Our role in addressing racism and anti-blackness for Black survivors

Written by Anna Harper-Guerrero

Emerge has been in a process of evolution and transformation for the last 6 years that is intensely focused on becoming an anti-racist, multicultural organization.  We are working every day to uproot anti-blackness and confront racism in an effort to return to the humanity that lives deep within all of us. We want to be a reflection of liberation, love, compassion and healing – the same things we want for anyone suffering in our community.  Emerge is on a journey to speak the untold truths about our work and have humbly presented the written pieces and videos from community partners this month.  These are important truths about the real experiences that survivors have trying to access help.  We believe that in that truth is the light for the way forward. 

This process is slow, and every day there will be invitations, both literal and figurative, to revert to what has not served our community, served us as the people who make up Emerge, and that which has not served survivors in the ways that they deserve.  We are working to center the important life experiences of ALL survivors.  We are taking responsibility for inviting courageous conversations with other non-profit agencies and sharing our messy journey through this work so that we can replace a system born out of a desire to categorize and dehumanize people in our community.  The historical roots of the non-profit system cannot be ignored. 

If we pick up on the point made by Michael Brasher this month in his piece about rape culture and the socialization of men and boys, we can see the parallel if we choose to.  “The implicit, often unexamined, set of values contained in the cultural code to ‘man up’ are a part of an environment in which men are trained to disconnect from and devalue feelings, to glorify force and winning, and to viciously police each other’s ability to replicate these norms.”

Much like the roots of a tree that provides support and anchorage, our framework is embedded in values that ignore the historical truths about domestic and sexual violence as being an outgrowth of racism, slavery, classism, homophobia, and transphobia.  These systems of oppression give us permission to disregard the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color  – including those who identify in the LGBTQ communities – as having less value at best and non-existent at worst. It is risky for us to assume that these values still don’t seep into the deep corners of our work and influence everyday thoughts and interactions.

We are willing to risk it all.  And by all we mean, tell all the truth about how domestic violence services have not accounted for the experience of ALL survivors.  We have not considered our role in addressing racism and anti-blackness for Black survivors.  We are a non-profit system that has created a professional field out of the suffering in our community because that is the model that was built for us to operate within.  We have struggled to see how the very same oppression that leads to unconscionable, life-ending violence in this community has also insidiously worked its way into the fabric of the system designed to respond to survivors of that violence. In its current state, ALL survivors cannot have their needs met in this system, and too many of us working in the system have engaged a coping mechanism of distancing ourselves from the realities of those who cannot be served.  But this can, and must, change.  We must change the system so that the full humanity of ALL survivor is seen and honored.

To be in reflection about how to change as an institution within complicated, deeply anchored systems takes great courage.  It requires us to stand in the circumstances of risk and account for harm that we have caused.  It also requires us to be precisely focused on the way forward.  It requires us to no longer stay silent about the truths.  The truths that we all know are there.  Racism is not new.  Black survivors feeling let down and invisible is not new.  The numbers of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are not new. But our prioritization of it is new. 

Black Women deserve to be loved, celebrated, and lifted up for their wisdom, knowledge, and accomplishments.  We must also acknowledge that Black Women have no choice but to survive in a society that was never intended to hold them as valuable.  We must listen to their words about what change means but fully assume our own responsibility in identifying and addressing the injustices that happen daily.

Indigenous Women deserve to live freely and be revered for all that they have woven into the earth that we walk on – to include their very bodies.  Our attempts to liberate Indigenous communities from domestic abuse must also include our ownership of the historical trauma and truths that we readily hide about who planted those seeds on their land. To include ownership of the ways that we attempt to water those seeds daily as a community.

It is okay to tell the truth about these experiences. In fact, it is critical to the collective survival of ALL survivors in this community.  When we center those who are listened to the least, we ensure the space is open for everyone.

We can reimagine and actively build a system that has a great ability to build safety and hold the humanity of everyone in our community.  We can be spaces where everyone is welcome in their truest, fullest self, and where everyone’s life has value, where accountability is seen as love.  A community where we all have the opportunity to build a life free from violence.

