About a month ago I was asked by Farah Tanis, ED of Black Women's Blueprint, to endorse the Open Letter From Black Women to Slutwalk. I had read some about Slutwalk, a response to an officer comments that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid rape. That's a protest I wholeheartedly support. So, I was a little hesistant to endorse the letter, given that I hadn't participated, hadn't been following it too much, and knew that other Black women, like Aishah Shahidah Simmons, have been keynote speakers at Slutwalks in the U.S.
Farah Tanis, as others have noted, was open to these hesitations (as well as my questions about how queer women were represented within the organization) and we had a nice back and forth, open discussion. After reading a draft of the letter, I decided to sign on and endorse. Still working out my thoughts on it, but emphatically behind a group of Black women coming together to question the focus and intent of a movement that speaks for all women, under an umbrella term that is used to delegitimize, attack, and dehumanize women. I see the letter as an important step for discussion. For movement.
And I support Slutwalk, or at least the ideas behind it.
Any protest that directly targets institutions and individuals that blame women for the violence we are subjected to is something I can get behind, fully. But, the critique that Tanis and others outline in the open letter is significant and appears to be even more necessary with a development from the NYC Slutwalk this weekend. As pictured above, a young white protester held a sign quoting Lennon and Ono's "Woman is the Nigger of the World," released in 1972. As others, particularly Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Latoya Peterson, have written, the fact that this woman embraces this quote, years after the context (not justifying) in which this song was written is a telling statement about race, feminism, and women's bodies. She was asked by one of the NYC organizers, a Black woman, to take the sign down and she did. Great. Still, the action, the belief that it was okay to use "nigger" as a call to protest is what troubles me.
Interestingly, I saw this photo right after I gave a lecture on Frantz Fanon and asked students if it was possible in this historical moment to, as Fanon states, "rediscover(ing) one's people [which] sometimes means...wanting to be a 'nigger,' not an exceptional 'nigger,' but a real 'nigger,' a 'dirty nigger,' the sort defined by the white man." And, most were alarmed and adamant that the N-word, as we now know it, is a word that they view as unacceptable, even as a call for liberation or decolonization. It was even difficult for some of them to say it, even quoting text. And, in what appears to be a moment where a white woman who probably says "N-word" rather than "nigger" in her everyday life feels completely entitled to print the word on a sign protesting violence against "women," demonstrates that indeed, it is not. If you can't say it, if the words physically can't come out of your mouth, like some of my students, how are you going to use it as an organizing tool? Which brings me to the question of "slut" being used in a similar way--embracing the cheap slut, the whore, as it's been defined by men may not be the path to liberation. It may be, but I'm not convinced. Not when the intersections of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism continue to be overlooked in feminist spaces. And isn't that what we're in this for? Liberation. Freedom. An end to violence against women simply because we are women. As Blackwomen's Blueprint's letter states,
"For us the trivialization of rape and the absence of justice are viciously intertwined with narratives of sexual surveillance, legal access and availability to our personhood. It is tied to institutionalized ideology about our bodies as sexualized objects of property, as spectacles of sexuality and deviant sexual desire. It is tied to notions about our clothed or unclothed bodies as unable to be raped whether on the auction block, in the fields or on living room television screens."
I don't think the intent of the organizers of Slutwalk has ever been to trivialize rape, I firmly believe that. Nonetheless, intent is of dire importance at this time. Or the ignorance of the real differences and experience of "womanhood," and the intersections of race, class, gender, sex, sexuality and violence that structure the lives of women of color will continue to be a dividing line in feminist movement.
I am hopeful that we will keep these conversations, these critiques, open.