June 2, 2014
NewBlackMan (in Exile): When There Isn't a Case for Debate: Black Men Listening to Our Sisters

Carrie Mae Weems (The Kitchen Table Series)

When There Isn’t a Case for Debate: Black Men Listening to Our Sisters
(organized by Brothers Writing to Live ~ Darnell L. Moore, Mark Anthony Neal, Kiese Laymon, Marlon Precedent Peterson, Mychal Denzel Smith, Wade Davis, Kai M. Green, Hashim Khalil Pipkin)
Brothers Writing to Live is a collective formed across identities, geographical boundaries and generations to create space for black men to work through the question of what a progressive black masculinity looks like. We come together through the understanding that there is power and transformation in collective struggle. It is imperative that we push one another, with trust and love, to think critically about the ways we move in a world created by toxic visions of blackness and manhood.
It is with that as our mission that we have recently engaged in a public conversation around the issue of sexual violence, one sparked by the dissemination of retrograde ideas surrounding black womanhood through the blogosphere. We reject these ideas on the basis that they help promote rape culture and absolve black men of their responsibility to confront the destructive forces of patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism that continue to afflict the lives of black women. It is particularly egregious given that black women have been at the forefront of movements to end racist oppression of black men. It is cause for shame that we have not shown up in a meaningful way for them.
Brothers Writing to Live seeks to model a new path forward, where black men are no longer silent on the issues which face black women, particularly those that implicate black men. We have talked. We have written. But talking and writing are not enough. The most radical thing we can do is listen. We must learn to actively and intently listen when black women tell us the stories of their lives and what we as black men need to do in order to support them. We must learn to step back from our privilege and be led by the sisters already doing the work. We can not presume to know all there is to know about patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism ravaging our black communities. We must be willing to hear the truth about our complicity in these system of oppression and hatred, and then take adequate steps toward reconciliation and healing.
It is with this in mind that we turn to our sisters, whose brilliance is unmatched and whose dedication to building strong communities inspires us all to move forward with the same graciousness, respect, and love that they have shown us throughout history.
Here, we listen. We encourage you to listen, too.
Mari Morales-Williams:
I’m the education director of a community center in a tough neighborhood in North Philadelphia.  One day, I was speaking with a 9 year Puerto Rican boy in my office about his phone.  When I asked him who he texted, two other young men in their 20’s joked, “He texts his girlfriend.”  The boy laughed and agreed. When I asked him why did he like his girlfriend, he said that she had a big butt. I looked at him squarely and probed, “Is your girlfriend a body part or a human being?”  He laughed and said, “A body part.”  The older youth joined in his banter.
That is what misogyny sounds like on a 9 year old boy.  And as long as men continue to think that that is funny or not that big of a deal, then they will have a hard time seeing how that kind of thinking has unhealthy effects on how young boys and men build genuine relationships with girls and women.  That kind of thinking keeps boys and men from seeing how they become violent with women in small and profound ways.  I’m not speaking of brutal acts of violence that are privileged in media.  That is a naïve and basic way to think about how sexual violence occurs in reality.  I mean the everyday violence that is seen as “not that serious”: harassing a girl in the street because of what she is wearing, bullying a girl in school because she doesn’t like you, only being courteous to feminine presenting women or women you think are pretty, only engaging with women to have your needs fulfilled, and the list goes on.  Men can end sexual violence by broadening their minds about what that violence looks like and being honest about how they might engage in that.  They can stop it by letting their younger brothers know that such violence is far from something to joke about, but a sore wound that we all need healing from.
Lori Adelman:
"We are of the same blood, you and I." -Rudyard Kipling
Vengeful. “That woman”. Leg-opener. Diseased. “Stripper/jump off/random woman.” Child-support thief. Life-ruiner. “FLAT-OUT-CRAZY.” Temptress. Deceitful. “A wolf in freaks clothing.” Punitive. Greedy.
These are just a few of the characterizations of black women perpetuated in an effort to make the case for black men to “be careful about their sexual choices” and presumably avoid fates such as unwanted fatherhood, STIs, or unjust detention.
I wish I were more surprised. I wish I could feign outrage or even ignorance. But the truth is, I’ve become accustomed to this line of thinking, one in which uplifting blacks is a zero-sum game requiring sacrifice in the name of solidarity above all — which just happens to fall neatly across gender lines. In this line of thinking, rather than tackling systemic injustices by fighting said systems and the correlating powers-at-be, we can simply demonize and deride black women, and particularly their sexuality, to solve a problem like mass incarceration.
I understand the pain goes deep, and black men are looking for solutions to a problem they didn’t invent, that shouldn’t exist. But our pain goes deep, too. The rates of sexual violence — including intimate partner violence and sexual assault — against black women are alarming. Hateful stereotypes and mischaracterizations compound this unprecedented epidemic in ways both concrete and immeasurable.
This is hardly a battle of the sexes; for community solutions to a wide range of issues, black men need look no further than the very “jump offs” and “wolves” they so joyously berates. Rather than trumped up stereotypes of mythical female demons, black women are community leaders; activists; organizers; advocates; journalists; and so much more. We are in the streets fighting against unfair drug laws and “stop & frisk” policies, and for reproductive health access in our communities. We may make for an easy scapegoat, but women of color are not the obstacle standing in the way of black men’s emancipation. We must be each other’s saviors, not demons. We are of the same blood.
Je-Shawna Wholley:
There is a way to encourage men to make healthy and informed decisions about their sexual partners without painting this picture of women being gold-diggers, conniving, and armed with an agenda of entrapment. What is to be gained from this narrative? Where is the self-accountability? At the end of the day, the key to saving Black men should never be the demise of Black women. We are not your enemy.
