized but not without huge pushback from many of our senators and representatives. A piece of legislation that has always been easily reauthorized took over 500 days for our government to pass because of the new provisions in the bill for Native American women who reside on reservations. At one point during the VAWA floor debates Representative Gwen Moore invoked Sojourner Truth’s extraordinary “Ain’t I A Woman” speech to address Native women. She asked our Congress, “Don’t women on tribal lands deserve the constitutional right of equal protection and not to be raped, and battered, and beaten…ain’t they women?!” (4) She asked this, and many of our Congresspersons responded with a resounding “No.” (5)
The mainstream anti-violence movement is still heavily invested in protecting white-womanhood. This is evident by things like “teach men not to rape” without acknowledging racism and colonialism. There is no part in this education that says “teach men not to rape Native American women, because they’re most likely to be sexually assaulted than anyone else, particularly by [white] men.” (6) It is also evident that the anti-violence movement that is pushed by mainstream feminism is not concerned with Black and Native women’s historical or current relationship with the legal system. VDay and Eve Ensler (7) who are famously lauded as the leaders of the feminist anti-violence movement have decided that February 14, 2014 will be the global day to report your assault, as if Black and Native women can just simply do that. In May, Ensler stated, “We are asking women who have been attacked to file charges” at an event in Philadelphia. First of all, Pennsylvania (the state where she made this grand announcement) is a place where domestic violence is a crime against the State, and as mentioned earlier, this means you do not have the discretion to file charges, it is up to the prosecutor. Secondly, the constant push for criminalization as the only solution to violence demonstrates the total lack of concern for Black and Native women who are victims. But when you’re still predominantly concerned with protecting white-womanhood, these issues can be easily dismissed.
Although the state and mainstream anti-violence movements are mostly invested in protecting white womanhood (this is evident by who gets laws passed based on their experiences, campaigns in their honor, funding for services, etc.) there are instances where society has enacted positive changes for victims of violence that was not based in that. In 2007, a transgender woman of color named Ruby Ordenana was raped and murdered in San Francisco. Her rape kit was not processed until two years later; it was only after that in which her attack was linked to the assaults of other trans women by a man who was serially assaulting them. After the man was convicted the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a new law that mandates rape kits must be picked up by authorities within 72 hours of being collected and processed within 14 days (8). As part of this new law San Francisco also established the Sexual Assault Victim Bill of Rights which says law enforcement officials have to notify victims with specific information, and victims have the right to obtain information about their rape kit and case. Based on the collective need to protect and honor the humanity of trans women of color, San Francisco’s groundbreaking law has now become a model statute for the rest of the country. This law is revolutionary because in at least one area of law enforcement, officials can’t toss the experiences and humanity of women of color aside, but because of this fact, the law and foundation of this law have seldom been acknowledged in any areas of feminism, including by those involved in the anti-violence movement.
With our tanked economy and federal and state governments constantly cutting funding for social programs (with program funds to combat violence against women being one of the first things cut), it is increasingly important for us to create and support our own community initiatives - initiatives that address current and historical trauma. Save Wiyabi Project’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month image series focused on simple ways to support people who have been abused because we are constantly concerned with community and individual accountability in violence. We have to deconstruct our situations, hold ourselves accountable, and mend our own communities. Restorative justice doesn’t just mean restoring the individual, it means restoring everyone. Other groups like the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (9) constantly work to dismantle systems of oppression and cultivate solutions applicable to Black and Native women, including trans women. Look to who is already doing the work for support and guidance and assist in figuring out how to further expand it.
- Sexual Assault and Women of Color, At The Dark End of The Street
- Stop-and-Frisk: Women Who Are Stopped Feel Deeper Embarrassment
- Project Nia: “No Selves To Defend”
- Gwen Moore (video)
- VAWA and Native women
- Amensty International - Maze of Injustice
- VDay/Eve Ensler
- San Francisco/rape kit law
Lauren Chief Elk (Nakoda/Blackfeet) is the co-founder of Save Wiyabi Project (@SaveWiyabi), an advocacy group that addresses interpersonal violence in Indigenous communities. She is a long time victim advocate, community organizer, and educator on relationship and sexual violence. You can find her ranting on Twitter at @ChiefElk.