The Queens is a support group that was created at Emerge to center the experiences of Black Women in our work.  It was created by and is led by Black Women.

This week we proudly present the important words and experiences of the Queens, who journeyed through a process led by Cecelia Jordan over the last 4 weeks to encourage unguarded, raw, truth-telling as the pathway to healing.  This excerpt is what the Queens chose to share with the community in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Written by April Ignacio

April Ignacio is a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the founder of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots community organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education beyond voting for members of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She is a fierce advocate for women, a mother to six and an artist.

The violence against Indigenous women has been so normalized that we sit in an unspoken, insidious truth that our own bodies do not belong to us. My first recollection of this truth is probably around the age of 3 or 4 years old, I attended the HeadStart Program in a village called Pisinemo. I remember being told “don’t let anyone take you” as a warning from my teachers while on a field trip. I remember being afraid that in fact someone was going to try and “take me” but I didn’t understand what that meant. I knew I had to be in sight distance from my teacher and that I, as a 3 or 4 year old child then became suddenly very aware of my surroundings. I realize now as an adult, that trauma was passed on to me, and I had passed it onto my own children. My oldest daughter and son both recall being instructed by me “don’t let anyone take you” as they were traveling somewhere without me. 

 

Historically violence against Indigenous people in the United States has created a normalcy among most tribal people that when I was asked to provide a thorough insight to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls I  struggled to find the words to talk about our shared living experience which always seems to be in question. When I say our bodies don’t belong to us, I am talking about this within a historical context. The United States government sanctioned astronomical programs and targeted the Indigenous people of this country in the name of “progress”. Whether it was forcibly relocating Indigenous people from their homelands onto reservations, or stealing children from their homes to be placed into boarding schools clear across the country, or the forced sterilization of our women in Indian Health Services from the 1960 throughout the 80s.  Indigenous people have been forced to survive in a life story that is saturated with violence and most times it feels as though we are screaming into a void.  Our stories are invisible to most, our words remain unheard.

 

It is important to remember that there are 574 tribal Nations in the United States and each one is unique. In Arizona alone there are 22 distinct tribal Nations, including the transplants from other Nations throughout the country that call Arizona home. So the collection of data for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls has been challenging and almost near to impossible to conduct.  We are struggling to identify the true numbers of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered, missing, or have been taken. The plight of this movement is being led by Indigenous women, we are our own experts.

 

In some communities, women are being murdered by non-indigenous people.  In my tribal community 90% of the cases of women who were murdered, were a direct result of domestic violence and this is reflected in our tribal judicial system. Roughly 90% of the court cases that are heard in our Tribal courts are domestic violence cases. Each case study may differ based on geographical location, however this is what it looks like in my community. It is imperative that community partners and allies understand Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls is a direct result of perpetrated violence against Indigenous women and girls. The roots of this violence is deeply embedded in archaic belief systems that teach insidious lessons about the worth of our bodies – lessons that give permission for our bodies to be taken at whatever cost for whatever reason. 

 

I often find myself frustrated by the lack of discourse of how we are not talking about ways to prevent domestic violence but instead we are talking about how to recover and find missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  The truth is that there are two justice systems. One that allows a man who has been accused of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, including non-consensual kissing and groping of at least 26 women since the 1970s to become the 45th President of the United States. This system parallels the one that would erect statutes in honor of men who raped the women they had enslaved. And then there is the justice system for us; where the violence against our bodies and taking of our bodies are recent and illuminating. Grateful, I am.  

 

In November of last year the Trump administration signed Executive Order 13898, forming the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaskan Natives, also known as  “Operation Lady Justice”, that would provide more ability to open more cases (unsolved and cold cases) of Indigenous women directing the allocation of more money from the Department of Justice.  However, no additional laws or authority comes with Operation Lady Justice. The order quietly addresses the lack of action and prioritization of solving cold cases in Indian Country without acknowledging the great harm and trauma that so many families have suffered with for so long.  We must address the way that our policies and lack of prioritization of resources allows for the silence and erasure of the many Indigenous Women and Girls who are missing and who have been murdered.