Moreover, we often speak of rape with a lightness that completely dismisses the trans-historic and everlasting trauma that is a result of rape and rape culture.  As a Black woman who is also a survivor of sexual assault conversations centered on rape are honestly triggering for me. I vividly remember sitting in the court room on the same pew as my assailant’s family. I remember feeling shamed when his mother looked at me and then shouted out to her son “it’s going to be okay baby,” as if to let me know that she “knew” her son was innocent. I remember her glares. I remember the sadness I felt as I looked at his toddler son. I was putting another Black father in jail. I was responsible for another Black boy growing up without his father. But these internalized pressures are far from the truth. I was not responsible for any of that. No matter how hard it must be for that mother to realize that her son sexually assaulted me, it is the truth. I did not “put” him in jail; his actions and the punitive system that we live by are responsible for that.
Instead of centering the bodies and experiences of Black women in a conversation amongst men about “how to not be accused of rape” I would like to see men having a healthy dialog about consent. What does it mean to gain consent from your partner? How do you start that conversation? What is the difference between “yes” and “not no?” Is there a difference between the two? What are healthy sexual boundaries? Who determines these sexual boundaries in our society, men or women? How do we honor the trans-historic realities as it pertains to Black bodies (of all genders)?
Mariame Kaba:
Feminist organizers responding to the murders of black women in Boston in 1979 marched in the streets in protest carrying a banner with a line from a poem by civil rights organizer Barbara Deming which read: “WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT OUR LIVES.” In 2014, the assaults against Black women are unrelenting. We continue to be disproportionately beaten, stalked, raped, imprisoned, disappeared, and murdered. We are fighting for our lives. We need solidarity rather than vitriol and violence from black men.
In his seminal 1970 essay about rape, Kalamu ya Salaam wrote: “The rape of African-American women is not seen as a major problem precisely because the victim is both Black and female in a racist and sexist society.” We desperately need black men to see anti gender-based violence as a primary site of their activism and organizing. I can only ask ‘what’s taking so long?’ We desperately need each other if we are to live fully and ultimately be free. Black women cannot live without our lives.
Brittany Carter:
The idea that being falsely accused of rape is as harmful as the actual rape of a black woman’s body is rather mind-blowing.  The same line of thinking informs the popular claim that being called a racist is somehow as harmful as enduring the actual violence of white supremacy.  This is the ingenuity of dehumanization - attempting to level the playing field between the oppressor and the oppressed so that the two become indistinguishable and justice itself becomes elusive.  If the conversation is, in fact, about justice (and it should be), then surely there is a way to lay out the harms of false accusations of rape and their contributions to the epidemic of mass incarceration without doing so at the expense of our sisters. Historically, subjugating black women in the service of black men’s liberation is a strategy that has not served the black freedom struggle well.
Charlene Carruthers:
We too, are human and deserving of safety and agency. Black women don’t need protection — we need recognition, respect, love and the forging of transformative spaces in partnership with Black men.
Sarah Haley:
Recently, some have attempted to shed light on a taboo and allegedly serious (but undocumented) problem of black women’s complicity in black male incarceration, claiming this as a radical act of antiracism.  Some might believe that trafficking in powerful and wholly American stereotypes of black female sexual treachery is an effective strategy to make the academy more relevant to black communal interests.  By this logic exposing a hidden pattern of women’s sexual revenge (erroneous rape allegations) that purportedly leads to black male incarceration is a public service.  This strategy is…regrettable.Critics of this approach have been accused of espousing Democratic liberalism, which is ironic because it is the notion that black women are to blame for black men’s carceral downfall that constitutes the mainstay of mainstream bipartisan law and order politics; such stereotypes of black female moral and sexual pathology contribute to the criminalization of black women to be sure, subjecting them in disproportionate numbers to the terror of incarceration each and every day.  But they also fortify assumptions about the thorough and unredeemable inferiority and criminality of black communities writ large.  For such morally bereft and lascivious black women are believed to inculcate and socialize (if not biologically propagate) moral deviance, endowing their daughters and sons with such depraved and criminal characteristics and reproducing a culture (tangle) of pathology.  This condemnation of blackness that scholars have so eloquently exposed ensnares both black women and men in extraordinarily violent regimes of exclusion and captivity.  It is an inadvisable approach to refute presumptions of black male guilt by imposing such presumptions upon black women.  Of course there are other ways of thinking about gender, violence, and imprisonment.  Black women and men in and beyond the academy have advocated prison abolition, one of the most radical and expansive critiques of white supremacy and the prison industrial complex.  This abolitionist theorizing and organizing emerged from a deep and thorough recognition of the magnitude of harm that imprisonment wreaks upon poor, LGBT, Black, and Brown communities, women and men.  It comes from the recognition that carceral terror relies upon late capitalist surpluses and stereotypes of black male threat as well as notions of black female deviance, black women’s perceived irrationality, unscrupulousness, and hypersexuality.  Dismantling will prove far more effective than redeploying the ideological brick and mortar of mass incarceration. 
Danielle Moodie-Mills:
Excusing rape by blaming black women for our “wild ways” is not only disturbing but an incredibly dangerous act. The number of men that have been wrongly accused of sexual assault pales in comparison to the number of women that are scarred both emotionally and physically by having their bodies violated against their will.  We need to have honest conversations about rape and rape culture within the black community that don’t pin men against women and vice versa.  We need to create a culture of respect and compassion for black women, not degrade them as objects of sexual desire or perpetuate the idea that black women are just trying to “trap a man” and are mischievous and not to be trusted.  Instead of enlightening the “brothers” using old tropes to that allow black men to escape responsibility from ending rape and rape culture.  We need responsible policy and engagement not rhetoric.
Heidi Renee Lewis:
