Tag Archives: violence

On Ferguson

I’ve hesitated to write about the events in Ferguson, MO for a few reasons. The first is that I have a lot of emotions, and that can be hard to sort through to write something clear and concise. But the feels are real, and I keep starting to compose this in my head, so obviously it needs to come out. The second reason is that this is not my story to tell, and I hesitate to make my voice heard over the folks that are truly affected, both in Ferguson and all over the country every day. So let me start by saying that I am writing about this topic as a white feminist ally. My experiences with gender discrimination make me empathetic, but they do not afford me authority to speak about racial discrimination. I cannot know the true depths of pain and anger that communities of color live with. Their words are paramount, and you should 100% go read this, this, this, and especially this, this and this.

The day after they announced there would be no trial I sat in my office, reading. I have read quite a bit about the shooting, the aftermath, and the effect it all has had. From my office in the Financial District, I read about the emotional and psychic pain felt in the community and I read about the callousness that some folks feel towards those people. From my office, overlooking the new World Trade Center, I thought bitterly about how lucky I am and about how uncaring and cruel the world can be. And even as I continued to read, becoming evermore angry and sad, I knew that my pain was nothing compared to the folks on the ground in that community, grieving their slain child and fighting against a system that was never meant for them, that was built on the very idea of their inhumanity.

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Black Lives Matter. You shouldn’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ because some lives, particularly white lives (and more specifically hetero-white-male lives) already matter and everyone knows they matter. It’s important to specifically say Black Lives Matter because black bodies are seen, by the state, as more expendable and dangerous than other bodies. Replacing Black with All is like saying that you think all lives are devalued in the same way, and this is not the case.

Privilege is a hard thing for a lot of people to comfortably grasp. It is hard for me to talk about my white privilege because I hate that it’s real, and because (obviously) I love a number of incredible black and brown people and it makes me ill to think about the personal and institutional ways they’ve been hurt because of racism. But acknowledging my privilege is essential. It allows me to better empathize, and without acknowledgment and empathy the conversation is not honest. Here is a classic and wonderful essay on privilege that we all should read and reflect upon.

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Racism is a feminist issue not only because it affects women of color. It is a feminist issue because structural violence and oppression must be dismantled in all forms. Racism, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and corporate greed, they are all interwoven. We must fight them all if we indeed believe in social justice. Black women are leading the protests in Ferguson, on the front lines and keeping this movement alive. Black women have always been an integral part of the civil rights movement, despite being overwritten by their male counterparts. Another example of how racism and patriarchy overlap and entwine.

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And we must believe that these issues are both structural and personal. If you do not believe that racism exists in the very foundation and fibers of our country, then you need to wake up and read more. This country was founded on stolen land and the death of an indigenous culture, and then built on the backs of black bodies that were enslaved, degraded, and hated. This hatred did not end with emancipation, and our educational system, housing laws, pop culture and police tactics are still laden with racist policies and attitudes. Not to mention the mass incarceration of black bodies. The deck is stacked. To say otherwise is to uphold the idea that if black folks just worked hard enough they could have the American dream, and that their communities are violent and impoverished because they as a people are inherently violent and impoverished. Those lies are gross, and perpetuated by white culture to relieve our own guilt and justify our discrimination.

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I do not believe that a kid deserves to be shot down in the streets for petty theft, for being tall and ‘threatening’, or for being black. Michael Brown was 18, still full of youth and potential. The loss of that potential is tragic, especially when taken in alongside the lost potential of other black folks who were murdered as part of our racist American history. I believe that any police officer who uses lethal force should always be subject to a trial. Fuck a grand jury. Police should be held to a higher standard, as they are acting as attendants of their communities, sworn to protect and serve. And if you yourself, as a white person, have never had a negative experience with cops or the justice system, I urge you to consider that as evidence that the system is not only racist, but working as designed.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Furthermore I believe that the militarization of the police is an act of war against the American people. I believe that our state perpetrates violence on its own people each and every day under the guise of ‘protect and serve’ and also under the guise of state sanctioned war. I believe that guns have no place in homes or on our streets, and the police shouldn’t have them. Other countries manage just fine without them. The continued killing of children, of people of color, and yes even of criminals (who deserve a trial at the very least) disgusts and disturbs me. Even when a whole group of white children, and they were rich white children, were gunned down in their elementary school, we did nothing. That level of apathy, the fact that we’ve allowed our elected representatives to be bought so fully, leaves me speechless.

