Black Women & Girls Under Siege: Will Black Men Join Fight Against Rape, Abuse?
Part of the challenge has been calling Black men into community to reckon not only with racism, but also with racialized sexual violence and sexualized and gendered racism.
Sarah Tanis, who was born in Haiti and grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, recalled recently how she studied at the feet of transnational feminist giants, including Myriam Merlet, a mentor who died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Patricia McFadden of South Africa; and Amina Mama who lives in Nigeria and London.
Because of those important early lessons, Tanis herself has become a voice for the voiceless, and a Black transnational feminist in her own right, earning a B.A. from New York University, a M.A. from Fordham University. Today, she serves as executive director of Black Women’s Blueprint based in Brooklyn, New York.
“I believe we are their offspring bringing Black feminism into the future,” she tells NewsOne in an exclusive interview.
Tanis is not just a talker. She puts action behind her words. Her organization is scheduled to host “Words of Fire Conference: Sex, Power, and The Black Feminist Call for Social Justice” on April 29-30 at the Women’s Resource and Research Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Indeed, Black women and girls are under siege in the U.S. The culture has long accepted it as the norm to discredit, rape and tear down Black women, who receive no help from White faux feminists, claiming to be supporters, but only in rhetoric. Case in point: How many White feminists are lining up to help Black women and girls, who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence as the Trump administration proposes vital cuts to anti-rape, anti-battery, and anti-stalking service programs?
By asking these questions and issuing a call for accountability to the United States government and Black cultural institutions, the Blueprint joins a longstanding tradition of Black women anti-rape activists, including Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Rosa Parks, and Joan Little.
Named for Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s seminal text, Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Women’s Thought, the conference is expected to bring together anti-rape activists, survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, writers, cultural workers, scholars, and freedom fighters from across the country and the globe.
At the gala, Black feminists, including Jamilah Lemieux, vice president of news and men’s programming at Interactive One, Aishah Shahidah Simmons , the award-winning Black feminist, and lesbian documentary filmmaker and creator of NO! The Rape Documentary; and Patricia Hill Collins, professor and author of Black Feminist Thought and Black Sexual Politics, will be honored among a list of more than 20 Black feminists.
The gathering also marks the one year anniversary of the Black Women’s Blueprint Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault, which took place in New York City on April 28-May 1, 2016, as part of the International Decade of People of African Descent at the United Nations.
The event, the first of its kind to focus explicitly on the rape and sexual assault against Black women in the United States, featured sessions at locations, including the historic Riverside Church and the Ford Foundation, both in New York City. Black women testified about survivorship and gave voice to horrors that have traditionally been swept under the rug.
“Black women, as a rule, [have historically] developed and adhered to a cult of secrecy, a culture of dissemblance,” as told by Black feminist historian Darlene Clark Hine, “to protect the sanctity of inner aspects of their lives.”
This year, the gathering occurs against the backdrop of a political climate fraught with emotion. Donald Trump and his Republican henchmen are pushing anti-choice, misogynistic, sexist policies that are inherently tied to rape culture, control over women and girls’ bodies, and colonial and plantation nostalgia of Black women as reproducers of chattel.
“It’s time for Black feminists of my generation and younger to be in real dialogue with elder feminists and to get real clear on a collective mandate for liberation,” Tanis says.
Further, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Spelman, tells NewsOne that the historically Black women’s college is the best place for the event.
“I cannot think of a more important moment to gather around this theme at the oldest college for Black women in the world,” she says. “We are challenged by a hostile national climate in which racism, misogyny, violence against women, xenophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and assaults on poor people are pervasive and disturbing. But we are resisting.”
To resist, though, men and women of color must gather, strategize, build community, heal, and deal with impediments to our revolutionary politics and social movements in the face of state violence.
Sevonna Brown, gender justice and human rights manager for Black Women’s Blueprint, says the efforts are a part of group’s Emerging Sons Program, formerly led by the author of this post.
“Black Women’s Blueprint currently partners with Youth Link to dialogue strategies with Black men and boys concerning ending violence against women and girls,” Brown says.
“At the 2017 Words of Fire Conference, BWB seeks to continue the reconciliatory work that began at the BWTRC through a tradition of barbershop deliberations, and campus dorm conversations at Morehouse College, calling men to action to end transphobia, patriarchy and misogyny.”
At last year’s event, however, there were less than 5 percent Black male-identified individuals in attendance. Part of the challenge has been calling Black men to reckon not only with racism, but also with racialized sexual violence and sexualized and gender racism. Historically and contemporaneously, Black women and girls face multiple jeopardies and interlocking systems of oppression across race, gender, class, and sexual identities.
In order for there to be a Black future where all Black people are thriving and surviving, Black men must be anti-rape activists with Black feminist and womanist political sensibilities.
“We better be able to innovate in order to face the war, the hate, the violations coming, whether in the next four years or the next 400 years,” Tanis says.
Though Black men are victim to anti-black state violence such as lynching and are nine times more likely than other racial groups to be killed by an officer, Black feminists and womanists have long contended that Black women are not only victimized and abused by white supremacists, but also by Black men.
Fannie Lou Hamer, for instance, who was sexually assaulted by police in Winona, Mississippi, in June 1963, once said, “A Black woman’s body was never hers alone.”
To be sure, Black men have long stood up against White rapists, but where are Black men when it comes to addressing rape, incest, child sexual abuse, and the brutalization of Black women by Black men?
In an ongoing study, Black Women’s Blueprint found that 60 percent of Black women report having been raped before the age of 18. Given what we know about most Black communities and about sexual violence more broadly, Black women’s assailants and harm-doers are more-oft-than-not Black men in their families, schools, churches, and communities. In the midst of a
Trump presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement, it is imperative that Black men get on board with not only racial justice, but also anti-rape activism.
“Being a testifier at the BWTRC really was the moment for me when I was able to step into my power as a rape survivor and as an activist; it lit a fire in me that made me realize that my story and my survivorship can in fact inform resistance and be a tool for liberation, as so many fierce, radical Black feminists have done before me,” observes Ericka Dixon, who currently works at BWB.
Black women’s stories of racial and sexual violence are not sole sources of pain and agony, but they are instructive truths for political education, the development of movement philosophies, and the cultivation of safety for all Black people living in an anti-black world that encourages Black men to hate Black women—cis and trans—in order to garner faux power as Black patriarchs subservient and in competition with White men and women.
Black feminism and Black women’s anti-rape activism, which have always been rooted in deep-love for all Black people, are central to the contemporary Black liberation movement.
To be fully equipped for battle, one thing that Black men can do, alongside Black women, is make their way to Spelman College for the Words of Fire Conference because Black women freedom fighters are always on the frontlines for whole Black communities, risking their lives and wellbeing, even when Black men do not reciprocate.
Click here for details and registration information about the conference.