An Open Letter to My Fellow White Feminists
Great read from Lauren! Thanks for writing this.
Okay, white feminists. It’s time for us to have a chat.
As a white feminist, particularly one who is straight, cisgender, and able-bodied, I have a distinct set of privilege within this space. I know that my voice is heeded and respected in a way that marginalized women, especially women of color, never get to experience, simply because I am white. I know that I have been given opportunities that often elude marginalized women because of the privileged identities I hold. And I know that there are white women who understand this.
But I’ve also seen firsthand the myriad ways in which white feminists question the experiences of women of color. I’ve watched white feminists skyrocket to prominent media careers on the backs of women of color. I’ve witnessed white feminists co-opt the work of women of color for profit, without even bothering to credit the source.
I’m not above reproach. I have certainly profited from white privilege, and I wrestle with feelings of guilt at having my own paid writing gigs while feminists/womanists of color who I feel are far more intelligent and insightful than me theorize and organize for free on their personal blogs. I have many times failed to check my privilege. I have perpetrated racist harm.
But I am distinctly troubled by the continual lack of many white feminists to even acknowledge that this happens, let alone truly begin to restructure our movement to not just be more “inclusive,” but to truly embody the social justice goals for which we claim we are fighting. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence, but in fact underwrites so many of our interactions.
"If you blame Native American communities for their poverty, remember that the entire continent was stolen from them.
If you blame Black American communities for their relative poverty, remember that Black Americans were stolen from a continent, trafficked, and enslaved for nearly 300 years.
Tell me again about how your family ‘started from nothing’ when they immigrated. Didn’t they start from whiteness? Seems like a pretty good start.
The American Dream required dual genocides, but tell me again about fairness and equal opportunity. Tell me about democracy, modeled after the Iroquois Confederacy. Tell me your proud heritage, and I will show you the violence that made it so."
Best line to be quoted, “didn’t they start from whiteness?”
"White Americans always think racism is a feeling, and they reject it or they embrace it. To most [white] Americans, it seems more honorable and nicer to reject it, so they do, but they almost invariably fail to understand that how they feel means very little to black Americans, who understand racism as a way of structuring American culture, American politics, and the American economy."
Jane Smiley, Say it Ain’t So, Huck: Second thoughts on Mark Twain’s “Masterpiece” (Harper’s Magazine, 1996)
This is perfect.
"Here’s where the racial fissures in feminism come out: by all means, defend a woman’s right to govern her own body; it’s great that white feminists have that goal at the top of their lists. But meanwhile, as a woman of color, I’m still defending my right to actually be considered a body at all and not decoration. Expressing your sexuality at my expense isn’t okay. You don’t get to claim sexual freedom while simultaneously perpetuating the oppression of another body. When you feel the need to express your sexuality by turning my body into an accessory, the black feminist in me—two identities which I refuse to separate—can’t have your back anymore. The feminist struggle is a struggle for autonomy. It’s a fight for recognition and full-body respect. But in Cyrus’ search for and exploration of her sexual identity, she limits my autonomy as a woman of color. She appropriates it. She cheapens it. She effectively uses the identity and lived experiences of so many women of color as a crutch for her career."
Miley Cyrus, Feminism and The Struggle for Black Recognition by Latoya Peterson
An Open Letter to Jessica Valenti
I was recently invited to hear you speak to a young professionals group of which I am a former member. Feministing was an early inroad to internet feminism for me, and I read The Purity Myth, so I was interested to see what you would have to say to this group of (mostly) women.
After listening to your Q&A session with them, I am not sure that I am comfortable calling myself (or being identified by others as) a feminist. If your answers are truly representative of what the leaders of the movement are concerned with, the movement is not mine.
I am a young white temporarily abled genderqueer queer person from a lower middle class family in Oklahoma. The concerns for the movement that you voiced to those people only spoke to one of those identities, and in my opinion, it’s the one least worth addressing: whiteness.
When a young woman asked you what the biggest concern was for the future of feminism, you did not take that time to bring awareness to the fact that racism, transphobia, heteronormativity, ableism, and classism are rampant, and that women like you (and to a certain degree, like me) are given undue respect and credibility over our often more qualified and interesting peers of color, of varied ability, gender, etc.
