Important New Blog: Black and Missing But Not Forgotten

14 08 2007

This blog is dedicated to all the missing black women in America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If the media doesn’t step up – who will? Let these ladies know that we did not forget about them.

Deidre, “just a concerned Black woman,” has stepped up where mainstream media left off – by loving black women enough to notice when we disappear.  Many thanks to her for her work, and for her demonstration of what can be done, and must be done, for ourselves.  Stop by and support her today!

 Introduction

Welcome! As stated in my title, this blog is dedicated to all the missing black women of America. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a blog about a missing black woman named Stepha Henry. I did not know who she was [and was very embarrassed that I didn’t] but once I did more research on her – it was sad to see that she did not get the coverage she needed in the media because of the Paris Hilton case. [See next post for more info on Stepha Henry]

After I did my research on Henry, I tried googling “black missing females” and other variations of it to see if I can find a website or a blog just like this one. Unfortunately after a couple of hours I found little results. A couple days later I finally hit jackpot and found over 200 missing black females from the month of Jan 2007 until June 2007. Most of them we probably never heard of either because of lack of media attention or not enough exposure for them to be found.

So why am I doing this? Very simple. If I don’t do it who will? The media? Why wait for the media to do something like this when all it take is time, research and most of all dedication? Anybody can do this. Why not now? I think the families of these girls deserve for their loved ones to come home. This is just a small step towards making that happen. 🙂





Linda Martín Alcoff: On Prejudging the Duke Lacrosse Team Scandal

11 08 2007

Linda Martín Alcoff
Director of Women’s Studies

The following was written for the inaugural event for the Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media at Syracuse University, September 2006.

The Duke Lacrosse team scandal continues to raise heated debates, but hidden within much of the political and legal commentary are some important epistemological issues that need to be brought forward. I want to address those here.

First, we should separate out the two distinct realms of discourse that are operative in this scandal: the formal legal one, from the informal public one. Each realm has different standards of judgment, and plays a different role. The formal, legal realm is organized to determine the legal guilt of innocence of the individuals accused, while it should be clear that the public realm–that diffuse and loose amalgam of both formal and informal communications–cannot determine individual legal guilt or innocence. First, because it is not privy to all the facts (secrets can still be kept, even in these days of hyper-surveillance), and second, because the public realm of discourse is subject to the influence of various media which is in the business of selling stories. Almost everyone today understands that media reports of all sorts are edited, even when they are upholding the most scrupulous of journalistic standards.

We should take the public realm of discourse not as a court of law, then, but as a cultural site, and in analyzing it we should look not only at what is said but who is saying it, who is being given credibility, who is not, and what are the narratives on offer for making sense of the facts. Narratives are like theories, generally with some historical content, which are used to make sense of new events and to bring order to complicated facts. It is neither possible nor desirable for us to completely dispense with the use of narratives in judging new events: when synagogues are defaced, we interpret this understandably and rightly in the context of the history of anti-semitism, when a black man is dragged behind a truck until he is dead, this event is connected to a history of lynching and antiblack racism. When George Bush speaks before the U.N. on the topic of freedom, his speech is interpreted through the recent history of US military initiatives. Such historical narratives do not tell us everything we need to know about the new case or new claim, but they tell us some of what we need to know to understand the new event.

However, there are clearly better and worse narratives, even true and false narratives. For example, the narrative of black male sexual aggression against white women was a false narrative. That narrative played a role in the public’s willingness to condemn the Scottsboro Boys in 1930’s Alabama, a case that columnist Nicholas Kristof likens to the Duke scandal, but in the Scottboro case the narrative was actually historically inaccurate. It was simply a method used to maintain Jim Crow segregation and to terrorize African Americans from asserting their legal rights.

There are three main narratives being invoked in the Duke case, two false and one true, in my view. One of the false narratives is relatively old, and the other two narratives–one false and one true–are quite recent. Perhaps the most lasting significance of this case will be its effects on these narratives, and thus what I find most interesting about the public realm of discourse over Duke is to see how these narratives are being fought over, and by whom.

One narrative is that sex workers lie. Sex workers are generally not given epistemic credibility, by the courts, the police, or the public. They are seen as morally debased, or as strategic opportunists who have had to lie so much to make a living that they have forgotten how to be honest, or as human refuse too ignorant to have a conscience. Today, more people now know such claims to be distortions at best. More people now know–perhaps because of the exposes on human trafficking, perhaps because of sex worker organizations themselves that have articulated their political rights, perhaps because of feminism–that sex workers are a variegated group of people, sometimes quite well educated, and sometimes aware of their choices and risks. It is a fairly new event that a sex worker would be given credibility by feminists, by women’s fashion magazines, by mainstream African American media, even by some of the general public media. So the initial credibility given this woman complainant was interesting to me in this regard. Now I fear that the collapse of the legal case will be used to re-consolidate the older narrative that epistemically discredits all sex workers once again. But initially, the credibility that was being given an African American, working-class sex worker was evidence of a historic shifting away from previous practices in the public domain.

