On the expendability of rape victims and irresponsible journalism.

Today in “WTF, White Feminists?!” News, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte jumps on another train to Wrongville, siding with a Washington State prosecutor’s decision to arrest an alleged rape victim for refusing to cooperate:

…it seems naive to believe that all you need to work with victims of domestic assault is more outreach. (The charges are against the second man, but the boyfriend is the one who instigated the kidnapping, suggesting that the domestic violence framework is in play here.) Victims have minds of their own, and sometimes no amount of victim outreach or counseling will change their minds.

The victim’s refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence, as I wrote in September. In Queens, N.Y., law enforcement reports that victims recant their testimony in 9 out of 10 cases. It’s not necessarily, as Rose suggests, simply because they are so traumatized by the violence itself that rehashing it with prosecutors feels too overwhelming. Research shows that a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution is more about her relationship to the abuser. In this particular case, the victim has a long-standing history with one of her attackers, which suggests that she probably doesn’t see this in the same way that someone kidnapped and assaulted by complete strangers would. While there are some interventions that can help reduce the problem of victims who recant out of these complex feelings, there’s no silver bullet of counseling that will get all victims to see things the way prosecutors want them to.

Clearly the only way these women are going to learn is if they’re victimized all over again? This is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense. Dangerous nonsense that will most likely result in fewer victims coming forward, and more rapists walking free.

It’s easy to get caught up in the facts and figures and forget that these are actual human beings, ones who have experienced a horrible trauma. Ones who have to figure out how to deal with that trauma and still attempt to be fully functioning people. What Marcotte and others fail to realize is that for some, the victimization doesn’t end with the rape. Or with pressing charges. Or with a conviction. Some perpetrators can and do continue to torment their victims, even after the final bang of the gavel. And, depending on how powerful said perps are, that torment can be life-threatening.

The sad, unavoidable truth is that we can’t be mad about victims changing their minds when our collective handling of sexual assault victims borders on obscene. Between bizarre laws and thousands of backlogged rape kits and oh!–our time-honored tradition of treating alleged victims like suspects, we should expect more of them to pass on turning to the legal system for help. We should also realize that greenlighting thoughtless clickbait like Marcotte’s only traumatizes people more. Always erring on the side of profit and pageviews means putting some really egregious shit into the world. If that’s a price worth paying, OK, but it’s also understandable that other people who identify as feminists will come for your fucking card.

 

 

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Welcome to Intersectionality. Sometimes it’s hard.

Helen Lewis’s rebuttal of Julie Burchill’s ridiculous and horribly formatted Spectator essay on intersectionality (I won’t link it because I may contract something) left many of us doing this:

…because for all of their good intentions, white feminists still cannot get it right. Maybe they don’t want to get it right. For all of this talk about infighting and hurt feelings and waxing!–the things we really need to address keep getting ignored. When Piers Morgan went after Janet Mock–the first time–only two notable white feminists took to their sizable platforms to address it. Unfortunately, neither of them were very helpful, and seemed more sympathetic to Morgan. (Oh, how I miss the days when he was regulated to judging 80 year-old ballerinas on talent shows.)

“Intersectionality is really, really hard, guys!” Yes, it is. And no one expects white feminists to be perfect. We DO expect you to try, and not expect people to be nice to you or hold your hand when you fuck up. If Helen Lewis’s idea of handling criticism is to call out another white woman for referring to herself as a womanist? I just…I don’t know.

At some point you have to give up the ghost. In the case of us “marginalized people” (I hate that term) it might be time to stop getting angry over the latest mainstream feminist blunder and look at them the same way you would a puppy that pooped on your floor. Or an old Three Stooges episode. Because the best we can expect at this point is some really great slapstick comedy.

Anyway, enjoy this kickass piece from Bitch’s Tina Vasquez on the mainstream movement’s failure on transgender issues, if you haven’t already.

The road from here.

I was 24 when I buried my father; last weekend marked the 13th anniversary of his death. Nothing propels you into adulthood faster than planning a memorial service for a man you barely knew. But there I was, attempting to sift through the detritus of bittersweet memories to honor him. It’s hard to set aside the hurt, to swallow the anger and do the responsible thing, especially when you don’t want the task. In the end my father had disappointed so many people–his common-law wife and teen daughter among them–that no one wanted to be bothered. He died alone in a nursing home on Superbowl Sunday.