Just over a year ago, in March 2013, my colleagues and I published short video responses to Rick Ross’ “U.O.E.N.O.” lyrics in which he raps about giving a woman drugs and having sex with her without her knowledge. While we did receive a lot of support for speaking out against rape culture, we also received many heinous and violent threats. One viewer commented that the women in our videos should actually be raped. For these reasons and others, it was, and still is, important that our brothers, including Darnell L. Moore and Mark Anthony Neal of Brothers Writing to Live, participated in the videos. These Black men were able to stand strong beside (not in front of) Black women, because they know, as we all should, that 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime and that most sexual assaults are committed by perpetrators of the same race as their victims. These Black men were able to stand strong beside (not in front of) Black women, because they know, as we all should, that most Black women victims of sexual assault remain silent due to the shame and violence they fear they will face if they speak out. Almost 40 years ago in “A Black Feminist Statement,” the Combahee River Collective wrote, “We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.” The same year, Audre Lorde reminded us, during a panel at the MLA, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” How long will it take for us to learn that we must work together to fight a persistent and dominant rape culture that tells Black women that we aren’t worth the love and loyalty that we need? How long will it take? How long?
Sikivu Hutchinson:
Every day I work with young Black women and girls who have been emotionally and mentally battered by the constant cultural propaganda that their sexuality is dirty, pathological and destructive.  As “protectors” and “defenders” of Black masculinity, black girls are taught early on that unquestioned allegiance to Black boys and men should supersede their allegiance to themselves.  They learn early on that there will be no “My Sister’s Keeper” initiatives to “save” them, nor national attention given to the epidemic rates of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, HIV/AIDS contraction and Black female criminalization that jeopardizes all Black lives, families, and communities.  They are repeatedly shown in white supremacist corporate mass media, popular culture and the Black community that violence and systematized terrorism against Black women and girls is acceptable, normal and “just the way shit is”. Despite the long history of radical Black feminist resistance, violence against Black women and girls has never been regarded as an urgent civil or human rights issue in Black liberation struggles.  Due to this history, it is imperative that more Black men and boys stand with Black women and girls against the structures of patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia which normalize and institutionalize violence against women of color.  For starters, Black men and boys can begin having the difficult conversation about how toxic, naturalized images of hypersexual Black women and women of color shape their everyday practice, relationships, sexuality and gendered perceptions.  They can actively support the intersectional activism of black cis, lesbian, bi and trans women around intimate partner violence, HIV/AIDS and STI education, sexual assault and criminalization.  Instead of venerating the usual charismatic male civil rights heroes they can lift up the lives of lesser known figures in movement struggle like Ida B. Wells, Claudette Colvin and Recy Taylor; women whose forerunning activism linked Black women’s resistance to sexual assault and sexual harassment with civil rights struggle.  Through the holocaust of slavery and racial apartheid, Black men have never been told by Black women that their dehumanization was normal, natural and “just the way shit is”.  Yet, even when it was at their expense, Black women have always been expected to uncritically support Black men’s self-determination.  This double standard endangers Black lives.
Syreeta McFadden:
I wonder what kind of naivete persists in this conversation among men in our community that would continue propagate a narrative of rampant mistrust of women that could ultimately lead to sexual misconduct, assault and rape. I wonder what’s at stake for masculinity when we teach men not to rape. What is it about no that we fail to understand? How is possible that we do harm to people we claim to love? What kind of world do we believe must be protected to teach young men to embrace this ideology?
This argument is intellectually dishonest and reductive. One vague anecdote of a sexual assault case does not a rule make. While I’m not ignorant the legacy of false claims of rape by white women in a racist society, that boondoggle has now become a cloak and crutch for our community to engage in serious discussions about sexual assault and violence within our communities. The gospel of respectability mired in dated tropes of feminine and masculine identities have barred us, in many instances, from reckoning with the realities of sexual assault and misconduct and acts of violence against women on HBCUs.
We know better and we can do better to address it.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons:
FBI statistics state that less than 2% of reported rapes are false charges. Another way of looking at this is that 98% of reported rape charges are true.  There are many more rapists who lie about raping women then there are women who lie about having been raped.  Black men need to ask themselves why it’s so much easier to focus on the very small percentage of false accusations than it is to focus on focus on the pervasiveness of rape? I believe Black men have a non-negotiable responsibility to focus on addressing and ending rape in our communities.
In the last stanza of his riveting poem, “To Some Supposed Brothers,” the late, award-winning Black Gay Poet Essex Hemphill wrote,
But we so-called men,
we so-called brothers
wonder why it’s so hard
to love ‘our’ women
when we’re about loving them
the way america
loves us
As a community we have an acute collective awareness about the horrific impact of racism in our communities, especially as it relates to Black men and boys. Unfortunately, however, we tend to close our eyes and ears when it’s time to raise awareness and talk about the horrific impact of intra-racial rape, sexual assault and other forms of violence perpetuated against Black women in our communities. We spend so much time blaming women and girls for the violence that they experience at the hands of men and boys in ways in which we do not tolerate (without protesting) the blaming of Black men and boys for the violence that they experience at the hands of white supremacist state sanctioned violence.
We must remember that single-issue politics will never be our community’s salvation. If we do not address gender-based violence while we simultaneously address white supremacist violence, over half of our community will be vulnerable to all types of unspeakable violence, which will render our communities unsafe and not healthy.

