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"You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future.”
FIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY, SAVE THE EARTH
Thursday, September 29, 2011
SLUTWALK AND WOMEN OF COLOR
Being a white male, I'll keep my thoughts to myself and leave it for you to digest the following.
An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk September 23, 2011
We the undersigned women of African descent and anti-violence advocates, activists, scholars, organizational and spiritual leaders wish to address the SlutWalk. First, we commend the organizers on their bold and vast mobilization to end the shaming and blaming of sexual assault victims for violence committed against them by other members of society. We are proud to be living in this moment in time where girls and boys have the opportunity to witness the acts of extraordinary women resisting oppression and challenging the myths that feed rape culture everywhere.
The police officer’s comments in Toronto that ignited the organizing of the first SlutWalk and served to trivialize, omit and dismiss women’s continuous experiences of sexual exploitation, assault, and oppression are an attack upon our collective spirits. Whether the dismissal of rape and other violations of a woman’s body be driven by her mode of dress, line of work, level of intoxication, her class, and in cases of Black and brown bodies—her race, we are in full agreement that no one deserves to be raped.
The Issue At Hand
We are deeply concerned. As Black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “slut” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed Black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the Black female immigrant struggle combine, “slut” has different associations for Black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.
As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations. Although we understand the valid impetus behind the use of the word “slut” as language to frame and brand an anti-rape movement, we are gravely concerned. For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens. The perception and wholesale acceptance of speculations about what the Black woman wants, what she needs and what she deserves has truly, long crossed the boundaries of her mode of dress.
We know the SlutWalk is a call to action and we have heard you. Yet we struggle with the decision to answer this call by joining with or supporting something that even in name exemplifies the ways in which mainstream women’s movements have repeatedly excluded Black women even in spaces where our participation is most critical. We are still struggling with the how, why and when and ask at what impasse should the SlutWalk have included substantial representation of Black women in the building and branding of this U.S. based movement to challenge rape culture?
Black women in the U.S. have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a “SlutWalk” we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as “sluts” and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later. Moreover, we are careful not to set a precedent for our young girls by giving them the message that we can self-identify as “sluts” when we’re still working to annihilate the word “ho”, which deriving from the word “hooker” or “whore”, as in “Jezebel whore” was meant to dehumanize. Lastly, we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as “sluts” by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.
The personal is political. For us, the problem of trivialized rape and the absence of justice are intertwined with race, gender, sexuality, poverty, immigration and community. As Black women in America, we are careful not to forget this or we may compromise more than we are able to recover. Even if only in name, we cannot afford to label ourselves, to claim identity, to chant dehumanizing rhetoric against ourselves in any movement. We can learn from successful movements like the Civil Rights movement, from Women’s Suffrage, the Black Nationalist and Black Feminist movements that we can make change without resorting to the taking-back of words that were never ours to begin with, but in fact heaved upon us in a process of dehumanization and devaluation.
What We Ask
Sisters from Toronto, rape and sexual assault is a radical weapon of oppression and we are in full agreement that it requires radical people and radical strategies to counter it. In that spirit, and because there is so much work to be done and great potential to do it together, we ask that the SlutWalk be even more radical and break from what has historically been the erasure of Black women and their particular needs, their struggles as well as their potential and contributions to feminist movements and all other movements.
Women in the United States are racially and ethnically diverse. Every tactic to gain civil and human rights must not only consult and consider women of color, but it must equally center all our experiences and our communities in the construction, launching, delivery and sustainment of that movement.
We ask that SlutWalk take critical steps to become cognizant of the histories of people of color and engage women of color in ways that respect culture, language and context.
We ask that SlutWalk consider engaging in a re-branding and re-labeling process and believe that given the current popularity of the Walk, its thousands of followers will not abandon the movement simply because it has changed its label.
We ask that the organizers participating in the SlutWalk take further action to end the trivialization of rape at every level of society. Take action to end the use of the word “rape” as if it were a metaphor and also take action to end the use of language invented to perpetuate racist/sexist structures and intended to dehumanize and devalue.
In the spirit of building a revolutionary movement to end sexual assault, end rape myths and end rape culture, we ask that SlutWalk move forward in true authenticity and solidarity to organize beyond the marches and demonstrations as SlutWalk. Develop a more critical, a more strategic and sustainable plan for bringing women together to demand countries, communities, families and individuals uphold each others human right to bodily integrity and collectively speak a resounding NO to violence against women.