Gun control activists march on the NRA offices on Capitol Hill on Tuesday

I think about how women’s bodies are written as a site of out-of-control sexuality, and how we locate the shame and guilt of sex in all female-bodied persons. And then I think about how we criminalize the black body, and locate the fear of violence and chaos there. And I want to stop labeling bodies, and stop criminalizing and dehumanizing bodies. I condemn violence in all forms but do not and cannot condemn this community’s actions. I will never know how it feels to live my entire life with the burden of state mandated racism. I will never hear the daily comments, never live with a police force that targets my body and my family. I will never live with the fear of an authority that claims to protect you, and I have never watched my son/friend/brother/neighbor lie in the street for 4 hours in the late afternoon, shot dead for no good reason, knowing that justice was an unlikely ending to the story. If you are more outraged by the ‘riots’ and property damage than by the violence enacted each and every day by the state, and by the history of pillaging and plundering and slavery and lynching and rape that is our nation’s story, then I think you need a priority check.

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.- Martin Luther King Jr

I suppose this is getting rambling, and I hope I’ve remember all the things I want to say. I want to say that my thoughts and feelings as an ally to oppressed people’s everywhere are tangential to the real story, which should be told by folks who live this everyday. My place is to march silently in the streets when I can, and to use my voice in harmony with theirs but never to speak over them. The story of racism should be told by black, brown and non-white folks, and their stories deserve to be heard and believed. And then we must all use our collective voices and our collective power to undo the structures that support our racist history and limit the potential and humanity of black bodies. I vow my solidarity and my support, as a feminist and social justice warrior. I wish I could do more.

The Normal Heart: My Heartache for Humanity

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Last night I watched The Normal Heart. If you can get your hands on someone’s HBO GO password, I highly recommend watching it. Everyone’s performance was stellar. I kept thinking I knew who’d delivered the most heartbreaking monologue, and I kept being wrong. There might be spoilers ahead, but there aren’t any real twists in the movie. Just a steady flow of death, and the search for answers.

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The story of AIDS in the early 80’s, before the disease had a name, before they knew it was a virus that attacked one’s immune system, is a story of panic and indifference. Because the initial outbreak occurred in the gay community, the culture at large remained unconcerned at best, and hostile at worst, to the first patients. When the outbreak continued to spread, the now familiar signs of hate (literal picket signs) began to appear. It wasn’t until 4 years after the first reported case that President Reagan said the word AIDS out loud, acknowledging the disease as a public health risk and pledging research dollars to find a cure. By that time, thousands were already dead or infected.

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Watching a person you love, possibly more than any other person on earth, get sick and whither away, is an experience that I have been up close and personal with. The fear you carry around, a deep and murky river just below the surface, it never goes away. And most of us have never plunged down into it, and so we do not know how deep it goes. If one has cause to care for a loved one who is ill, it will likely be a defining experience of their life. It is the defining experience of my life. And as I watched this movie, I felt deeply connected to the characters who wanted to save the ones they loved. Who needed answers, and hope, and had none. I am decades removed from this particular crisis and do not personally know anyone with this disease, but the experience resonated with my own none the less.

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And so why, I wonder, why was the world so callous and uncaring? How can you see young men in the prime years of their life withering away and possibly think ‘they got what they deserve.’ I don’t understand how it is possible that, all too often, people look at others and see difference where there is mostly commonality. I don’t understand how we so easily accept that some of us are good and others not, when it’s so obvious that all of us contain both dark and light within us. I don’t understand why, when given the choice, people seem to believe that hate is the safer choice, over love.

Seeing the humanity is every face you encounter, treating everyone with respect and love, this to me is the most important and urgent message of feminism. All of the specific political issues are, of course, important, because they affect people’s lives in very real and tangible ways. But at the heart of the issues, the real question is: do you care about other people? Do you value their life, their lived experiences, as much as your own? That is the real question of those first political activists fighting for AIDS research and community support. Obviously they needed to know what the virus was and how to treat it. But asking for money and support, it was really a plea for empathy. A plea for compassion. It was one community, reaching out to their larger community, asking if anyone recognized their humanity enough to help save those that were dying.

