I’m not sure how many people know about Julie Dash’s experience. Her book is the only reason I knew about her experiences. I don’t think most people (who aren’t in her personal circle) who don’t own or haven’t read the book know about it. What’s fascinating for me is that I couldn’t wait to delve deep with the book because of my desire to read anything and everything about Black women filmmakers’ journeys in their own words. Dash sharing about her abortion was an unexpected gift for me on multiple levels as I embarked on my own emerging cinematic journey, which focused on Black lesbian identity and heterosexual rape. It was a very bold and courageous move on her part. Afterall, it was 1992, and not 2012. Julie Dash is definitely one of my sheroes.
What I love about our sharing, Monica, is that we clearly have very different life experiences in a myriad of ways and yet there are some similarities. We made very different choices as a result or our abortions and yet our paths have intersected/connected in this profound way. Your testimony is very powerful and I believe an important one of choice, exploration, empowerment, and motherhood.
I’m very close with my divorced parents who are also my comrades and friends. Things were very strained between my mother and me during my pregnancy and subsequent abortion. My father was out of the country working in Eastern Europe during most of the ordeal. He actually returned home on the day of my abortion. After the abortion, he was a lifesaver, including taking me to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain to attend a nuclear disarmament conference with him. I stayed after the conference, to backpack alone for five weeks throughout the country. It was in Grenada, Spain while looking at the Alhambra that I wrote in my journal in 1989, “I want to make films that affirm the lives of Black women. If I have to go in debt, it will be over a film and not a degree.”
I shared about the difficult time with my mother to discuss the complexities surrounding my pregnancy and abortion. She was the first self-identified pro-choice, feminist woman that I knew, with my paternal grandmother coming in at a close second. Though Nana didn’t call herself a feminist, she definitely was one and she was pro-choice. In spite of this reality, it was a rocky road with both of them during that time period in my life. I’m honored to be my mother’s daughter and my grandmother’s granddaughter. I would not be the woman I am without both of their and my father’s profound influence on my life. I’m not a parent and I do not want to be one, but I understand what happens when one has dreams and visions for one’s child and those dreams and visions don’t womanifest in the way a parent envisions. I firmly believe this is what happened with both my Mom and my Nana when I came home pregnant and unable to name the biological father…
I often wonder if I did carry my pregnancy to term, would I have come out as a PROUD Black feminist lesbian or would I’ve been afraid and concerned about what that would mean for the unborn? Would I have made NO! The Rape Documentary? …. Who knows? Even if the answers are yes, what I know is that it wouldn’t be what it is today….
These are the stories and dialogues that we don’t get to have because we’re so busy fighting the surge of the Right Wing to take away all of our reproductive rights. We often don’t get to hear the nuances, the complexities, the back stories…For many on the rabid (my words) Right, it’s as if women are incubators for fetuses and receptacle for (unwanted) penises….
"When Aaronette heard that I was making a film about intra-racial rape, other forms of sexual violence, and healing in the Black community, she immediately came up to me at the conference to ask how could she be involved with this project. Shortly after my return home, she sent me a package, which included a donation towards the making of NO!, her curriculum vitae, extensive resources directly related to her ground breaking research and scholarship on anti-rape activism in the Black community. The package also included a letter offering to be involved, for free, in any way possible. This past June, we laughed hysterically during one of our many Sister-friend marathon phone conversations remembering her first mailing to me. Little did she know at the time of sending me her very extensive package in 1996, I was desperate for any and all assistance and expertise in support of the making of NO!. Aaronette literally thought she had to convince me that she would be a wonderful resource for the project. Shortly after receipt of her first of many packages over the years, she became one of the five Black feminist scholar-activist advisors to NO!. Equally as important, Aaronette, was a featured interviewee who shared both her testimony as a survivor of rape; and her scholar-activism on sexual violence on camera. Without expecting anything in return, Aaronette worked tirelessly in support of NO! always looking for ways for me to secure funds to help me cross the finish line; and to spread the word about the making of the documentary. She most generously gave her time both as a scholar-activist and also as one of the consistent trusted shoulders upon which I leaned for ten out of the twelve years it took for me to makeNO!.
"Aaronette’s activism, scholarship, and writings were frequently ahead of the curve. She constantly championed unsung warrior feminist women who were predominantly of African descent. However, she celebrated the resiliency and (sometimes armed) resistance of all women she defined as freedom fighters."