The second narrative under contestation concerns the history of privileged white men at elite universities who are involved in collective high status activities like sports and fraternities. This narrative–much newer, much less widely accepted–is that such groups sometimes abuse their status and power to break laws, both small ones and more serious ones. Is this narrative relevant here? The Duke Lacrosse team was organized very much like a fraternity, with most of the team living together and apart from the rest of the campus. The facts that are not in dispute here are that the team members hired sex workers for group entertainment, that they asked for racially specific types of sex workers (not black, as it turns out), that some of them referred during the evening to the sex workers as niggers and bitches, that one shouted out to a sex worker (as heard by a neighbor) “Hey bitch, thank your grandpa for your nice cotton shirt,” that one said to a sex worker that he was going to shove a broomstick up her, and that another one sent around a sick email professing his intention to rape, kill, and skin the sex workers. Those are the facts that are not in dispute. Also not in dispute is the fact that the Duke Lacrosse team has violated laws systematically over at least the past 5 years, becoming notorious among the administration for boorish behavior, such as public urination and hitting golf balls at buildings.

An almost uniform set of white columnists in the mainstream media have been arguing vociferously that the narrative about privileged white guys abusing their status is wrong, irrelevant, a “rush to judgment” (David Brooks), an unfair stereotype (Nicholas Kristof), a social prejudice. I would argue otherwise; it is both a true narrative and a relevant narrative to this case, even though it obviously does not establish the Lacrosse players guilt in regard to rape. Clearly, the list of actions given above coheres with the narrative of sports team members given license by their institutions to harass and abuse people, especially racially and sexually. We need more empirical studies of team sexual behavior in elite schools, but there is already a body of work that confirms that the tendency exists.

The third narrative involved here is the narrative about the so-called victim culture, in which people (especially white women and people of color) desire to be victims, to “wallow” in victimhood, and so on. Some have argued in this case that the commentators from the African American community who are condemning the Lacrosse players are driven by a strong self-identification as victims, or the desire to perpetuate their status in the public mind as victims. This narrative, I suggest, is quite false, and obviously self-serving to those who would rather not have their boat rocked by groups demanding social change. African Americans, in my experience, do not like being called “nigger-bitches.” Women do not want to be raped or threatened with rape by broomsticks. No one in their right mind really wants either to be a victim, or to be reminded of their victimization. In our highly individualistic, competitive society, to be a victim is actually to be vilified as weak, as not strong enough to have avoided the victimization, as not hardy enough to swallow one’s victimization in silence. Moreover, it is quite humiliating to be known publicly as having been victimized racially, or sexually. There are a lot of disincentives against reporting one’s victimization, as evidenced by the 80% (according to the FBI) of rape victims who never report.

(There are no doubt more narratives than those I am listing, but I have to keep this short.)

The point of this argument, then, is that narratives are not irrelevant to the process of trying to make sense of new events. No matter how this legal case turns out, those who have raised these and other narratives, contesting some and supporting others, have engaged in good epistemic practices.

However, there are two things that all of us who are engaged in the public realm of discourse need to do in order to improve the epistemic practices in regard to narratives: (1) understand more clearly the limits of narrative in determining, for example, the legal guilt of innocence of a particular defendant; and (2) instead of condemning all narratives wholesale we need to distinguish between better and worse, true and false narratives, criticizing those that still hold sway despite their inaccuracy. There’s knowledge, and then there’s myth, and in the public discussion over the Duke case, there has been plenty of both.





In These Times: “Stories of Survival”

6 08 2007

original article located here

Features > June 29, 2007

Stories of Survival

NO! explores rape within the African-American community and fights society’s instinct to focus on the racism outside while turning a deaf ear to gender violence within

By Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

The documentary NO! chips away at the myths and silence surrounding sexual assault it he black community

Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons didn’t miss a beat when a white, female student told her at a 2003 Boston College screening of her documentary NO!, “Until I saw your film, I didn’t know that black women could be raped.” Simmons, a Philadelphia resident, calmly asked the young woman why she believed such a thing. The student replied that she didn’t think black women, simultaneously praised and pilloried for their strength, would stand for such a violation—as if sexual-violence victims are able to negotiate with attackers or deter them with a hefty serving of attitude.That wasn’t the case with Simmons, now 38, who was sexually assaulted in 1989, when she was a 19-year-old Temple University sophomore on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. A clandestine date—outside the dorm and the curfew hours—turned into a rape that left her pregnant and so devastated that she dropped out of college. Nor was that the case with the women whose stories Simmons has included in NO!, which explores rape within the African-American community.

