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ICYMI: The Feminist Wire’s forum on race, racism and anti-racism within feminism

The Feminist Wire just wrapped up a ten day forum on race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism. If you haven’t already, the forum is really worth delving into. In the introductory post, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Heather Laine Talley explained its origin:

Perhaps in this twenty-four hour news cycle culture, the horrid sexist and racist sexualization of nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis both at the Academy Awards and in Twittersphere is now old news. And maybe for her sake, it should be. 

White feminists’ silence in the face of racism is old news too, but feminism’s troubled relationship with race and racism is something to keep talking about. It was the reaction to Tressie McMillan’s analysis of white feminists’ response to the attacks on Quvenzhané Wallis that ignited our interest in hosting this Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism. To be sure, The Feminist Wire has been engaged in these conversations since our founding, but what McMillan’s piece noted was the yawning vacuum of public response to misogyny directed at a Black girlchild.

Many white feminists jettisoned the opportunity to think about silence as racism. Instead, they cited examples of white women’s response to defend against the critique of white silence. While it is true that some white feminists publicly responded, the very impulse to deny a pattern of silence sidesteps critical feminist and anti-racist work. The legacy of feminism has taught us to ask: in what ways am I oppressed and marginalized? In thinking about race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism, an equally important question is: in what ways do I oppress and marginalize?

Following the forum with that critical question in mind—”in what ways do I oppress and marginalize?”—has been both challenging and enriching. Here is a (non-comprehensive) collection of some of the pieces, but the entire forum is highly recommended reading.

The Tragedy of a Failed Politic By Farah Tanis, Kalima DeSuze, and Nikki Patin

When have Black feminists been able to rely on their white comrades in earnest?  When have we been able to rest assured that white feminists would show up fully armored, ready to challenge even the most egregious forms of racialized-sexism?  Has there ever been a time in history when Black women have not had to pull themselves from real-on-the-ground battles to defend human and civil rights, including the right to bodily and personal safety, in order to step away, to educate, and to ensure our white feminist comrades engage in authentic alliances on our behalf?

You Become an Anti-Racist Feminist By Cori Mattli

And then one night, there is a dinner and discussion at your house–a class project about immigration and the media. You arrange copies of magazine covers, like place mats, on the dining room table for discussion–they show Latino people, the shadows of their eyes dark. The illustrated faces squished into hard stares and grimaces. Their creators, through ink and gloss, try to communicate to you (you young white American woman you) that these faces wish you harm. You think that this sort of media does not affect you.

Un-Raced in Transit : Colorblindness and the Stakes of Speaking Up By Marlaina H. Martin

My reality is that this world remains one in which my black skin and feminine attributes connote almost every move that I make as spectacular. There have been many times in which I have felt trapped by the paradox of liberalism – on the one hand, I am framed as an ‘equal stakeholder’ at the table of social (mis)givings, able to determine my own destiny and to assume access to the same possibilities and resources as anyone else. On the other hand, gasps and whispers swirl around me as I walk into many of those very places claimed to be open for those willing to work hard and persevere.

Black Feminist and Dominican: How Black Male Writers Shape My Practice By Rosa Cabrera

I count up the strikes I have against me. Female. Daughter of immigrant parents. Survivor of domestic violence, sexual manipulation. Queer. I think about the way all of these markers inform each other, intersect. I am told by some self-proclaiming feminists and critical race theoreticians that in more ways than others, I’m nearing the top rung in some form of oppression olympics. But instead, it feels somehow, like I’m losing.

Building a Racial Justice Praxis By Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz

Maintaining a rigorous racial justice praxis that is based on learning, self-reflection, action and more self-reflection; valuing the necessity of discomfort when the struggle is honest and accountable; understanding that political alignment is almost never based on identity but rather on shared values and a commitment to collective liberation.

Silence Does Not Equal Absence: Lessons from Arizona By Wendy Cheng

I do think that there are moments and situations when we are obligated to act and speak out, and can understand why many people felt that Wallis’s degradation by The Onion was one of them. But I interpret reactions to the treatment of Wallis as an instance in which we cannot assume that silence equals absence and consent.

