Sometimes incidents like the recent Trayvon Martin killing become opportunities for social justice and civil rights groups to mobilize mass meetings and demonstrations that challenge the continued pervasiveness of racialized violence. It saddens me that We live in such a violent society that it takes massive amounts of angry people to prompt investigations around such injustices. My sadness is compounded by the frustration i experience when conversations and demands stimulated by the violence against Black youth and adults are framed narrowly due to (hetero)sexism [click HERE for an explanation of heterosexism], regionalism, class, and many other oppressive “common sense” ideologies that guide our daily thinking.
Recently, filmmaker and cultural worker, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, published a series of articles challenging the narrowly constructed framework for understanding and reacting to violence perpetuated against Black bodies. Her series questions why We (social justice oriented people of all backgrounds) tend to react with righteous indignation in the wake of the assaults, incarcerations, and murders of assumed heterosexual Black men, but do not place the same energy in addressing assaults, incarcerations, and murders of Black women and girls, trans folk, and queer Black (wo)men.
I must point out that she seemed to hesitate even raise to the question, because it might not be “the right time” (during Sexual Assault Awareness Month) and because by suggesting that We should equally regard all violence against innocent people, she might experience some backlash. BACKLASH. Why? Well, because seemingly heterosexual men have a value in this society, even amongst justice seeking and peace loving people. There is much more to her articles, and i strongly encourage everyone to read and discuss them.
I want to use this space to briefly reflect on Simmons’ suggestion that We rethink the idea that We can only focus on one (i.e. the most important) issue at a time as We try to create a more humane world. As i read the articles, i began to think about my own perception of who/what is “worthy” of my active participation. With whom do i speak in solidarity? Why? I quickly realized that i perpetuate some of the problems Simmons writes about in her articles. For example, i used to participate in workshops dedicated to encouraging men and boys to become active agents in the struggle against gendered violence. However, even in those spaces (some for which i was facilitator), it was almost impossible for me to understand (and even care about) how sexual assault against women and girls (or rape culture more broadly) is connected at the roots with homophobia and transphobia. When i finally accepted that and became an open ally to queer and trans folks, i noticed more connections and silences.
The most recent one with which i’ve struggled and am thinking through deals with region: of the recent incidents that gained significant attention, where did these incidents take place? How did the location factor into the response? Interestingly, the incidents that generated the most widespread and thorough responses (from what i could tell) took place in the south. For example, on the March 21, 2012 an off-duty police officer, Dante Servin, shot and killed Rekia Boyd in Chicago. Less than 2,000 people have signed the petition to prosecute Servin for murdering Boyd, a situation that is frigteningly similar to the petition on behalf of Ms. Nafissatou Diallo (New York)[see “Who Will Revere US” part 2].
I am not suggesting that region alone determines the reaction. Instead, region, gender, sexuality, age, and a whole list of other factors work together to produce certain responses in each of us. Those responses are engineered by a misguided, but pervasive, framework that creates a hierarchy of worth and determines whose oppression is more important. Because of that, We’re likely to see a greater response to injustices against Black men and boys than Black women and girls, regardless of what region they are located (Think Howard Morgan [Chicago] and Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. [White Plains, NY]).
It is time (really, it’s way past time) that We (social justice oriented people of all backgrounds) understand oppression as web of injustices that depend on each other for their survival. Therefore, when We address racial profiling (for example), We should understand how it affects people disproportionately depending on what their presumed class position, apparent gender and sexuality, locale, and more. The problems are multidimensional and our approach to addressing them should be as comprehensive as possible.
– Much Love