June 2, 2014
Did you hear the news last week? "200 Black Men Ask POTUS: What About Our Sisters?"




April 30, 2014
We Need An Intersectional Approach To END ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE

Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D.,(photo credit: Wadia L. Gardiner)

Today is the last day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is not the last day of raising awareness, breaking silences, and doing everything possible to eradicate the GLOBAL ATROCITIES of incest, child sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, human trafficking…all forms of gender-based violence perpetuated against human beings — especially ALL children, cisgender women, trans women and men, and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual people.

In an African-American context, I long for the day when our non-monolithic community will be as RIGHTEOUSLY OUTRAGED about DL Hughley’s APPALLING, SEXIST, MISOGYNIST comments about Tuere (aka Tanee)McCall-Short (Columbus Short’s ex-wife) as we are when Donald Sterling or ANY White person makes EGREGIOUS RACIST/WHITE SUPREMACIST comments.

If racism ended RIGHT NOW (and Goddess knows I wish it would!), I, as a Black Lesbian Woman, would STILL NOT BE SAFE from incest, rape, other forms of sexism/misogyny, homophobia AND heterosexism. We must have an intersectional approach to ending ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed! ~ Aishah Shahidah Simmons

"The way out is to tell: speak the acts perpetrated upon us, speak the atrocities, speak the injustices, speak the personal violations of the soul. Someone will listen, someone will believe our stories, someone will join us. And until there are more who will bear witness to our truths as Black women, we will do it for one another. For now, that is enough." ~ Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D., Author, Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape, featured in http://NOtheRapeDocumentary.org/


April 28, 2014
LAUGH IT UP FOLKS, ABUSED BLACK WOMEN ARE THE JOKE OF THE DAY by Kirsten West Savali

Will someone PLEASE tell #DLHughley that VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN is NOT a laughing matter???

"By now most fans of “Scandal,” the ABC drama featuring Kerry Washington as D.C. fixer “Olivia Pope,” have heard the news that Columbus Short, who played “Harrison Wright” on the show, will not be returning for Season 4.
 
Though no reason was given, observers have made an educated guess that his swift exit at the height of the show’s popularity is due, in large part, to allegations made by his estranged wife, Tanee McCall Short, that he choked her and placed a knife to her throat, all while threatening to kill her then himself.
 
During a recent episode of his radio show, comedian D.L. Hughley, who once said that black women were the angriest people he’s ever met, weighed in on the story. This black man, who for some reason has been given a platform that reaches millions of people, used that platform to viciously attack McCall-Short by calling her a “thirsty bitch” and a “thirsty hoe,” who should have kept her mouth closed to get more money from her impending divorce.
 
“I think that broad shouldn’t be telling all his business if she gone take him to court,” said Hughley.”
 