—Aishah Shahidah Simmons, “Remembering And Celebrating The Life And Legacy Of Aaronette M. White,” Feminist Wire 8/18/12
On some days, like for most scholars, the professor-grind was clearly weighing on her and weighing her down. But at her best (which is how I prefer to remember her) she was an energetic, unyielding feminist scholar unlike any other I have met. She encouraged her students to “not wait to start speaking up and speaking out,” warning us that as women (and women of color) the academy is all too prepared to silence us as graduate students, then again while waiting for tenure, and again while waiting for the next promotion or for the move into administration, etc. She also acknowledged that fierce dedication to speaking one’s truth has consequences: that liberation comes with a price. I will never forget how she defined herself on her own terms. She shared once in class, that when one of her doctoral committee members asked her whether she intended to be an activist or a scholar, she boldly stated, “I didn’t know the two were mutually exclusive.” True to form, she remained dedicated achieving feminist praxis through her anti-rape, activist work on sexual violence against women and through her research and scholarship.
—Stephanie Troutman, “Where She Entered: Remembering Dr. Aaronette White And Doing The Work Of Feminism,” New Black Man (In Exile) 8/17/12
Who Will Revere Us? (Black LGTBQ People, Straight Women, and Girls)
From April 23, 2012 through April 26, 2012, The Feminist Wire published Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ four part series titled “Who Will Revere Us? (Black LGTBQ People, Straight Women, and Girls).” Through a comparison of selected cases, Simmons interrogates why Black/African-American/African descendant communities have tremendous difficulty addressing various forms of violence perpetuated against LGTBQ people, straight women, and girls. Following is the introduction to the series.
The title of this four part article is a metaphorical nod to the legendary jazz singer, songwriter, actor, and activist Abbey Lincoln (also known as Aminata Moseka) whose essay, “Who Will Revere The Black Woman?” is featured in the ground-breaking anthology The Black Woman. Edited by Black feminist author, screenwriter, and visionary activist Toni Cade Bambara, this all-Black woman anthology focused on the issues most pertinent to Black women and our communities. Originally published in 1970 and reissued in 2005 with a forward by Dr. Eleanor W. Traylor, The Black Woman was the literary wo/manifestation of the impact of the intersection of the Civil Rights/Black Power movements and the second wave of the Women’s Rights movement on Black women’s lives. In short, Ms. Lincoln’s ageless essay is a demand for justice and protection for Black women. In her concluding paragraph she writes,[…]Who will revere the Black woman? Who will keep our neighborhoods safe for Black innocent womanhood? Black womanhood is outraged and humiliated. Black womanhood cries for dignity and restitution and salvation. Black womanhood wants and needs protections, and keeping and holding. Who will assuage her indignation? Who will keep her precious and pure? Who will glorify and proclaim her beautiful image? To whom will she cry rape?I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the front upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.
I am struggling to find the right time to discuss inter and intra-racial gender-based violence in the midst of the justified outrage about the rampant and virulent racialized violence perpetrated against straight Black boys and men. Even with this being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, now doesn’t feel like the best time to write about the gender-based and state-sanctioned violence perpetuated against Black straight women, girls, and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) people both inside of and outside of our racial/cultural communities. I fear that sharing what’s on my heart and mind, might be construed as my taking away from the “real” issue at hand in most Black communities, which seems to be solely white supremacist and/or state-sanctioned racist violence against straight Black men and boys. Audre Lorde’s writings remind me, however, that discussions on oppression within Black communities should never be taken up within an either/or frame. The diverse herstories/histories and contemporary realities of Black straight women, girls, and LGBTQ people have consistently revealed that the issues that directly impact us often take a back seat, if they even make it into the metaphorical car on the freedom and liberation highway. There is a collective understanding among many in multi-racial, radical progressive movements, that the white supremacist, patriarchal, heterosexist, imperial, and capitalist power structure is the root of all oppressions in the United States. While I believe that to be true, even in the company of other oppressed people, Black straight women and LGBTQ people are still under attack. Too often we are caught at the intersections of race, gender, and if we identify as LGBTQ, sexuality. In spite of our shared his/herstories of oppression, struggle, and perseverance against the odds, not enough Black people view sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexism and transphobia with the same kind of activist passion that we view racism, white supremacy, and state-sanctioned violence perpetuated against straight Black men and boys. The reality is this: when Black straight men and boys are beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of state-sanctioned and/or white supremacist violence, it becomes (as well it should be) a national issue in the Black community and in a few, definitely not all, instances, the outrage moves beyond the Black community. Yet, when Black straight women, girls, and LGBTQ people are raped, sexually assaulted, beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of misogynist, patriarchal, state-sanctioned, and/or white supremacist violence, it is too often the victim’s individual issue.
