Racism is an integral part of US culture, but the shape and nature of racism changes with every generation. This country’s roots in slavery and colonization gave way to Jim Crow, reservations, and racist immigration policies. Since the late 1960s, we’ve been living in the post-integration era where real progress in a few areas has created a pretense that racism is over. This things-are-so-much-better-now narrative continues in spite of people of color continuing to testify about how racism still affects every aspect of our lives on a daily basis.
As the context of racism changes, what it means to be a white anti-racist “ally” has transformed, as well.
Street harassment has been part of my existence since I was a young teenager, but it wasn't until I was in graduate school in 2006 that I even learned the term "street harassment." I found the term on the website of the Street Harassment Project (founded in the early internet days of 1999). When I learned the phrase, I was so relieved: there was a name for what I experienced. There were other people who hated it, too.
Egyptian comics character Qahera, a new Muslim superhero who fights street harassment and sexual violence.
At the beginning of September, around the time news broke of Ciudad Juárez's Diana, "Huntress of Bus Drivers," my dad informed me that a female family member of ours living near Mexico City was assaulted while waiting for the bus she took home each evening. So, after reading reports about Diana the Huntress from Mexican news sources like El Diario, I came to embrace the myth-worthy, middle-aged, black-clad vigilante with a shock of blonde hair who was quickly attainting superhero status for killing two bus drivers she alleged were rapists.
George and Shellie Zimmerman, appearing in court. Photo via.
In case you haven't heard, George Zimmerman went berserk Monday, punching his father-in-law in the face and pulling a gun on his estranged wife. Shellie Zimmerman, who is filing for divorce, called 911 screaming, "I'm really, really scared."
Zimmerman is the man acquitted of shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. When Shellie Zimmerman first began talking to the press about the divorce, she said the highly publicized trial ruined her life. But she also cited Zimmerman's verbal abuse and self-centeredness as reasons she wants to leave the marriage. "I have a selfish husband….George is all about George," she told the press. With this episode of domestic violence, she told authorities, "I don't know what he's capable of."
But we do know what he's capable of. He's capable of killing an unarmed kid and thinking the action is justified.
It's upsetting when an activist group winds up alienating the very people they're supposed to be supporting. That's exactly what happened to long-time social justice activist Emi Koyama two weeks ago at the Forging Justice conference in Detroit, which was sponsored by the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and Michigan domestic violence and sexual assault agency HAVEN. During Koyama's talk, the NOMAS organizers turned off the conference livestream, so people watching online were unable to follow along. Koyama wrote a long, detailed piece on Shakesville about how some organizers continued to treat her in a way that was so upsetting that she had to leave the conference before it was over.
I talked with Koyama on Friday about took away from the experience and what's next for her.
I eagerly read Brittney Cooper's article on Salon this week, "The Politics of Being Friends with White People." While she and I have many demographics in common--being the academically accelerated Black girl in mostly white classes--there are huge differences in our experiences. I think much of that may have to do with geographical context.
Unlike Cooper, whose bio says she grew up in Louisiana, I grew up in Berkeley, California. Cooper talks about how it was the norm for white people in her community to vote Republican. I can understand that it would be difficult to form close ties with white people whose political ideologies have been traditionally been associated with racist legislation and racist political positions. Growing up in Berkeley in the 70s and 80s, Republicans were rare. In this kind of urban, progressive context, racism is a big no-no. White people have plenty of racist thoughts and feelings, but they learn how to keep them hidden, a false sort of progress.
Hugo Schwyzer is a narcissistic blowhole. This week, many of the women whom Schwyzer attacked and villified online over the years have successfully pushed the media frenzy around his recent admission that he's a fraud and an abuser into a bigger, more important discussion about the role that race has played in progressive, feminist media's support of Schwyzer over the years.
Take time to read through all the tweets on #solidarityisforwhitewomen, a hashtag started by Mikki Kendall, where people are posting all sorts of insights about how avowed white feminists can ignore and dimiss people of color—including the years of harassment Schwyzer inflicted, but also on other issues like the wage gap and media coverage.
Grassroots anti-street-harassment group Hollaback organized the event, welcoming community organizers, nonprofit members, and just plain angry folks to share histories and to air out grievances about everyday sexual harassment.
It's clear that at the end of the event that street harassment is all about ownership of space.
This month, Bitch is collaborating with Her Kind, a literary community hosted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, by posing a series of questions to a talented woman writer. Seattle interdisciplinary artist and poet Natasha Marin took on eight questions about bitchiness.
When was the first time you remember being called a bitch? What were the circumstances?
NATASHA MARIN: Honestly, I can't remember the first time someone called me a bitch. I remember the first time someone called me a nigger though, but that's a different kind of story.
Two weeks ago, you might have read Questlove's piece about his experiences being profiled daily as a black man in light of the George Zimmerman verdict. "You ain't shit. That's the lesson I took from this case.... These words are deep because these are words I've heard my whole life." The musician describes dampening his emotions and heightening his perception of how others perceive him in public as a black man. Citing one instance in particular—when he found himself alone in the elevator of his swanky apartment building with a woman who made her discomfort known—he discusses how both personal interactions and society at large broadcast loud and clear that his life, like that of Trayvon Martin, "ain't shit" to other people.