April 8, 2014
Black Women, Racial Solidarity, and Rape

#SAAM #BelieveSurvivors #NOtheRapeDocumentary

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Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D., (photo credit: Joan Brannon)


“We are taught that we are first Black, then women. Our families have taught us this, and society in its harsh racial lessons reinforces it. Black women have survived by keeping quiet not solely out of shame, but out of a need to preserve the race and its image. In our attempts to preserve racial pride, we Black women have sacrificed our own souls.” ~ Charlotte Pierce-Baker, Ph.D., Author, Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape in NOtheRapeDocumentary.org/

May 17, 2013
Summary of day one of The Feminist Wire’s Forum on Assata Shakur

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On May 16, 2013, The Feminist Wire (TFW) launched our two-day forum on Black Woman Revolutionary Activist Assata Shakur, who was recently (May 3, 2013) and unjustly (my words) put on the FBI list —of the Ten Most Wanted Criminals. We join the international chorus who demand justice for Assata Shakur. #HandsOFFAssata

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TFW’s Co-Founder and Managing Editor Tamura A. Lomax is on righteous fire in her introduction to the two-day forum.

An Introduction to TFW’s Forum on Assata Shakur: America’s Grammar Book on Black Women and Terrorism 

"…[Assata] Shakur has long been a marked woman. And now she stands as a “Miss Ebony First” for the FBI. But what is her name? It certainly isn’t “terrorist.” However, today, she is “Most Wanted.” What about Shakur causes such fear and trembling? And why does America seem to need her at this moment in time? Is it because the latest terrorists had white skin? Is it to bring social, cultural and political meaning back into balance where, as Frantz Fanon once posited, the black is the symbol of evil? Did the Boston bombers disrupt our “national treasury” of rhetorical racial plenitude? Is Shakur being marked with terrorism to once again center America’s civilized/primitive dialectic or lies about its colonial mission? Is it to at once put in check youthful revolutionaries whose activist work might in fact lead to social, cultural or political change, as Angela Y. Davis recently suggested? Is it an attempt to reimagine every political prisoner in the United States as an evil terrorist straightaway? Or, is this a joint venture to hypothesize international crisis with Cuba as the target? Is it all of the above?…"

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/an-introduction-to-tfws-forum-on-assata-shakur-black-women-terrorism-and-americas-grammar-book/

 

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In her exclusive short essay for TFW, internationally renowned activist, scholar, and author Angela Y. Davis says, Hands Off Assata

"…Many years ago, I was similarly shocked to learn that I myself had been placed on an FBI list – of the Ten Most Wanted Criminals. This only began to make sense to me when I realized that I was not the exclusive target: through me, the FBI was transmitting a message to all revolutionary activists that they would be marked as criminals and that, in fact, our movements against imperialism and for racial and gender justice would be generally criminalized.

Today, forty years after Assata was arrested (and later convicted) for a crime she could not have committed, she has emerged as a symbol of continuing resistance to racism, gender repression, and contemporary challenges to U.S. empire. I personally feel compelled to defend and protect Assata because I love and respect her as an individual and know her commitment and compassion to be exemplary…

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/hands-off-assata/

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Assata Shakur’s 1987 poem Affirmation —reprinted today in TFW—is timeless:

"…I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth…”

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/affirmation-by-assata-shakur/


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TFW Collective Member Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ poem “Here" celebrates Assata Shakur and (one of her many namesakes) Assata Amira Nakati Carter-Goff on her tenth birthday.


"call down the name freedom call
up the spirit of no matter what now call
your shared name liberation veins steel will
fierce focus shielding sacred smile laugh…”

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/here/

THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE of BLACK LAWYERS (NCBL) CONDEMNS THE FBI’S CONTINUED ATTACKS ON ACTIVIST ASSATA SHAKUR

Because TFW is committed to providing space for critical dialogue, we are reprinting NCBL’s statement in its entirety with the express purpose of offering such space.

“The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) condemns the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s recent placement of activist Assata Shakur on its Most Wanted Terrorists list, and its increase of the reward for her capture to $2 million. These actions by the FBI should alarm everyone in the United States as they only serve to criminalize the right of people to disagree with governmental policies. These actions intimidate activists and recklessly expand the use and meaning of the word ‘terrorist.’… “

http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/the-national-conference-of-black-lawyers-ncbl-condemns-the-fbis-continued-attacks-on-activist-assata-shakur/

May 13, 2013
The Rise of Beyoncé, The Fall of Lauryn Hill: A Tale of Two Icons ~ The Feminist Wire

"…Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé may be very different in their image production and in their career and personal choices, but what binds them together is their function under the high-surveillance gaze as public black women who are being disciplined and contained. What we can learn from both, however, is their political maneuverings under such a powerful gaze and how they have circulated their rage against the forces of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Both icons have released some of their angriest expressions on the Internet – Beyoncé’s “Bow Down/I Been On,” coupled with her childhood photo as a teen beauty pageant winner with numerous trophies, and Ms. Hill’s “Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix),” produced under duress at the demand of her record company, SONY, to pay off her fines. In these moments of rage, one might read between the lines and take note of their refusal to be undermined by excessive criticism or to be boxed in by the corporate and mainstream expectations of pop music artists….”