We would welcome a meeting with the organizers of SlutWalk to discuss the intrinsic potential in its global reach and the sheer number of followers it has energized. We’d welcome the opportunity to engage in critical conversation with the organizers of SlutWalk about strategies for remaining accountable to the thousands of women and men, marchers it left behind in Brazil, in New Delhi, South Korea and elsewhere—marchers who continue to need safety and resources, marchers who went back home to their communities and their lives. We would welcome a conversation about the work ahead and how this can be done together with groups across various boundaries, to end sexual assault beyond the marches.
As women of color standing at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class and more, we will continue to be relentless in the struggle to dismantle the unacceptable systems of oppression that designedly besiege our everyday lives. We will continue to fight for the development of policies and initiatives that prioritize the primary prevention of sexual assault, respect women and individual rights, agency and freedoms and holds offenders accountable. We will consistently demand justice whether under governmental law, at community levels, or via community strategies for those who have been assaulted; and organize to end sexual assaults of persons from all walks of life, all genders, all sexualities, all races, all ethnicity, all histories.
Signed by: The Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, Black Women’s Blueprint | Farah Tanis, Co-Founder, Executive Director, Black Women’s Blueprint | Endorsed by: Toni M. Bond Leonard, President/CEO of Black Women for Reproductive Justice (BWRJ), Chicago, Illinois | Kelli Dorsey, Executive Director, Different Avenues, Washington, D.C. | S. Mandisa Moore | The Women's Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans, Louisiana | Black and Proud, Baton Rouge, Louisiana | Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts | Population and Development Program, Amherst, Massachusetts | Zeinab Eyega, New York, New York | Black Women’s Network, Los Angeles, California | League of Black Women, Chicago, Illinois | African American Institute on Domestic Violence, Minneapolis, Minnesota | Brooklyn Young Mother’s Collective, Brooklyn, New York | Women’s HIV Collaborative, New York, New York | National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA), Connecticut | Girls for Gender Equity, Brooklyn, New York | My Sister’s Keeper, Brooklyn, New York | The Mothers Agenda New York (the M.A.N.Y.), Brooklyn, New York | Sojourners Group For Women, Salt Lake City, Utah | Dr. Andreana Clay, Queer Black Feminist Blog, Oakland, California | Dr. Ida E. Jones, Historian, Author, The Heart of the Race Problem: The Life of Kelly Miller | Willi Coleman, Professor of Women's History, member of the Association of Black Women Historians, Laura Rahman, Director, Broken Social Contracts, Atlanta, Georgia | Marlene McCurtis, Director, Wednesdays in Mississippi Film Project | Issa Rae, Producer, Director, Writer, Awkward Black Girl, Los Angeles, California | The Prison Birth Project| Ebony Noelle Golden, Creative Director, Betty's Daughter Arts Collaborative & The RingShout for Reproductive Justice | Yvonne Moore, Southern California, Sexual Assault Survivor | Kola Boo, Novelist, Poet, Womanist | Jessicah A. Murrell, Spelman College C'11, Candidate for M.A. Women's Studies | Shanika Thomas | Cathy Gillespie | Kristin Simpson, Brooklyn, New York | Mkali-Hashiki, Certified Sexological Bodyworker, Certified Sound, Voice, & Music Healing Practitioner, Owner & Operator of Body Enstasy, Erotic Wellness Facilitation | Linda Mizell, Ed.D., Assistant Professor School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder| Sherley Accime, President, C.E.O. ANEW, NY, SeaElle Integrated Therapies | Diedre F. Houchen, M.A. Ed., Alumni Doctoral Fellow, Black Education, University of Florida | Hanalei Ramos, Co-founder, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, NYC |
To be part of the broader conversation, learn more and to participate in our “Live Free” campaign to end sexual violence, email: Farah Tanis, Executive Director, Black Women’s Blueprint, email@example.com
Join Our Workshop: Silent No More: Supporting the Survivors and Creating Response to Rape/Sexual Assault in African American Communities. Friday, October 28, 1:30-4:30 PM – RSVP for more information and location to firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Cast or Sign Up For Updates On Mother Tongue: Monologues In Sexual Revolution! For Black Girls & Stolen Women Taking Back Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Lives – The National Black Theater of Harlem, February 24, 2012 email@example.com
From the moment the first call for a SlutWalk in the US went out, the AF3IRM membership – transnational women who are im/migrants or whose families are im/migrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa – has been analyzing and discussing this burgeoning movement to address the issue of sexual violence and continuing victimization of rape victims by police, the justice system and other agents of authority.