My relationship with my dad had always been contentious. All the missed birthdays and spelling bees and oratory contests and report card pickup days didn’t help matters. By the time he came clean about his drug addiction, I no longer cared; I was heading off to college, far away from him. Back then, I didn’t know how crippling addiction could be. I merely saw a man too lazy to kick heroin, and resented him for his weakness.

Some days I wish I had a TARDIS.

The clarity that comes once the hurt and anger subside usually arrives tardy for the party, too late to say what was necessary, what was needed. I’ve only recently made peace with everything that happened between my dad and I; I’d never told him how I felt. Never expressed anything but apathy and pity while he was alive. I didn’t realize being silent and stoic did me more harm than good.

Sometimes the people and things you love cannot love you back. In my case, it’s feminism.

Last week, when The Nation story ran, I was ready to rip out entrails and make party hats. I was quoting Liam Neeson and googling “best ways to throatchop people.” I wanted BLOOD, yo. I was hurt on behalf of my friends, who’d been painted as bitter and angry and obsessed. I saw a few people, ones I respected and admired greatly, praise it as a thought-provoking piece of journalism. (As a recovering journalist, THAT really made me angry.) I wanted to write an immediate response but something was holding me back. Perhaps I needed more time to calm down than I thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the outrage, especially when the transgressors have no problem with manipulating the truth. It’s also easy to say “fuck it” and walk away.

To be honest, I feel like that most of the time. Every time I’m hit with the latest episode of “Shit White Feminists Say” I’m ready to pack a hobo bag and do a sad David Banner walk along an empty highway. Then I think about the women in the writing workshop I teach, the son I’m raising, and the people from far-flung places who reach out to tell me how my words helped them, how Hood Feminism has created a space where they finally feel at home. I’m grateful. When you’re fighting to be included, fighting for your humanity to be recognized by people who claim to be allies, it’s important to remember those things.

So, I’m still here. Though it’s hard to set aside the hurt, to swallow the anger and do the responsible thing. Especially when you don’t want the task.

Anyway, go read this kick-ass post over at Prison Culture if you haven’t already.

On the criminalization of young black and brown boys.

Fifteen years ago, an 11 year-old girl, Ryan Harris, was found dead in a vacant lot on the city’s south side. She’d been raped and strangled. A detective–all too eager to close the case–collared two neighborhood boys. After being bullied for hours and kept from their parents (who had no clue that their sons were being held for murder) they confessed to sexually assaulting the girl, killing her, and stealing her bike. Mass media hysteria soon followed, as talking heads everywhere rushed to vilify the children. Some even called for the death penalty.

Romarr Gipson was seven years old. His accomplice, eight.

A month later the police found the man who would eventually serve a life sentence for the murder. According to authorities, Floyd Durr had left traces of semen on her underwear, something seven and eight year-olds are incapable of doing, as most people who have passed a seventh-grade health class would know. The families of the boys filed a civil suit and were finally awarded $2 mil in Fall 2005.

In Spring 2006, Romarr, then 15, was arrested for aggravated battery with a firearm. He and his older stepbrother accosted two people in a parked car at a Citgo gas station and opened fire. He turned around and looked at the camera with a gun in his hand, one investigator told the Sun-Times. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 52 years in prison in June 2012.

In Fall 2006, Steve Bogira’s Chicago Reader investigative report picked apart what was thought to be an open and shut case; interviews with a number of people on both sides–including Durr, who maintained his innocence–show a case fraught with more missteps and holes than your standard-issue Michael Bay movie. He casts enough doubt to go around, concluding that we may never really know who killed the fifth-grader.

But we do know what happened to Romarr Gipson, and all evidence points to a sequence of events occurring in an interrogation room that changed his life forever.

America has a gift for characterizing troubled children–particularly children of color–as cold, feral monsters. And each day, as thousands enter a justice system filled with dispassionate correction officials, apathetic public defenders, and judges who just want to get to the next case–they quickly transform into the boogeymen they’ve been made out to be. According to a number of studies, children held in jails are twice as likely to be assaulted, five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and eight times more likely to commit suicide than youth held in juvenile facilities. And if they do survive life on the inside, chances are they will return for more serious offenses. They’re also more likely to be black or brown.