Tilting at Windmills By Rebecca Miriam

No, goddamnit, I’m pissed. I’m not a special snowflake who clutches her pearls because someone has hurt her “feelings.” This is not about personal comfort zones. I’m freaking angry because someone is a racist. And so should you be. This is not a personal wellness issue.

No Easy Walk to ‘Total Freedom’ By Josh Cerretti and Theresa Warburton

What does it mean for a white person living in a white supremacist society to label themselves an ‘anti-racist feminist’? Does it surrender control over the meaning of the term ‘feminist’ (unmodified) to those who tacitly support white supremacy? Does it again re-center the good intentions of white people and their need to be validated by the people of color in whose oppression they are complicit?

You can check out the entire forum over at The Feminist Wire.

Making Safer Spaces for Survivors: SAAM and Beyond

As we are nearing the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), I have been thinking about the organization and implementation of sexual violence activism.  From large-scale demonstrations like Take Back the Night, to small coalition meetings, it is crucial to keep the experience of sexual violence central to activism in SAAM and throughout the year.

There is no doubt that we live in a culture that permits and excuses sexual violence and perpetuates the suffering associated with victimization (“rape culture”).  While it’s helpful to point out the problems associated with “rape culture,” it is so very important to think about how we, as activists, inhabit spaces dedicated to combating “rape culture” to make these spaces fully supportive for survivors of violence.  Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of ways to improve activist events to ensure they can be productive in combating “rape culture” while providing support for those who have experienced sexual violence.

1.       Ground Rules: Lay out some ground rules, write them down, talk about them, and make them visible. Ground rules will look different for various events/groups and should be based on a discussion with all participants.  Come up with them organically with your group. Covering ground rules first will help “break the ice” and to form a group consensus about how the event/meeting will proceed.

2.       Safety and Accessibility:  Make sure to plan ahead and think of ways to make the space more accessible and safe.  Think about the place the event will be held in. Is it accessible to everyone? Are the exits marked? How is the room set up? Is the event private? One of the most common feelings after experiencing trauma is being hyper-aware of the space around you. Make your space as physically comfortable and safe as possible for everyone.

3.       Be present:  It is really important to be present in discussions about sexual violence. Think about what being “not present” might look like (i.e. texting or using other devices throughout the meeting, drinking alcohol, getting up to do something non-essential, etc). Try your best to be present and look present out of respect for the sensitivity of the subject matter and to honor the courage it takes to talk about it. When talking about something sensitive like sexual violence it is totally okay to want to dissociate, or “space out,” and you probably aren’t the only person feeling that way.  However, be mindful of what your dissociation may look like to someone else.  Don’t let it be mistaken for apathy. And if you need step out for a bit to process what you are feeling, go for it.

4.       Check your privilege:  Think about what is informing your knowledge of sexual violence.  While your experiences may have directed your knowledge of sexual violence, it is important to understand that not everyone had those same experiences, and others may have different ones.  Use this time to learn from others about how dynamic of a problem sexual violence is.

5.       Speaking: Is everyone being heard? While everyone may not want to speak at your event, if someone does choose to speak, make sure their voice is heard. If someone says something that you believe is not appropriate, speak up if you feel comfortable enough to do so (chances are you are not alone in how you are feeling!).

6.     Process: Depending on the event (large scale event vs. small scale meeting / public vs. private) consider reflecting on the event with your fellow organizers and participants.  Use this opportunity to think of ways to improve and incorporate new ideas.

7.     Make support available: If there are advocates with experience working with sexual violence survivors at your event that would like to volunteer their support, let everyone know! Introduce them and explain their background and training. If possible, designate a place where the advocate can be available to talk. Also, try to find some local and national advocacy groups to share with the group. Here are some great resources:

NYC

National

What is essential to sexual violence activism is to create a space where survivors of violence can feel like they can participate and be in a safe place.  For many survivors who have suffered the trauma of sexual violence, engaging in activism may prove difficult. By making these spaces more supportive, survivors’ agency will be fostered, and these voices, which are so important to this activism, will be heard.