There are so many egregious, known and unknown, cases of racial and gender-based violence perpetuated against all Black people, regardless of their gender, gender identity, and sexuality, that it is literally impossible to write about all of them. I want to highlight a selected few of the far too many, however, to ask Black/African-American/African descended people to consider our responses when any of us have been railroaded into the prison industrial complex, sexually or otherwise assaulted, or murdered. I want us, Black/African-American/African descended people, to consider our responses to issues that affect many as opposed to those issues affecting someof us based on our gender, gender identity, and/or sexuality.
Part 1, which was published on April 23, 2012, can be read in its entirety here. On April 24, 2012, Ebony.com aggregated part one. You can read it here.
An Open Letter in response to: “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals”
On Friday, April 13, 2012, The Feminist Wire, of which I am a member of its Editorial Collective, published “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals,” by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, who is also a U.K. -based member of the Editorial Collective. A link to the Adele’s article was also posted on The Feminist Wire’s facebook page. The article created a firestorm of pain, anger, and betrayal on the part of many Muslim Feminist women and their allies. In the comments section on both The Feminist Wire site and The Feminist Wire facebook page, following the posting of the article was very heated to say the least. I first heard about the article and the anger and pain, via@brownisthecolor on Friday night. TFW Founder Tamura A. Lomax, pulbished a statement on Saturday, April 14, 2012 in response to all of the views expressed about Adele’s article. On Sunday, April 15, 2012, Concerned Members of the Editorial Collective posted, “ A Collective Response To: To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals.”
I have been vocal behind the scenes but I have been intentionally silent publicly. However, this morning, I felt a need to write a letter to Adele, which she received along with a few others. After much thought, however, I decided to make my letter public because it was and is important for me to share my thoughts as a Muslim raised, Buddhist practicing, Feminist Queer person of African descent. While I am a member of the Editorial Collective, I’m post this is an individual who is speaking and writing for herself. ~ Aishah Shahidah Simmons
April 16, 2012 (via email)
Good morning/afternoon Adele,
We’ve never virtually met. My name is Aishah. I’ve expressed my concerns to others but I have not expressed them to you. In the spirit of transparency, I believe I have a responsibility to share with you my thoughts with you as a member of The Feminist Wire (TFW) collective.
Foremost, I was raised Sufi Muslim by a radical Black feminist mother (Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons) who is an Islamic scholar-activist and practicing Muslim for over 45-years. With the exception of going to the mosque for prayers or praying at home, I have never ever covered my head. My mother has never worn hijab in the US. I know she has worn it in Saudi Arabia, when making Umrah. I believe she’s also worn it (due to cultural norms), at times, when she lived in Morocco and Jordan. However, I know for an absolute fact that she is not a proponent of wearing the hijab. At the same time, she supports the rights of those women who have the choice to wear it. Simultaneously, however, she fights against any laws and cultural norms that advocate for the torture and/or murder women and girls for not wearing it.
Her work specifically focuses on women’s rights under Islamic law. Amongst her many published articles, her “Are We Up To The Challenge: The Need for the Radical Re-ordering of the Islamic Discourse On Women,” piece is featured in Progressive Islam: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism (Omid Safi). In her article, she challenges patriarchal, misogynist, sexist interpretations of the Sacred Text and practices amongst so many within Islam. She writes as a Black feminist woman who grew up in the (era of) segregation who was on the frontlines of Civil Rights & Black Power movements. She used her lived experiences, before she converted to Islam as the foundation upon which she stands to challenge gender oppression in the religion she has been a part of for almost 45 years. Yes, she has caught and catches hell for her stance, but not because she’s a White woman with (perceived, unchecked) privilege. It is, as you know, hard for (some) Muslim feminists, regardless of if they were born in or converted to the religion to tackle these issues… But they’ve done and will continue to do it. In fact, it’s hard for all feminists to tackle issues of patriarchy, gender oppression, and violence against women in every single sector of almost all societies across the globe.