May 13, 2013
My Racist Encounter at the White House Correspondents' Dinner by Seema Jilani for Huffington Post


"…Despite being a native English speaker who was born in New Orleans and a physician who trained at a prestigious institution, all people see is the color of my skin. After this incident, I will no longer apologize, either for my faith or my complexion. It is not my job to convince you to distinguish me from the violent sociopaths that claim to be Muslims, whose terrorism I neither support, nor condone. It is your job. Just like when a disturbed young white man shoots up a movie theatre or a school, it is my job, as someone with a conscience, to distinguish them from others. It’s not my job to plead with you to shake my hand without cringing, nor am I going to applaud you when you treat me with common decency; it’s not an accomplishment. It’s simply the right thing to do. Honestly, it’s not that hard.

This year, Quvenzhané Wallis took the world by storm with her staggering performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. At several award ceremonies, reporters refused to the learn the accurate pronunciation of her name, and one reporter allegedly told Wallis, “I’m gonna call you Annie,” because her name was too difficult to pronounce. If reporters can learn to pronounce Gerard Depardieu and Monique Lhuillier then surely they can take the time to learn how to pronounce Quvenzhané. It’s not hard; it’s just not deemed worthy of your energy because she is someone of color…”

May 12, 2013
Celebrating the Extraordinary Who Are Relegated to Ordinary: A Tribute to Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson

This article, written by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, was originally published on The Feminist Wire.

Nana (Rebecca White Simmons Chapman)
Nana (Rebecca White Simmons Chapman)

Too often, we do not celebrate the extraordinary individuals who, because of their race, gender, and/or socio-economic standing, lived what appeared to be ordinary lives. This year, I am paying homage to my paternal and maternal grandmothers’ lives and legacies. I proudly stand upon the shoulders of my Nanas—Mrs. Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Mrs. Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson—whose lives were remarkable.

My grandmothers grew up in abject poverty in Rock Hill, South Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Nana Chapman was the third of four children born to Jack White, Sr., and Maggie Pagan White. When she left school in the fourth grade to financially support her family by working as a domestic cleaning white people’s homes, she was forced to abandon her dream of becoming a nurse. Alone with limited financial means as a domestic laborer in the 1930s, she moved from South Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when she was 12 years old.  Nana Watson’s formative years were also quite challenging.  She was the 9th child of 10 children born to Mattie Garrett Cranford and Henderson Cranford. She was orphaned early, losing both of her parents as a very young child. Both her paternal grandmother Mrs. Francis Macklin, and paternal aunt, Mrs. Florence Cranford, raised her and her siblings. Nana Watson was an excellent student who completed the 11th grade during the Great Depression.  Never overzealous with their Christian faith, Nanas Chapman and Watson were active and engaged members in their churches—Jones Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church and Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, respectively. Neither woman subscribed to the belief in a vengeful God who would bring His wrath upon those who didn’t follow (human interpretations of) His will. Nana Chapman always taught and believed that “good deeds are their own rewards.”

During World War II, Nana Chapman worked at the Budd Automotive Company, then subsequently began working at Sichek Clothing factory in Philadelphia, where she quickly rose to floor manager. Throughout her tenure at Sichek, she was an active union member and a shop steward.

During that same period, Nana Watson became a pioneer by breaking the virulently racist Jim Crow color line by becoming the first African-American woman to write laundry tickets for Memphis Steam Laundry and Cleaners.  Prior to her, no African-American women worked in this position because it required collecting money from and interacting with white customers during a time when racial segregation was strictly enforced. This type of work was reserved for white women.  African Americans, nevertheless, endured and resisted this U.S.-sanctioned domestic terrorism.

Nana Watson valiantly persevered despite the racism that I can barely imagine, much less stomach, that she endured from most of the white women customers who didn’t want to accept laundry tickets from a “Colored Woman.”  While it was not her intention, she was a trailblazer who broke ground in this field and paved the way for those African-American women who followed her.

With the first African-American President of the United States in his second term, many will probably not view Nana Watson pioneering job as an extraordinary act. However, one need only talk to the surviving elders from her generation and earlier to learn first hand about the horrid impact of the brutal, state and locally inhumane, racist and sexist Jim Crow laws. These were the laws of the Confederate states from 1876 to 1965. Some of the many seminal award-winning works that document a plethora of historical accounts of the era include: Tera Hunter’s To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War, Paula Giddings Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching, Barbara Ransby’s  Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, Danielle Maguire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years: 1954-1963, the Hands on the Freedom Plow:Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC anthologyBlackside’s PBS television series Eyes on the Prize, and Duke University’s Beyond the Veil: African-American Life in the Jim Crow South.  These are a few thoroughly documented references that underscore what Nana and all African-Americans experienced daily during Jim Crow reign. Being the first African American in any type of employment that was his/herstorically reserved for white women and men was no small feat.

And yet, there was no fanfare for the pioneering work of Nana Watson and Nana Chapman primarily because we live in a classist society and the work of laborers, most especially Black women laborers is not valued or respected. They, like so many African-American women of their generation, were unsung and very quiet extraordinary sheroes.