Among them is a woman who was raped by her mentor, the university’s highest ranking black administrator; another whose fraternity boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer; and yet another who struggles with bulimia decades after her first boyfriend beat and raped her after she refused to have sex outside.

For Simmons, NO! has been a labor of love to make the film she wanted, regardless of how long it took. Simmons began filming interviews in 1994 with co-producer Tamara Xavier, but the documentary wasn’t released until 2006, largely because of the struggle to find $300,000 in necessary funding.

With NO!, Simmons hopes to chip away at the myths and disquieting silence surrounding sexual assault in the black community, which has traditionally been so attuned to racism outside that it has largely turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to gender violence within.

“There’s this notion,” says Simmons, “that when black women come forward [and say they’ve been raped], that we’re a traitor to the race. I wanted to show these women, their faces, their names. I understand privacy and shame, but shame should be on the perpetrators.”

Simmons followed the case of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen who accused boxer Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991 in his hotel room. (Tyson served three years in prison.) Then came the campaign to “save” Tyson and discredit Washington—complete with T-shirts proclaiming his innocence. In NO!, Simmons includes footage of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan asking what Washington expected when she went to Tyson’s room as other faith leaders cackle in agreement.

Simmons wondered why those leaders and others never acknowledged that rape isn’t typically a crime committed by a stranger and that, for most black women, the perpetrator is an acquaintance who looks like them. The lack of critical reaction from the black community in the wake of the Washington case, combined with a 1994 trip to South Africa, where she met activists working on issues of sexual assault, galvanized her to make NO!. It is estimated that as many as half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.

American women are also vulnerable to sexual assault. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six U.S. women will be subjected to sexual assault or an attempted assault during her lifetime. The organization’s “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey” estimates that 18.8 percent of black women will survive a rape or attempted rape—making them only slightly more likely than the general population (17.6 percent) and white women (17.7 percent) to experience such a crime, but much less likely to be raped than Native Americans.

Numbers alone don’t express the full extent of rape or sexual assault in the black community—a topic that has probably been discussed more extensively in novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple than in real life. Black women must deal with competing interests—protecting one’s self versus protecting the image of black men in a society where black men are the usual suspects of sexual crimes, facing the distrust of the police versus the need for personal security—that reduce the chance they will report rape.

With the help of anthropologist and former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, historian Beverly Guy-Sheftall and former Black Panther Elaine Brown, NO! examines the historical forces that foster sexual violence—and suppress dialogue about it—in black communities. In a country built on slavery, which was predicated on control of black labor and reproduction, black women have been regarded as perpetually sexually available or “unrapeable.” They have never fit easily into the “good girl” mold.

“I realized that I couldn’t talk about sexual assault in the African-American community without talking about slavery,” says Simmons. “If somebody owns you, how do you have the right to consent?”

NO! is generating discussion within the black community. In 2003, writer Kevin Powell (who is black) showed an unfinished cut to a crowd of hundreds—including many African-American men—on a wintry Friday night in Harlem. Men are a vital part of the solution, says Nia Wilson, the associate director of Spirit House, an arts and cultural nonprofit in Durham, N.C. “This is not about going after black men,” she says. “This is about uncovering something we need to address, and we need to address it together. Men are the only ones who can stop rape, no matter what we say, no matter how much light we shine on it.”

Wilson, who is black and a sexual-violence survivor, is also a member of UBUNTU, a coalition that combats racism and violence. Simmons allowed UBUNTU to use NO! to foster dialogue around North Carolina. Wilson recalls a screening for a white audience that was disengaged from the topic. All of the reactions Wilson had learned to expect—tears, outrage, personal testimonies—didn’t happen. The audience members acknowledged the violence, but their comments and lack of emotion told her that they couldn’t relate to this type of violence.

Wilson told the audience, “I can watch a Lifetime movie with a cast full of white people and cry because I’m conditioned to relate to you. But you are not conditioned to relate to me. You, especially this group who thinks you’re so politically correct, you cannot watch a movie with people with brown skin and see yourself.”

Bryan Proffitt, a 28-year-old white schoolteacher and UBUNTU member, says that talking about rape and race requires starting from a framework that acknowledges a history of interracial violence, white supremacy, male domination and myths that need debunking. “There’s always a good bit of anxiety about how white folks are going to see this film. ‘Oh, look, black guys are rapists. We knew that.’ We’ve always tried to be careful of framing this film beforehand because we recognize that white people come in with that particular narrative and we want to challenge that before they see it.”

Before each screening, the UBUNTU facilitator reads a statement that lists 27 reasons the film is being shown, including: “Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred.” “Because there are survivors here.” “Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate.”

This April, NO! was selected as a featured resource by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Everywhere I’ve shown the film,” says Simmons, “someone comes up and discloses she’s a survivor. I could be the only black woman in the room—me and the women on the film—in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, women stand up and say, ‘This is my story.’”

For more information on NO!, visit www.notherapedocumentary.org.