does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture?
ETA: i want to be careful not to completely dismiss whatever is happening here. as i’ve said before, there’s next to NO feminist organizing in michigan, and whatever is happening, as a person who WANTS feminist organizing to happen, i respectfully with the intention of moving towards a holistic feminist movement in michigan, would like to point out that detroit is a majority black city.
and i’ll leave it at that.
These interventions that you’re making about space, race, violence, and direct action reminds me of work done in the late ’70s in Boston. It’s been a while since I researched this and I may get some details not quite right, so any feminist historians out there who want to add/edit, feel free.
In 1978-79, there were six rapes and two attempted rapes of white women in white Boston neighborhoods (Boston was very racially segregated at the time). These attacks got a lot of media attention and the criminal justice system heavily prioritized the investigation. Willie Sanders, a black man whose description did not match the descriptions of the attacker and whom the victims were unable to identify, was arrested for all of the rapes, which was heavily criticized by Black activists. Due to lack of evidence, Sanders was acquitted. The predominantly white Take Back the Night organizers marched through Boston neighborhoods to protest, so you had a situation where white women chanted the slogan “stop rape” as they marched through neighborhoods where predominantly non-white people lived. Suffice it to say, local black women were not feelin it.
In 1979, twelve black women and one white woman were murdered in black Boston neighborhoods Roxbury and Dorchester. The police said that most of the women were “prostitutes” and that the cases were not linked as a way to justify the de-prioritization of the murders by the police and the media.
The Combahee River Collective were meeting and organizing. They responded to a fucked up response to the murders by black men who recommended that black women “stay at home,” and produced a pamphlet in 1979 about the murders entitled “Six Black Women: Why Did They Die?” that challenged and shifted the discourse about the violence. Then different activist women called a meeting at Women, Inc, a community-based substance abuse program for women and their children in Roxbury. White women came from Boston domestic violence programs, Take Back the Night organizers, and other groups. Black women from the Combahee River Collective joined the organizing effort. Other black women, white women, Latinas, and Asian women were there. Not all the women of color identified as a feminist, mostly because of the racism they experienced from feminists. However, despite a history of arguments, the activist women did have previous opportunities to build occasional coalitions across racial/geographic lines for specific projects, such as the Free Angela Davis campaign. So, they worked together when they had to, but it wasn’t always a great experience.
The group eventually developed into the Coalition for Women’s Safety, a multiracial women’s activist group with the goals of publicizing the murders, the police inaction, the danger to women, and the racism/sexism of those in power. But in order for this process to reflect the race and gender analysis, they had to figure out a process of acknowledging and reflecting on difference rather than pretending it wasn’t there and that everyone was “sisters.”
First the coalition shifted the center of organizing from white college town Cambridge to black neighborhood, Roxbury with black women leading the campaign. This helped address the racial geography of the work. Instead of white women leading an anti-violence march in black neighborhoods, Roxbury and Dorchester, black women led the march in these neighborhoods. They made sure the slogans and the speakers were relevant to the community itself, and the service organizations they listed on their brochures were primarily based in communities of color. White women intentionally positioned themselves as support people rather than leaders, organizing a support group called the Support Group for Women’s Safety. The principle was to not center themselves in the political action. Here’s a quote: “[We are] concerned feminists, predominantly white, who have organized a resource network for use by groups working against violence against women, with priority to Black and Third World Women. … [Our purpose is to] provide resources and supportive services to communities working on the issue of violence against women in response to specific requests.” (italics added!)
I’m sure this story is a lot messier than my summary, but my point is that people had to intentionally transform their method in order to meaningfully address the racial and geographic dimensions of the crisis. In fact, I kind of think of this work as the difference between an uncritical sisterhood politic with a more coalitional politic. I mean, it’s not that I think white women always have to be positioned as the support in a knee jerk kind of way, but more like you’ve been saying: have we done our work analyzing the situation of the local community, with an attention of who they are (taking into account demographic, displacement, history, etc). What relationships do we need to build? What agenda needs to be prioritized? What strategy needs to be implemented? What would happen if SlutWalk took a more coalitional approach that was more responsive to local concerns that tend to be marginalized b/c of racism?