Challenging the racial and gender stereotypes of the 1950s and 60s, Nana Chapman demanded that all strata of society respect her and her family. She was committed to supporting African-American health care professionals, attorneys and other business people throughout her life. She was particularly proud that her two sons’ first doctor was an African-American woman.

In 1962, Nana Chapman was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and was given five years to live. She wasn’t daunted by the prognosis. With her faith in God, along with the unlimited emotional, psychic, and financial support of her second husband, Willie L. Chapman, my grandfather, Nana outlived this diagnosis by 39-years. Over a 30-year span, the illness caused her to be hospitalized on average of every 18-months. She was exposed to an inordinate amount of radiation, which made her bones too brittle to be exposed to extended sunlight; and she was often in excruciating pain. In spite of these major impediments, Nana insisted on and lived a normal life.

In the 1970s, Nana Watson and her second husband, Reverend Granville Watson, established their own cleaning business, which provided quality janitorial services for Hobson-Kerns Realty for many years.  After her divorce, Nana continued providing cleaning services for this and other companies for decades until her retirement at the age of 80.

Both Nanas Chapman and Watson were hard workers who held life long desires and quests for knowledge. They were avid readers with homes filled with books, magazines, and newspapers. Neither woman defined herself in terms of education or paid work. Rather, each saw her quality of life determined by what kind of sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend she was to those she loved.

Long before I had ever heard of and encountered my teacher, mentor, and big sister friend Toni Cade Bambara, Nana Chapman was my teacher and mentor. Until I was 21-years in this journey called life, there was hardly anything that I could not share with her. With the exception of one big secret, I talked to her about almost everything –religion and spirituality, reproductive freedom, politics, my lesbian sexuality, education, and friendships with my peers. Her home was my second home. During my turbulent pre-teen and teenage years, Nana and I would talk on the phone almost daily for hours at a time. She was my “Nana Banana” and I was her “Apple Pie.” I never felt like she didn’t have time for my issues, concerns, thoughts, ideas, and/or fears. For many years she was literally my emotional and psychic lifeline. She never used the words “Black feminist” to describe herself, but she played a major role in teaching me Black feminist principles. She always made it explicitly clear that there were no limits to any goals that a woman sought to achieve.  She would always tell me, “There’s no such thing as ‘can’t,’ Pie.” These conversations played a pivotal role on my current quest to write about and document the struggles of African-American women and other women of color.  With a fourth grade education and a PhD. in life experience, she was my intellectual adviser, my trusted confidante, sought after consultant, and my friend.

Aishah & Nana (Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson)
Aishah & Nana (Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson)

I will not be a revisionist and say that Nana Watson and I were extremely close because we were not. There was deep love and affection shared between us. However, very unfortunately, with the exception of one-year when she came to live with my mother (Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons) and I during my adolescence, we never lived geographically close to each other. Over the years our relationship was really relegated to phone calls and brief visits over holidays or during birthdays. And yet, she always traveled to Philadelphia to attend major milestone events in the lives of her daughter and granddaughter. While she didn’t think that rape was something to be discussed in public or even private, Nana made several financial contributions, which supported the making of my film NO! The Rape Documentary.

Nana had a will power that would not be denied. When she set her mind on something, there really wasn’t anything that you could do to change it. Even if she changed her mind, it was not because someone forced her to do so. As her health declined over the years, she was not aware that she could no longer fully take care of herself.  In her mind’s eye, she was still the same Mrs. Juanita Watson she had always been, just slightly older. I write this because it is difficult to come to grips with the fact that someone who has taken care of you is in need of care. It is often hard to face the sobering aging process. Additionally, it is very challenging to do this work when our aging loved ones don’t believe they are in need of care.

Both of my grandmothers died in the Chinese Astrology year of the snake in 2001 and 2013, respectively. I am moved that they died within a 12-year cycle.  I don’t know what the timing all means. I know that being with both of them in their deaths transformed me as much as knowing them when they were physically alive.

I was alone with Nana Chapman during the last three days of her life in 2001. She beat cancer, but not Alzheimer’s  disease. I rubbed her body, combed her hair, played African-American spirituals and gospel music in rotation, and called upon her ancestors to welcome her. She wasn’t conscious, and yet, she was present. Recognizing that the end of her human form was imminent, I found my voice to share with her the one secret that I kept from her for over 20 years because of spoken loyalty to my parents and unspoken loyalty to my grandfather. I was molested over a period of two years. I don’t know what she absorbed, if anything, during my highly emotional disclosure. What I know is that a shift happened within me, and my incest burden was slightly lighter. I wasn’t with her when she transitioned from this realm to the next.  I left five hours before her last breath. At that time, I didn’t have a full understanding of the process of dying nor did I have a grasp that she was departing. I told myself that I would return to the hospital the next day. Knowing what I know now, I firmly believe that I was afraid to witness her death. I knew she transitioned somewhere between 4:00am - 5:00am on December 22, 2001 because I was awakened by an unexplained loving presence in my bedroom. I knew it was her presence. She was no longer here in the physical form.  When I received the call several hours later, I said to my dad (Michael Simmons), “I know. Nana has passed on.”