Project Nia Founder/Director Mariame Kaba has spent years on the front lines fighting to change toxic policies plaguing the juvenile justice system. “I said at the time that this would have a lasting impact on the children involved,” recalls Kaba. “Anti-black racism plays a role in how kids are punished. It’s so ingrained that it makes it impossible to see our children as human.”

“There’s an unwillingness [on the part of administrators] to read these reports that show how any contact you have with law enforcement is bad for future outcome, and it impacts everything from cognitive skills to school participation,” Kaba continues. “Incarceration should be a last resort.”

But, as a report released last year by the US Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights illustrates, it’s often the first course of action for school officials and law enforcement. And with more schools employing police officers as disciplinary tools, things are only going to get worse.

Actually, we might already be there.

“We’ve got to start conceptualizing violence as structural,” says Kaba, whose Chicago Freedom School educates teens on social justice issues. “It’s out there, and it’s being used against us all the time. Wanting the government to intervene to make our lives livable is somehow pathologized, and then it trickles down to the community where the conversation turns to respectability.”

And we hear a lot about respectability. A. Lot.

But, Kaba maintains, it will take a collective effort to save our kids, a movement of love, compassion and respect. “I want more opportunities for people to talk about structural oppression so that it has somewhere to go. That’s how you understand yourself as an agent, how you begin to realize you’re not alone in this world, and you use that knowledge to change the system.”

You’re only gettin’ half a bar.

One of my favorite Key & Peele sketches involves two buppie businessmen meeting up in a soul food restaurant in an old, forgotten neighborhood. (Yes, I know the show has issues. Just stay with me, ok?) The two fall into a game of one-upmanship to prove how down they are. Here, watch:

This, my friends, is what popped in my head upon reading this Ms. Magazine essay by Janell Hobson, and this piece by Salon/Crunk Feminist Collective writer Brittney Cooper. From the looks of it, these two brilliant, accomplished black women have–unwittingly, perhaps–fallen into the same sad game. With the Key and Peele sketch, we knew who the intended audience was: the buppies and the sweet, folksy owner/server. But in this case? We’re not exactly sure who the target audience is, and both essays read rather poorly. Cooper spends half of her piece blasting white feminists for attacking the First Lady, then politely finishes their job in the latter half. Hobson spends most of her piece agreeing that there is, indeed, a solidarity problem within feminist ranks and then…calls on “all of us” (read: angry feminists of color) to channel our anger and snark into more positive things.

A lot of people who claim to love black women (some, black women themselves) seem to only love them in the abstract. We can be counted on to provide page hits for the latest “oh no they didn’t” outrage or as fond remembrances in charming little essays we write when we want to regale readers with beautifully crafted tales of our humble beginnings, neatly wrapped in a Nikki Giovanni poem or an Audre Lorde quote. Depending on our usefulness and socioeconomic status, we rank somewhere between God and the nameless sista who bags your collection of Lean Cuisine entrees every week. But here’s the thing: demanding that people recognize our humanity only works if you recognize it, too.

I get that it’s a struggle. There are days when I have to check myself, days when I have to remember that the bathroom attendant I’m tipping isn’t a charity case in need of saving, days when I have to remember that the teenage girls cursing each other out on the train platform probably grew up in a better financial situation than I did. Days when I have to remember that the First Lady is a real flesh and blood human being, not a blank screen on which I can project my hopes and dreams. As others have said, the fact that we dare to exist is an act of defiance. I don’t need to make shit any harder.

There are enough people attacking black women for the lives we lead and the choices we make on the daily. We needn’t any more voices joining the fray. If we’re going to be about the business of improving the world around us, let’s do so without the performance art.

On Selfies and TDOR.

So Erin Gloria Ryan, the Jez writer responsible for this elitist schlock, writes a deliciously long tl;dr post about the evils of selfies in response to Rachel Simmons’ Slate piece. She writes:

Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right is in no way analogous to asking your boss for a raise. Nor is it the sort of self-promotion that results in anything but a young woman reinforcing the socially-engrained notion that the most valuable thing she has to offer the world is her looks. If culture were encouraging women to be smart, the word of the year would be “diplomie” and the definition would be “a photo of an academic achievement posted to social media.” “Here’s my face!” is not an accomplishment. Feeling pretty is nice, but goddamn — “beauty” far from the most important thing about being a fully-actualized adult human person.