On ‘Free Angela & All Political Prisoners’

Directed by Shola Lynch, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners details Angela Davis’s struggle for justice and the worldwide movement that helped deliver it.

The story is familiar to many. In 1970, Davis was charged with the murder of a California judge and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list after going into hiding—she was found in New York City and arrested less than two months later. With the full force of federal and state governments out to destroy her, a conviction and death sentence was near certain.

Lynch offers a beautiful, complex portrait of Davis during this time. Skewering the likes of Ronald Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, Lynch’s filmmaking is of the Hollywood-narrative style, tragic with a suspenseful intensity—and ultimately triumphant. The hero wins; the villains lose. Davis is cleared of all charges by an all-white jury, and the United States criminal justice system sets her free in a sort-of Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington moment.  American ideals of justice save the day. The system works!

Except when it doesn’t. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of the 2011 execution of Troy Davis. Another Davis, another movement—but this time, as with so many others, the state won.

Angela Davis has always been at the forefront of the prison abolition movement. Last year I saw her speak at Removing the Bars, a conference at Columbia University right after the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Davis told us that we must not “exceptionalize” Trayvon, for the problems of violence and racism are structural, sanctioned by the state and by society. The sad truth is that the death of Trayvon Martin, or Kimani Gray, or Sean Bell is much more common than the victory of Angela Davis.

Therein lies what the documentary fails to deliver: that the brutality of the United States and its prison industrial complex (a term that was actually coined by Davis in 1997) have worsened—exponentially in fact—since Angela Davis’s release. While watching the film, I feared that the representation of a fair system not only erases the reality for so many but also obscures the fact that things have actually gotten much worse.

And yet, with this criticism in mind, Lynch’s film is still necessary—it represents a moment when mass movements for social justice prevailed. It represents victory and hope for radical politics. We need these moments, and we need Angela Davis. And we need Shola Lynch to tell these stories. As Lynch, a remarkable activist in her own right, told The Root this month,

Talking to Angela Davis or anybody who grew up under heinous racial segregation, their parents taught them who they were, their history and their worth. With integration, parents thought everybody was in the best school possible, but black kids weren’t learning about blackness. Who wants to be a slave and then beaten? And in the general narrative of American history, things happen to blacks, and we take it, but that’s not the true story or what young black people need to hear about themselves.

We’re part of the fabric of American history. We are survivors, and characters like Angela Davis help us remember that.

Lynch’s mission to tell these stories (as she also did in her 2005 documentary on Shirley Chisholm) is crucial to resurrecting social and cultural histories that help us understand and contextualize our contemporary politics. And since, though divorced from our current context, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners presents accurate and honest documentation on how and why the Free Angela movement succeeded, the film offers a hope that many activists need. Seeing Angela Davis win her freedom, against the historical odds, and not without struggle, reminds us that radical change is possible. And with the feelings of hopelessness that often accompany political activism, a renewed sense of possibility is nothing short of exhilarating.

To learn more about Angela Davis’s prison abolition activism, visit Critical Resistance’s website, an organization she helped found. Davis has also written several books on the topic, such as Are Prisons Obsolete? and Abolition Democracy: Prisons, Torture, and Empire.

Further reading on the United States’ Prison Industrial Complex:
Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex by Angela Davis (1998)
Words Matter: Thoughts on Language & Abolition by Critical Resistance
Drug War Statistics from Drug Policy Alliance
Jim Crow Still Exists in America: An Interview with Michelle Alexander on Fresh Air
Throwaway People by Liliana Segura

Brooklyn Weekend Zine Roundup!

This weekend For the Birds will tabling at the 2nd annual Brooklyn Zine Fest! Stop by and see us at Public Assembly [7 N. 6th St. in Williamsburg] from 11am-6pm.

From their website: “With more than 60 tablers and over 1,500 attendees our first year, the Brooklyn Zine Fest is NYC’s premiere zine event. The event has a festival atmosphere, like a craft fair but with printed matter.  Browse the tables, flip through some zines, meet the people behind them & discover something new!  ALL AGES and open to everyone, though you must be 21 to order a drink at the bar.”