No, instead, you were concerned with whether or not people in the movement were getting paid for their activism. You spoke of Feministing’s writers as people “working for free,” and wished for a world where they could be compensated. While this is perhaps a worthy goal from the perspective of a career activist, it is certainly not the biggest problem with feminism today.
When you were asked to name a major piece of legislation that feminists could work towards passing or repealing, and the asker referred to VAWA and the Fair Pay Act as “symbolic” and “not a big deal,” you not only didn’t call her on the gross privilege in her question, you also summarized your answer with “no, I can’t.” Yes, the first word you said was “Hyde,” but you did not explain what that was or even bother to continue on that thread. It was effectively a stutter that began a response I honestly couldn’t believe I was hearing from someone I looked up to years ago.
Similarly, when asked if you knew of any feminist conferences or think tank style organizations, you also came up short. CLPP and Take Root are two I can name off the top of my head, and a really quick google search reveals the National Young Feminists Leadership Conference. Are those not feminist?
As for “thinktank” style orgs, I have the utmost respect for groups like SisterSong, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, the people behind Make//Shift Mag, RH Reality Check, Women’s Media Center, (to some degree) the Peace Development Fund, CLPP (again!), and a host of other organizations that would turn this letter into a laundry list. Do they not qualify as think tank orgs?
Yet you still said “none,” that you were working on one with Harvard, but that nothing was done yet. (Do all think tanks have to be university affiliated?)
From the back of the room, I was devastated, disappointed, and angry.
If the kind of leadership that young women can expect from their heroes is the kind that glosses over or considers irrelevant the contributions of those who are working on causes other than the trouble women have networking in corporations (another issue you brought up at the expense of mentioning a more serious one), feminism is dead. Feminism is a purely white, staid set of principles designed not to eliminate but to cement inequality, just with more (probably white, cis, straight, and able-bodied) women at the top of the pile.
It took me a long time to fully buy into the idea that white women were killing anything meaningful in the movement. I thought that surely some concerns were overblown, that women like you were doing their best to include more voices at the table and to promote the work of marginalized people alongside your friends’ and your own. If I was not bought in before I heard you speak, I am fully bought in now.
So consider this my resignation letter. I’m no longer a feminist. I will continue to work towards goals that have tangible effects on people’s lives, like reproductive justice, queer/trans* youth homelessness, anti-racism initiatives, and all those other things that feminism is leaving behind because it’s been offered a seat at more powerful tables.
(Major acknowledgements to Flavia Dzodan and INCITE!, as well as a lot of Tumblr feminists of color who helped shape my thinking on this issue before I was even present in the room with Valenti.)
5 Rules of Anti-Racism Work
1-Do not separate yourself from the herd. Don’t be the exception to your own rule. If you’re white and you make statements about white people, make sure you fully understand that you are not the exception to your statement. If you believe that all white people are racist, it’s not all white people-except for you. If you believe it, believe it for yourself as well.
2-Don’t feel obligated to teach the unteachable. Failure isn’t choosing not to sit and give your time, attention, emotion and ability to a racist. Contrary to what every after school special tells you, not everyone is racist by accident. Some people want to believe what they believe. Stop giving racists things that should be reserved for people who want to be better.
3-Know the difference. One of the biggest and important realizations you’ll come to is figuring out who is worth your time and who isn’t. This is often wrongfully attributed to those who “Agree” with you. It’s not about agreement, it’s about discourse. Those who search for ammunition in your words but never quite hear you talking, are not worth your time. Discerning between the two will lift an enormous burden from your shoulders. In either case, it’s always important to let people know where you stand. Always speak up when you see/hear something racist but know who is worth more than your stand.
4-When in doubt, stay out. While you should always let people know where you stand [Read: Call out racist things you see] the level of discourse you engage in needs to be your level, whatever that level may be. If you know something is wrong but can’t quite put into words why, say you don’t approve/are not okay with what’s being said but leave it at that. Don’t give wrong information or information you aren’t 100% sure of. In a rare instance when giving information you aren’t 100% sure of, make it clear that you aren’t sure. Beware: if you say this in front of someone who’s racist they’ll likely use it against you.
5-Know you first. You can talk about, work toward and be a part of anti-racist work while you, yourself are learning. However, you should be very aware that you are in fact, learning. Don’t play the professor of a class you haven’t yet passed.