While I didn’t agree with the lens from which you wrote, I heard your points. And, for the record, I don’t believe I have to agree with every single article posted on TFW. My huge problem and challenge with your article is what I perceive to be an inability to challenge your location as a British feminist who is not a person of color. I interpreted the article in question and your “‘Nobody’s nigger’ but somebody’s bitch?” article to essentially say,” (I)t’s not fair that race is the elephant in the room in ways that gender is not.” If my interpretation is correct, then I hear you and agree with you completely. The huge difference is that as a non-person of color, I firmly believe you can’t just say/write that without also saying/writing about the ways in which racism, white supremacy, colonialism (especially as someone who is British), and xenophobia within the white feminist movements and beyond have horrifically impacted women (and men) of color. Painfully my perception of your inability and unwillingness to do this work in those two articles; and your comments in defense of the latest article, makes it damn near impossible for me as a feminist lesbian of African descent to find any common ground or solidarity with you…
I struggle within my own non-monolithic cultural and racial communities with the painful reality that often I don’t believe my life is valued as a woman, regardless of my identifying as a feminist or not, and as a lesbian/queer person of African descent. I believe that a huge part of my cultural work is to play a role, carry the baton, be the chorus that says ending racism alone will not end oppression in our cultural/racial communities…over half of us would still NOT be safe if racism ended… I do this, however, as a person from within this community… And, conversely, I am a part of the feminist and LGBTQ people of color chorus that says ending sexism, gender oppression, and patriarchy doesn’t mean that straight women and LGBTQ people of color will be safe. If we don’t eradicate all forms of injustices, none of us, in the human race, will be safe.
In your responses that I read in the threads both on the TFW website and FB page, you did not take an anti-racist stance at all… This is most problematic and disturbing for me in a world, to quote or paraphrase Audre Lorde, “(I’m a Black woman living in a world) that defines everything as white and male, for starters.”
As a 10-year practitioner of the teachings of Buddha (like you), I wholeheartedly believe that at the fundamental level we’re all one. However at the apparent, day-to-day experiential level, our similarities as human, are colored and gendered and classed. Those of us who do not benefit from White, Male, and/or Heterosexual privilege are consistently marginalized and disenfranchised. The fact that my perception is that in your comments, you consistently stayed away from addressing racism; and then you spoke on behalf of women of color who have articulated your position on the hijab and burqa is, in my mind’s eye, a white supremacist and racist act.
I believe we all make mistakes and cause harm, even with the best of intentions not to make mistakes and/or cause harm. The question and challenge is what happens when this is pointed out to us. For me, the article is one thing, but your responses to the response to your article were very disturbing to me.
I’m sure we all know what it’s like to feel under attack. Speaking from my lived experiences, it’s wretched and egregious, especially when I believe that my intention is not the outcome at all. I get that you felt a visceral need to defend yourself. I really understand that. However, the fact that you felt the need to retaliate in your and your family’s defense, in the name of TFW FB handle is honestly not okay. Why didn’t you switch from TFW to use your own name when responding? Why didn’t you reach out to Monica, or Tamura or other members of TFW that you know. I’m not talking about seeking permission per se, but to seek collective guidance about how to respond, most especially since you consistently used the TFW FB handle and not your name.
I also reflect upon Buddha’s words when he said “Don’t speak, unless it improves upon the silence (or noise, my words)…” This is 1,000,000 times easier said, read, than done.
It’s true that race and religion are huge elephants in the US. I’m not European, but I have a lot of radical feminist friends who are both white and of color who live in England and France. While some of them wholeheartedly support the ban of the hijab in France, I know they would take issue with your article and more importantly your responses to the critiques of it. Additionally, my father (Michael Simmons), who’s an international human right activist has worked in Eastern Europe since the mid-80s; and since 2003, has called Budapest, Hungary his home. I share this to say, that through his lens, I’ve come to really understand the stark differences with how race/ethnicity is addressed in Europe in comparison to in the US. This is most apparent with the Roma (aka Gypsy) communities.
The question for me is what is the goal with our articles and responses to critiques of our articles? Is the goal to be right …to win the debate and/or arguments? Or, is the goal to play a role in encouraging people to think and act differently?
Towards Understanding and In Peace,
Post Script: Adele wrote a response to my email. I have asked her permission to reprint her response this evening eastern standard time. However, there is a time difference as she is based in the UK…
The simple fact: sexual-violence perpetrators and their victims are usually of the same race. So, since I’m talking about Black people in this case, then what I’m saying is those Black people who commit sexual violence usually create victims who are Black, too.
There. I said it.
And statistics back this:
—According to a 2000 report, in 93% of sexual assaults, the rapist and the victim are of the same race. (Source)
—According to 2005 US Department of Justice, out of approximately 36,600 Black sexual-violence victims reporting this crime, 100% reported that their perpetrators was Black. (Source)
I know that I’m not the first—or only—one to make this plain: The Combahee River Collective was founded partly due to Black women fighting sexual violence within some Black communities. Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker—among a few Black female writers who wrote about intraracial rape–caught just about all nine circles of hell for “making Black men look bad” partly because they dared to name that reality in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and The Color Purple, respectively. Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ No!: The Rape Documentary—through poetry, testimony, and oral history—does an incredible job on examining the realities of Black men raping Black women.