Exciting new additions to our distro that we will have available include new zines by Lauren Denitzio and Cynthia Schemmer.

The Birdsong Collective will also be tabling at the fest with their amazing and long-running literary compilation zine, “Birdsong.”  Check out their Kickstarter campaign to help fund the printing of their 5-Year-Anniversary Issue!  There are still 10 days left to donate and they do amazing work to support independent artists and writers in the Brooklyn area.

See ya Sunday!
FTB

A statement about safer spaces policies

We at For The Birds have been aware of recent discussions surrounding whether or not the Anarchist Book Fair would have a Safer Spaces policy, and how that would be enforced. As a group that has tabled at that event in the past, and been a part of that extended community, we wanted to express our concern for and awareness of the initial avoidance of stating a Safer Space policy and working towards community accountability. Across the board, For The Birds encourages and supports having Safer Spaces policies whenever possible.

We believe that sexual assault and abuse, within feminist and radical circles especially, are issues that need to be acknowledged and addressed head-on. We believe in doing more than stating that oppressive behaviors will not be tolerated and in having structures in place to help participants understand what that means and how those expectations will be addressed should an issue arise. Through our events and advocacy, we aim to create spaces that support active listening, respect, and a commitment to intersectional feminism that does not rely on state-sponsored institutions or the police-state. We understand that these goals are no small feat, but we are confident that through awareness, dialogue, and action it is possible to foster and organize events that are safer and respectful for all who choose to attend.

The Coalition for Safer Spaces has more information on these issues on their website, which can be found here.

The Circle of 6 App: A Technological Helper for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

**Trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault and dating violence**

Call me late to the game on this one, but as a single woman going on blind dates with internet dudes in New York City, when I learned about the Circle of 6 app, I was elated.  Created in 2012, Circle of 6 seeks to “prevent violence before it happens” by using GPS and SMS group messaging to help friends stay in touch with each other.  It was born from the genius mind of filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman as a result of Vice President Biden’s Apps Against Abuse challenge for inventors to use the latest technological advances to help prevent dating violence on college campuses.

I had spent several years as an emergency department patient advocate for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.  Having also experienced both forms of abuse personally, I was entering the dating world already all too familiar with just how quickly my safety could be threatened.  Less tech savvy systems I used included placing a friend at a date location as a “plant” (often awkward and not always available), texting friends and family my location and “If you don’t hear from me by X time, please call me,” (cumbersome and if the dates went well, I usually forgot to check in, unnecessarily alarming my Dating Helpers), and of course, carrying my trusty pepper spray with me at all times.  But in reality, there is no substitute for being able to communicate effectively and quickly with 6 of my friends in the event that a situation becomes unsafe.  Just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I thought I’d try to keep spreading the word about how this app works, and how it’s been faring in the hands of users.

This app allows you to choose four options that you can communicate to your friends in just two clicks; one to open the app and one to indicate which option you would like to choose: The “Car” icon signals to your circle “Come get me, I need help getting home safely” and uses GPS to provide a map of where you are.  The “Phone” icon requests an interruption phonecall from the circle, and the “Chat” icon sends a message that reads, “I’m looking up information about healthy relationships and respect. Just letting you know,” and provides links to loveisrespect.org and whereisyourline.org, thus keeping them informed but not asking for immediate response.  The “Exclamation point” icon links to national hotline numbers and a local number that each user can customize.  A more extensive video on how to use Circle of 6 can be found here.

Schwartzman, the app’s creator, states: “The essence of the app is meeting people where they are, no victim-blaming and no judgment. We were very careful every step of the way to check all the language, and in our statements to the media I never wanted it to be like, “Well, why would a girl put herself in that situation,” because that’s the rhetoric you hear so much around sexual assault with this age group, and frankly, any age group. Girls are out late. College students party. College students drink. And the bricks really fall down hard if a young woman is sexually assaulted under those conditions. And having been raped in a similar way, in a very college-y situation (it was someone I knew, we had been drinking a bit), that doesn’t take away that it was totally and utterly a rape. So much of risk reduction has this undertone of victim blaming, so we wanted to be very sensitive.