It is a testament to the compelling nature of SlutWalk’s call against women’s victimization that we hung fire for months, hammering out our position and analyzing why, while we applaud the effort of those who organize SlutWalk, we remain uneasy about responding to such a call.
We realize that we are the ones who compose the majority of sex trafficking victims in this country, who comprise the majority of those sold in the mail-order-bride system, who are the commodities offered in brothel houses ringing US military bases in and out of this country, who are the goods offered for sexual violation in prostitution. We who are and historically have been the “sluts” from whom traffickers, pimps, and other “authorities” of the global corporate sex trade realize $20 billion in earnings annually cannot, with a clear conscience, accept the term in reference to ourselves and our struggle against sexual violence and for women’s liberation.
We therefore feel it is our responsibility to address the organizers and participants of SlutWalk and remind them that Women’s Struggle Cannot and Should not Be Monochromatic.
We call upon the SlutWalk steering committee to reassess language use and re-examine how it is, in a sense, offensive to our history, how it is neglectful of historical and cultural sensitivity and competency. Indolent ideology only further pushes transnational women, women of color, away from the current mainstream feminist narrative. It prevents us from establishing a broad front that can create a powerfully dynamic and long-lasting women’s movement. The ebb-and-surge of the women’s movement in the US is clear enough an indictment of such neglect of the historic particularities of the condition of transnational women and women of color.
Our collective transnational histories are comprised of 500 years of colonization. As women and descendants of women from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, we cannot truly “reclaim” the word “Slut”. It was never ours to begin with. This label is one forced upon us by colonizers, who transformed our women into commodities and for the entertainment of US soldiers occupying our countries for corporate America. There are many variations of the label “slut”: in Central America it was “little brown fucking machines (LBFMs)", in places in Asia like the Philippines, it was “little brown fucking machines powered by rice (LBFMPBRs)". These events continue to this day, and it would be a grievous dishonor to our cousins who continue to struggle against imperialism, globalization and occupation in our families’ countries of origin to accept a label coming from a white police officer in the city of Toronto, Canada.
There are two pervasive pejorative words used for women globally, and “slut,” puta (in Spanish, Tagalog), sharmoota (Arabic), Jendeh (Farsi), Ahbeh (Lebanese) - is one. This label has become integrated in our languages and cultures, and has followed us across oceans into our own communities here in the United States. It has followed the poisonous spread of feudalism and capitalism into the economies and ultimately cultures of the global South, building its own systems of power and exploitation of women’s bodies. It has followed us into migration and still plagues us in our communities here in the United States. Women are treated and dismissed as “sluts”, “putas”, etc., as a product of both the structurally racist and sexist US society, as well as transplanted cultures from our families’ countries of origin.
We invite you, organizers of SlutWalk, to study how many times im/migrant women of color have been coerced into sex by immigration personnel, by border patrols, by jailors. Surely that will suffice to underscore why even the idea of joining a SlutWalk is like a massive boulder on our chests, squeezing out our breath, killing us, in effect.
We invite you, SlutWalk organizers, to peruse the catalog of women offered to men by mail-order bride agencies. Surely that would suffice to underscore why joining a SlutWalk would be equal to accepting an identity conferred on our being by this sexist, exploitative society of violence.
We invite you, SlutWalk organizers, to walk the brothel houses and see how our women are treated truly as “sluts” – i.e., mindless flesh with orifices from which profit can be made. Surely that would suffice to underscore why every fiber in our mind and being scream in protest at the word.
AF3IRM rejects this label; AFIIRM refuses this identity; AF3IRM views it as an abomination. It has been used to exacerbate class-exploitation, race and gender discrimination. AF3IRM prefers to work to eradicate it from the common vocabulary, along with other five-letter, four-letter, words derogatory of the humanity of womankind. More, AF3IRM works to eradicate the material social conditions which have made these words possible and acceptable.
We are not sluts. We are women, whose struggles are very much layered, trying to end the pervasive view of women as objects and commodities for profit and entertainment.
AF3IRM hopes this will serve as a basis for a dialogue with the Slut Walk organizers, because to achieve the egalitarian society we all aspire for, we need, will need, and have always needed a movement of women of all colors.
Thank you and we await your response.
In order to reach AF3IRM, please feel free to contact its officers from various regions.