Saturday, April 12, 2008

Changing the Culture: Ending Violence Against Girls and Women (of Color)

Last week, Black and Male in America hosted a screening and discussion of Aishah Shahidah Simmons NO! A documentary about rape, sexual assault, and violence against women and girls.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell writes in The Root that the discussion was "astonishing." According to Harris-Lacewell-- a diverse audience across all kinds of spectrums of the human experience held an open and public discussion about rape and race. Ms Harris-Lacewell writes:

Black women raped by black male perpetrators often remain silent because they are alone. They don't want to confirm white racial stereotypes; their own families and communities tell them to shut up; they have little reason to think that authorities will take their cases seriously; they fear the devastating ramifications of a manhunt in black communities if they are believed; and in the history of lynching white women have been adversaries, not allies, on the question of rape.

Recovering from rape is burden enough without having to shoulder this vicious legacy.

I am sad and ashamed that the only solution for so many women and girls of color is to silence themselves when they need and deserve a path to recovery and healing. Thw legacy Harris-Lacewell describes won't stop without the open and honest discussions that put race and gender at the center for everyone to see and reckon with. We can't prevent new girls and boys of color inheriting the legacy without talking about it.

White women and men often overlook both the legacy and the burden of carrying it. However socially conscious some white people may be (myself included) it can be easy to gloss over the differences among us when violence is at hand. It's easy for white women to think that the trauma associated with violence bonds the victims together. Perhaps there's some truth to that. But if I, as a white woman feel I can call the cops and seek justice, and a woman of color does not because she is living the legacy, the bond I think I feel with her is one she cannot return to me.

Take Jessica Hoffman's heavy duty piece On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists . Ms Hoffman hits on why some white people (and especially white feminists) can ignore the legacy of the race/gender combo on issues like rape and violence. I won't summarize here-- go read it.


These are the real life issues that affect the girls we work with in girls' programs. As issues with violence and violation come up in girls' lives, our programs should be able to respond to them, provide a space for them, an honest dialogue, and the opportunity to organize. My experience as an adult woman is going to profoundly affect the way I listen and the suggestions I make and are going to influence the actions the girls' take.

I don't know that I have seen this discussed in a training or discussion among professionals or volunteers working with girls.

Have you?

Many thanks to Racialicious where I originally read The Root piece.

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