We are particularly outraged by the racist and sexist treatment of Professor Anita Hill, an African American woman who was maligned and castigated for daring to speak publicly of her own experience of sexual abuse. The malicious defamation of Professor Hill insulted all women of African descent and sent a dangerous message to any woman who might contemplate a sexual harassment complaint.
We speak here because we recognize that the media are now portraying the Black community as prepared to tolerate both the dismantling of affirmative action and the evil of sexual harassment in order to have any Black man on the Supreme Court. We want to make clear that the media have ignored or distorted many African American voices. We will not be silenced.
Many have erroneously portrayed the allegations against Clarence Thomas as an issue of either gender or race. As women of African descent, we understand sexual harassment as both. We further understand that Clarence Thomas outrageously manipulated the legacy of lynching in order to shelter himself from Anita Hill’s allegations. To deflect attention away from he reality of sexual abuse in African American women’s lives, he trivialized and misrepresented this painful part of African American people’s history. This country, which has a long legacy of racism and sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of black women seriously. Throughout U.S. history black women have been sexually stereotyped as immoral, insatiable, perverse, the initiators in all sexual contacts–abusive or otherwise. The common assumption in legal proceedings as well as in the larger society has been that black women cannot be raped or otherwise sexually abused. As Anita Hill’s experience demonstrates, Black women who speak of these matters are not likely to be believed.
In 1991, we cannot tolerate this type of dismissal of any one Black woman’s experience or this attack upon our collective character without protest, outrage and resistance.
We pledge ourselves to continue to speak out in defense of one another, in defense of the African American community and against those who are hostile to social justice, no matter what color they are. No one will speak for us but ourselves.
— You know those historical documents that you wish you could’ve signed? This is the full text of “African American Women In Defense Of Ourselves,” the open letter that 1,600 Black women signed back in 1991 to show solidarity with then-beleagured Professor Anita Hill. She spoke out before the Senate Judiciary Committee against Judge Clarence Thomas being seated on the US Supreme Court.
I saw Freida Mock’s new doc, ANITA, this past week. In her loving tribute to Professor Hill, she forgot to mention this turning point in Black feminist history. Having lived it as well, I couldn’t—this is how much this document and Professor Hill helped shape my feminism. That’s why she is my Crush of the Week. Read the rest of it on the R today!