Where would we be without another mainstream feminist site telling us how we’re DOIN IT RONG? In a better place, I’m guessing. Luckily for us, Bad feminist @convergecollide had the awesome idea to start #feministselfie and the rest was hashtag history.

As others have pointed out, self love is a radical act, especially if you aren’t white (or close to it). Given recent conversations I’ve had with friends about self-esteem, daily women-bashing on #BlackTwitter and the huge response to #feministselfie (trending topic, yo), it’s clear just how necessary it is. It is a beautiful act of self-affirmation and if one chooses to draw power from it, more power to ’em. Check out Mommyish and xoJane for a more thoughtful take.

…and with that, we can now go back to debating Beyonce’s feminism.

Yesterday marked the 15th International Transgender Day of Remembrance. According to the TVT Project, 238 trans people have been murdered worldwide. The Advocate has a moving tribute to the trans women and men slain in the past year, and Janet Mock’s letter to Islan Nettles is still one of the most powerful pieces we’ve read this year. HuffPo offers a beautiful essay from JamieAnn Meyers. Over at Colorlines, Vonn Diaz writes about the barriers trans workers face in the workplace.

 

An Apology.

You know, it used to take a lot to get me angry. Someone would literally have to be standing on my neck before I’d respond in kind. Then one day, I was introduced to the internet, and I’ve been flipping tables ever since.

With that said, I apologize for raging out, Maria Lloyd. I let my emotions get the best of me. I blew up your mentions on Twitter. I said your essay was “irresponsible, irrelevant, and incorrect.” I suggested that you pursue another profession. I said that shaming single mothers for page hits under the guise of fake concern was the equivalent of shitting in someone’s mouth, You Tubing it, and asking for a tip after. Before I came for your neck, I went after your colleague (and co-writer of this post), Dr. Boyce Watkins, calling him a “misogynistic, foot-shuffling moron” for pimping black pathology porn. I also called him a “bully, a fraud, and a hack” and laughed when someone said he was “a doctor of fuck shit and Crown Royal bags.” I feel awful because that’s an insult to real doctors of fuck shit and Crown Royal bags. And I really shouldn’t have told you to seek another profession because we need people like you, Dr. Watkins, and other professional black pathology pimps (Hi, Jason Whitlock!) to be shining examples of what not to do.

It’s important, Maria Lloyd, that you remain here on the front lines, parroting patriarchal bullshit like “ERMAGERD THE BLACK FAMILY IS IN SHAMBLES BECAUSE YOU’RE A FILTHY WHORE” because that’s what we need. We don’t need better policies that ensure the success of Ms. Fields or women like her. We don’t need to offer genuine support. No, no. We just need to berate them for not keeping their legs closed to all the wrong dudes. I’m sure you’ve made ALL the right decisions to make sure you never become a single mom, right? Wait, I shouldn’t be so presumptuous; you and Dr. Crown Royal Bag are better at being presumptuous windbags than I can ever hope to be.

I would point to recent statistics showing that black motherhood is actually on the decline and that “unmarried” doesn’t necessarily mean “unpartnered” because there are plenty of queer black moms out here in healthy relationships. I would even point to the numerous studies showing that economics–not marital status–is to blame for the number of black moms living in poverty. But who needs all those pesky facts when you’ve got a forum to promote? “A Politically Incorrect Conversation About Saving Our Community?” Oooh. So edgy. I’m sure it’ll make Sean Hannity cream in his Jockeys.

So, I thank you–both of you–for making me realize just how important it is to stand up and use my voice. Thank you for reminding me of how valuable people like Tanya Fields and Melissa Harris Perry are, because while you are wasting bandwidth and keystrokes to attack them, they’re out here changing fucking LIVES. They are doing the work you think you’re doing. Thank you for making Hood Feminism necessary.

Also, when we say #openseasononblackgirlsisover? We mean it. Don’t come for us unless we send for you.