That’s what no one is saying outright about what Too $hort’s said. That’s what hurts about his advice, and that’s what hurts about Very Smart Brothas’ fauxpology. Though Black communities may be going through identity shifts of what “being down for the race” means, there’s still a clinging to the socio-political idea that Black folks are each others’ keepers, each others’ “fam,” each others’ “brothas” and “sistas,” as a buttress in this racist society. So, when there’s an online recommendation from a celebrity seen as an “old enough to know better” and there’s a lack of responsibility for victim-blaming rhetoric under the guise of “rape prevention,” it’s a two-generation, cross-platform exercise of rape culture remixed with Black male privilege that Black women have been traumatized with for several generations.
And we need to say that loud and clear. Again.
Martin’s comments were reprehensible in any environment, but most especially during the super-macho (and super-hetero) Super Bowl. Using Suzanne Pharr’s analysis that “Homophobia [is] a weapon of sexism,” it’s also apparent that Martin’s issue with Beckham’s bikini briefs, the unmanly sport of soccer, or the fan’s “pink suit,” relies heavily on sexism to reinforce heterosexist definitions of manhood.
We can’t afford to take homophobia lightly.
For so many LGBTQ people, many of whom are Black, this is life and death. When a noted journalist like Martin uses humor to condone violence against men who appear to be gay, it is insensitive, careless, and extremely irresponsible.
Some have even argued that Martin’s fate is a result of the response of misguided people who have given too much power to words. According to Raynard Jackson, writing in response to this debacle for The Washington Post, “words have no intrinsic meaning other than meanings that are internalized by each individual.”
Words are merely words, right? No! They actually shape the climate in which someone’s “ass” may literally be beat and murdered altogether. The next day after Martin’s tweets, a video surfaced of Brandon White, a black gay man who was jumped by multiple men in Atlanta for wearing skinny jeans. Much like Martin’s tweets, this video shows that someone’s choice of clothing, which others may view as contrary to their gender and abnormal, is a reason to be subject to assault. Our thoughts and the words that we use are reflected through actions. As a result, we need not use words that produce harm, but words that seek to ameliorate violence.
So, where are the “words” of condemnation emanating from the Black progressive establishment regarding Martin’s tweets or the numerous physical attacks on Black LGBT people that happen daily?
The deafening silence from Non-LGBTQ Black Civil Rights organizations and public intellectuals taking a stand against homophobia is unacceptable. It’s as if racism is the main/real issue worthy of being addressed, with sexism/misogyny in a very distant second place, and homophobia a practically non-existent third place on our Black civil rights platform. Why do these organizations and “leaders” continue to act as if they are not accountable to Black people who are LGBTQ? Aren’t we Black, too?
Similarly, why does GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) act is if they are not accountable to LGBTQ people who are Black? As Robert Jones, Jr., author of the Son of Baldwin blog stated, “I think Roland Martin deserved censure and suspension, just like Don Imus deserved being terminated. But where is GLAAD when [white gay writers like] Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage make their racist statements? I sense a double standard and it REEKS of racism.”
GLAAD’s swift action to demand that CNN fire Martin gives us pause. Interestingly enough, GLAAD didn’t also demand TVOne, a Black-owned network, where Martin hosts a weekly show, to fire him. Clearly, based on GLAAD’s actions, they’re not very concerned about the impact of Martin’s homophobia on Black networks (if they even know the networks exist). In response to Martin’s comments, GLAAD’s website reiterates, “Our goal is to ensure better coverage that works toward ending anti-LGBT violence.”
If that is GLAAD’s goal, then why aren’t they also holding other outlets where Roland Martin has a platform accountable? Furthermore, Martin recently met with GLAAD; but none of the Black queer people who first called Martin out over Twitter was invited by GLAAD to join in such a meeting. Why is Martin only accountable to GLAAD?
Cleo Manago, CEO and founder of the Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), had this to say about GLAAD’s demand that Martin be fired from CNN: “…we are still in the process of recovering from many challenges that have resulted from being Black in America. Still, lily-White organizations like GLAAD are not in the position to complain about alleged injustice from Blacks. They clearly are not culturally competent enough to accurately interpret the voices of Black people.”
While Manago might be correct to interrogate GLAAD’s “cultural competency,” he too misses a valuable point.
The fact is: it was Black queer men and women, and not some “lily-white organization,” who were the first to call attention to Martin’s heterosexist words. GLAAD’s response, and CNN’s subsequent move to suspend Martin, followed the swift rebuke of Twitter personalities @kenyonfarrow, @Anti_Intellect, @TheFireNextTime.
The fact is: it was Black brothers and sisters who called out a Black brother. Period.