From Mother Jones: “The Circle of 6 app isn’t for everyone—you need an iPhone, for one, and some nice, supportive friends—but it could help teenagers and twentysomethings talk about abuse and sexual assault. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the US have been raped at some point in their lives. More than half of female rape survivors of all ages reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40 percent by an acquaintance.

From Bitch Magazine: “Of course this app is far from perfect—it doesn’t make a direct connection to sexual assault prevention beyond providing hotline numbers, and I have a hard time imagining a college student (or anyone) sending a text message to friends that reads “I’m looking up information about healthy relationships and respect. Just letting you know.” However, it does reinforce the notion that sexual assault and violence prevention is a community effort (combine it with your Hollaback! app for maximum effectiveness), and the more we send that message, the better.

Feminspire notes: “Why is this app so important? Mace is for cases when you’re at a point when you need to cause temporary harm. Rape whistles only work when others are around to hear them. . . This app starts before. . . as soon as you start feeling unsafe in any situation, all you have to do is pretend to be fiddling with your phone, when really you’re planning your escape, a safe exit.

Key critiques of the app seem to be that it is, of course, only available to those with smartphones, and also does not allow you to enter less than 6 contacts.  Many people complain of not having 6 friends that they would feel comfortable reaching out to in an unsafe situation, but entering less than 6 contacts leaves the app inoperable.  (See the comments of this LifeHacker article for more venting about the app’s shortcomings).  Additionally, not everyone has a friend with a car who could offer a safe ride home; especially here in the city.   However, while the app may not be perfect, for those who are able and inclined to use it, it goes a very long way in both providing tangible support and creating dialogue around a very serious issue that can often be difficult to discuss.

The app is currently in version 1.2 and is available for iPhone 3G and later models (including iPhone 5), and Android (2.1 and up).

For The Birds Joins Storify

In an effort to get our social media ducks in a row, we’ve taken the exciting step of joining Storify, which will allow us to aggregate social media content from around the web, and highlight the conversations we’re following. Here’s our very first “story.” We hope that this will serve as a tool that allows us to curate and share the online discussions around feminism and activism that we’re following, among other things. Enjoy!

A few days ago while skimming my morning RSS feeds, I read a news article about a soccer player being banned for giving the Nazi salute while celebrating a goal.  I know little about sports and even less about the specific sport football (US soccer), but the title of the BBC article has haunted me: “Who, What, Why: Can you accidentally do a Nazi salute?”

Giorgos Katidis. image from guardian.co.uk

My mind keeps drifting to this question of intention, meaning, and interpretation.  A few years ago I had an argument about a similar, albeit more straightforward, issue of the use of the swastika by punks in 1970s England.  For the umpteenth time I was reading Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: the Meaning of Style (of which there is so much to say, but I’m trying to stay focused!).  In the book Hebdige argues that in being used by punks, the swastika “lost its ‘natural’ meaning-fascism,” “was worn because it was guaranteed to shock,” and “[t]he signifier (swastika) had been willfully detached from the concept (Nazism) it conventionally signified…its primary value and appeal derived precisely from its lack of meaning” (p 177).

punks in the UK wearing swastikas, 1970s. images from http://www.punk77.co.uk

I was discussing the book with a fellow student who agreed with Hebdige, that the swastika was signifying shock and not actual Nazism.  I disagreed with him, namely, and reason I say this argument was more straightforward than the soccer player, because the context in which the punks were displaying the symbol was in England roughly 35 years after the Blitz.  Maybe their parents and certainly their grandparents, experienced the bombing, death, and destruction.

the blitz. images from www.english.illinois.edu , www.nmaw.org

The interpretation of the symbol by others, the signified, is inarguably Nazis, Hitler, fascism.  As far as the punk’s intention, the symbol is not a ‘rhetoric of crisis‘ but a rhetoric of fascism, no matter its bricolage context.  Yes the symbol caused ‘shock,’ but it was a particular type of shock.  Other symbols like unnaturally dyed hair and PVC clothing also caused shock.  While perhaps not active in Nazi groups, there was purpose in the use of the symbol, its ‘natural’ meaning was being evoked.  Wielding this signifier demonstrates there is no absence, or ignorance, of meaning.  To have clear, personal ties to such a political signifier indicates a specific kind of violence and hostility.