In the wake of recent incredibly violent and well publicized rampages, I have nothing but disdain for anyone who treats other people as inferior, as other, as less than human. Frankly, if you have a gun and shoot girls because you feel entitled to their bodies and attention, or if you are just a person who quietly thinks mysoginistic thoughts that you never express, I see no difference. You are part of the problem, you are a blockade on the road to a better world. We are all so alike, deeply alike on a fucking atomic level. I want to see love, and unity, and togetherness. I want to see compassion. Without those, full equality will never be realized.

On Getting Felt Up

I totally wasn’t gonna make myself write today, given that writing everyday here when I need to write a thesis seems a little lofty. But then something happened that I knew I had to share, and it occurred to me that most likely something will happen everyday that I want to share, cause gender issues being everywhere all the time is PRECISELY THE FUCKING POINT!

Ok, sorry for that angry outburst, but it will seem more acceptable once you hear this story.

Tompkins Square Park (hereafter TSP) was a winter wonderland today. Snow lined branches, trecherous walkways, puppies frolicking, that really bright sunlight that bounces off of an undisturbed white surface. Gorgeous. I was cutting through the park thinking it’d be faster, but since the walkways weren’t shoveled I was taking heavy, laborious steps and so I decided to cut over the 7th street out of a side gate. As I was approaching said gate, I noticed that the man in front of me had stopped walking and was turned towards me. I had my eyes down, trying to step in other people’s boot prints, so I only kind of noticed him.

However, as I got closer, I started to get that feeling that you must know if you’ve ever walked home late at night and heard footsteps behind you, or if you are on an empty subway car and a guys sits right next to you. This fear antenna is programmed into all of us, because from a young age we grow up inundated with the narrative of violence against women. We all know how dangerous men are, and how easily we can get hurt in a world that often condones such acts. Sometimes this is outright, sometimes subversive,  but the sad fact is that even though we all should be able to run ass naked through the park at all hours of the night on any day of the week month or year, we don’t. We know better.

So in any case, as I stepped off the TSP walkway onto the sidewalk, this gross man reached out and squeezed my ass. I was stunned, and turned to give him a disapproving look. I opened my mouth to yell, but something stopped me. I realized I was alone on the street, unable to run, and also that he looked vaguely drunk and not a little dangerous. So I turned back around and continued towards Ave A.

His actions were not flattering. They were a declaration that my body belonged to him, and that it was his obvious right to judge it, comment on it, and touch it in any way he wanted. Even in the middle of a brightly lit day, he reached out and took without asking. This exact thing happens on larger and smaller scales all day every day. As if it’s completely obvious that all women not only want to be beautiful, but expect you to pass judgement and verbalize said judgement. I was wearing two pairs of pants, a hoodie-vest combo (which is neither appropriate in a snow storm nor cute,) nerdy glasses and a silly winter hat. I know how to be alluring (I am a Scorpio, but more on that later) and trust me, this was not an alluring moment. And even if it was, you still don’t get to comment or touch. I don’t constantly seek male attention every time I leave my apartment and walk down a street. Mostly, I have somewhere to go and something to do. I’m not sure that I should have stayed silent, but I was stunned and afraid and I think it would have taken much more than angry words from one little blond girl to make this asshole see the light. So I urge you, if you are in a situation where you can speak out, do so. Don’t disassociate from your body and allow your personal space, your personal self, to be violated. Any small breach is absolutely violence against you, and violence against all of us.

“However, for women and for children, especially girls, relations of power are often enacted in moments of intimacy, when we are the most vulnerable, in our families, with our parents or lovers, when we should experience the greatest sense of safety. Relations of power between women and men are likewise enacted in public places, when we are at work, or walking the streets, or riding public transportation. These instances also can take on an intimate quality because we experience them as a violation of personal space, or violence against our own person. What I am describing are widely shared experiences affecting the lives of millions of women virtually everywhere in the world… Taken together, in a feminist contest, these experiences can be recognized and named as the politics of trauma. Healing is both individual and collective.” ~ Bettina Aptheker, Intimate Politics