Now here I am;

and there I am;

and all I am;

Free to be anywhere at all in the Universe.

~ Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

The experience of being so close and yet, missing her transition sent me on a spiritual quest, which ultimately led me to my practice of vipassana meditation –an invaluable and non-negotiable anchor on my life’s journey.

Only one month ago, I arrived in Memphis during the last 26-hours of Nana Watson’s life. During those sacred hours, I came face to face with the fact that I missed so much with my maternal grandmother. Simultaneously, I also realized that it was not a time for guilt, but a time to support and witness the final stages of her transition into the next realm. I was by her side in deep prayer in her religious (Christian) tradition and in deep meditation in my spiritual tradition. Unlike in 2001 when I was with Nana Chapman, I came prepared to be completely present during Nana Watson’s transition. She was no longer conscious, but I felt her presence. I rubbed and massaged her body and called upon her ancestors to welcome her into the next realm. I shared and reflected upon many things that I’m not comfortable sharing in this article. I practiced Mettā meditation. I played what was perhaps a continuous stream of African-American spirituals and gospel. She made her transition at 4:00AM on April 6, 2013. The song that was playing around the time of her transition was Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Come by Here”— arranged by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. I sat and stood prayerfully and meditatively in silence with Nana Watson’s body while being acutely aware of the universal law of impermanence.

And again, I hear Toni Cade Bambara’s words:

Now here I am;

and there I am;

and all I am;

Free to be anywhere at all in the Universe.

~ The Salt Eaters

About 45-minutes to an hour after her transition, the Hospice nurse, my mother, and I bathed Nana’s body before the undertaker arrived. It was an incredible ritual. During the bathing, I saw an 89-year old version of my own body. I am flesh of her flesh and womb of her womb in this lifetime.

I am grateful that Nana Watson entrusted me with the profound gift to support her crossing over and witness her final hours in the physical form. This gift has left an indelible imprint on me. I am forever changed.

In life and in death, Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson have directly and indirectly impacted my journey called life. I inherited and now walk with their Black feminist warrior legacies

I close with an excerpt of Dr. Delores S. Williams’ timeless words featured in Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles’ edited anthology My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality:

“…Whenever I reflect upon the sources of my spirituality as a Black woman, I think of love, struggle, work, self-sight, justice, and celebration taught to me by so many Black voices, most of them female. For this I continue to be deeply grateful. For this I celebrate the very force of Life itself.”[1]

May Nana Chapman and Nana Watson be peaceful, happy, and fully liberated.

Sadhu. Asé. A(wo)men. Ameen.


[1] Delores S. Williams’ “Sources of Black Female Spirituality: The Ways of ‘the Old Folks’ and ‘Women Writers,’” in My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality, ed. Gloria Wade-Gayles, p. 191

 

May 5, 2013
Aishah Shahidah Simmons joined Spelman College’s Fight to End Sexual Violence on HBCU campuses

I was honored to receive an invitation from Dr. Beverly Guy Sheftall to return to Spelman College on April 25, 2013 to join their fight to address and end sexual violence on Historically Black College and University campuses (HBCU).

With the news about the recent arrest of four Morehouse College students on sexual assault charges, it is explicitly and undeniable clear that now is the time to continue the very difficult dialogue about eradicating rape and rape culture. Make no mistake, rape and other forms of sexual violence are happening on all college campuses across the country. Tragically, there aren’t many “rape free” spaces. In a culturally specific context, however, the horrible combination of racism and misogyny often results in a deafening silence when Black men rape Black women. This is evident on too many HBCU campuses.

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Ramesh Kathandhi and Aishah Shahidah Simmons (photo: Lani Jones)

On the evening of April 25, 2013, we were small in number in Spelman College’s Cosby Auditorium. And yet, we had a powerful post-NO! The Rape Documentary discussion about breaking the silence about sexual violence and ending rape culture on our college campuses, in our families, our communities, and society at large. I was very fortunate to co-facilitate the dialogue with Ramesh Kathandhi, who is the internship coordinator at Men Stopping Violence. Drs. Beverly Daniel Tatum (President of Spelman College), Darnita Killian (Vice President of Student Affairs), and Kimberly Ferguson (Dean of Students) were also in attendance and expressed a commitment to tackle this issue head on with the students.

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Aishah Shahidah Simmons (middle) with Drs. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Cynthia Neal Spence, Lani Jones, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Darnita Killian

We will continue and broaden this dialogue at Spelman College in the fall 2013 and in the spring 2014.  Stay tuned for details when they become available.

Infinite gratitude to Drs. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Cynthia Neal Spence (Associate Professor of Sociology and Trustee of the Board), and Spelman College’s Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC) for their tireless and relentless work to not allow (the too often silent) rape epidemic go unnoticed, unchecked, and/or unaddressed. Founded in 1981 by Dr. Guy-Sheftall, the WRRC has been long-term supporter of NO! The Rape Documentary from conception (1994) to completion (2006) and distribution (present day).

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