more punks. images from www.punk77.co.uk , http://www.acc.umu.se

While I feel similarly about the recent football incident, I believe my unfamiliarity with the various factors is part of why I feel it is more complex. The player has claimed 1. that he was pointing to friends, then 2. that he did not know what it meant.  His coach has said “He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it, without knowing what it means.”  But is that even possible?  Why has he given different explanations to interpret the symbol?  Where would he have seen the symbol out of its ‘natural’ context?

I am aware that the sport, as many others, is rife with gender and race issues and it is sometimes entwined with neo Nazism.  I’m also aware that while those of us with radical leanings bask in Greek anarchist riot porn, the country also has a rising neo Nazi contingent in the Golden Dawn party.  In the US, it has become widespread and commonplace to use politically charged symbols with ambivalence and for consumption, the ultimate ‘defusion’ of the symbol.  In addition, I find it interesting to think of this symbol temporarily embodied becoming permanent in film and media.

white celebrities embodying racist stereotypes of cultures that are not their own. images from http://www.nativenews.net, bitchmagazine.org, stream.aljazeera.com

In this case, the player has been banned from the national team, but would still be able to ‘go pro.’  I feel somewhat settled in my belief that no, this player could not have done an accidental Nazi salute.  Yet, I teach young adults and find myself confounded by their simultaneous abundance and dearth of existing knowledge.  When paired with the proliferation in transformation of the political to the apolitical, I am troubled the answer to such a question could possibly be ‘yes’.

symbols being used by celebrities who either do not understand or do not care as to their significance. images from www.sodahead.com, www.bet.com, www.celebuzz.com

*Note on the images I’ve used:  In placing these images next to one another I do not mean to infer equivalency between them.  They are merely images I believe demonstrate the use of symbols packed with politicized meaning.  

 

On “Rape Culture” & Sexual Violence


Video & Editing: Adriano Contreras

Check out this talk from a recent event sponsored by the International Socialist Organization & the NYU Feminist Society

SPEAKER:
Jen Roesch – is an activist and organizer with the International Socialist Organization. She has written extensively and spoken about women’s reproductive rights, the war on Black women, rape culture, as well as on the Occupy Wall Street movement, Marxism and more.

SOHO20 Fellowship and upcoming events

SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery has announced their call for fellowship applications, deadline March 1st. The gallery supports the work of women artists through exhibitions and public programming. All women artists working in any medium are welcome to apply.

The gallery is also teaming up with the Feminist Art Project (TPAF) and the College Art Association Annual Conference 2013 to present two events next month! Below are the details for an exciting weekend of events dedicated to feminism and art.

February 16 @ The Brooklyn Museum – Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium
TPAF@CAA Day of Panels
10am – 5:30pm // free and open to the public
Organized by Catherine Morris, Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.
The event features an impressive roster of artists, curators and critics in conversation surrounding feminism within art institutions, their archival practices, and more.

The symposium will focus on the intersections of feminist and institutional practices, asking how institutions have integrated feminist perspectives into their long term curatorial, collections, and programmatic objectives. Sessions will examine how the museum as a quasi-public space has and continues to negotiate representations of sexuality and gender; how institutions can be “queered” to become more inclusive and less normative, and how feminism may impact institutions in the long term through collection plans and mission statements. There will be a special focus on the role of the institutional archive as a platform particularly conducive to a feminist voice. 

You can see the full schedule of events here. 

February 17 @ SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery – 547 West 27th St, Suite 301, New York, NY
A Conversation on Performative Art: Women Redrawing/Performance
1pm // free and open to the public

Performance by Aphrodite Navab followed by a discussion moderated by Kathleen Wentrack. Speakers: Aphrodite Desiree Navab, Kathleen Wentrack, and others.
In conjunction with Soho20’s Women Redrawing the World Stage exhibition.