 

On October 10th the Savanna Act and Not Invisible Act were both signed into law. The Savanna Act would create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, in consultation with Tribes, which will include guidance on interjurisdictional cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement. The Not Invisible Act would provide opportunities for tribes to seek preventative efforts, grants and programs related to missing (taken) and the murder of Indigenous peoples.

 

As of today, the Violence Against Women Act has still yet to be passed through the Senate. The Violence Against Women Act is the law that provides an umbrella of services and protections for undocumented women and transwomen. It’s the law that allowed us to believe and imagine something different for our communities that are drowning with the saturation of violence. 

 

Processing these bills and laws and executive orders is an important task that has shed some light on larger issues, but I still park near the exit of covered garages and staircases. I still worry about my daughters who travel to the city alone. When challenging toxic masculinity and consent in my community it took having a conversation with the High School Football Coach to agree to allow his football team to participate in our efforts to create a conversation in our community about the impact of violence. Tribal communities can thrive when they are given the opportunity and the power over how they see themselves. After all, we are still here. 

About Indivisible Tohono

Indivisible Tohono is a grassroots community organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education beyond voting for members of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Rape Culture and Domestic Abuse

Written piece by Boys to Men

              While there has been much debate about civil war-era monuments, Nashville poet Caroline Williams recently reminded us of the often-overlooked stake in this issue: rape, and rape culture. In an OpEd entitled, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument,” she reflects on the history behind the shade of her light-brown skin. “As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.” Her body and writing function together as a confrontation of the true results of the social orders that the U.S. has traditionally valued, especially when it comes to gender roles. Despite the robust amount of emerging data that links the traditional gender socialization of boys to a range of public health crises and violence, today, across America, boys are still often raised on an old-school American mandate: “man up.”

               Williams’ timely and vulnerable exposé on her own family history reminds us that gendered and racial subordination have always gone hand in hand. If we want to confront either, we must confront both. A part of doing that is recognizing that there are very normalized objects and practices that litter our daily lives today in America that continue to support rape culture. This isn’t about statues, Williams reminds us, but about how we want to collectively relate to the historical practices of domination that justify and normalize sexual violence.

               Take for example, the romantic comedy, in which the rejected boy goes to heroic lengths to win the affections of the girl who is not interested in him—overcoming her resistance in the end with a grand romantic gesture. Or the ways that boys are lifted up for having sex, whatever the cost. Indeed, the traits that we often ingrain into young boys every day, connected to long-standing ideas about “real men,” are the inevitable foundation for rape culture.

               The implicit, often unexamined, set of values contained in the cultural code to “man up” are a part of an environment in which men are trained to disconnect from and devalue feelings, to glorify force and winning, and to viciously police each other’s ability to replicate these norms. Substituting my own sensitivity to the experience of others (and my own) with the mandate to win and get mine is how I learned to become a man. Normalized practices of domination link the story that Williams tells to the customs that are present today when a 3-year old little boy is humiliated by the adult he loves for crying when he feels pain, fear, or compassion: “boys don’t cry” (boys discard feelings).

              However, the movement to end the glorification of domination is growing, too. In Tucson, on a given week, across 17 area schools and at the Juvenile Detention Center, nearly 60 trained, adult men from across communities sit down to participate in group talking circles with around 200 teenaged boys as a part of the work of Boys to Men Tucson. For many of these boys, this is the only place in their life where it’s safe to let down their guard, to tell the truth about how they are feeling, and to ask for support. But these sorts of initiatives need to gain much more traction from all parts of our community if we are to replace rape culture with a culture of consent that promotes safety and justice for all. We need your help expanding this work.

            On October 25, 26, and 28, Boys to Men Tucson is partnering with Emerge, the University of Arizona and a coalition of devoted community groups to host a groundbreaking forum aimed at organizing our communities to create significantly better alternatives for teen boys and masculine-identified youth. This interactive event will take a deep dive into the forces that structure masculinity and emotional well-being for the young people in Tucson. This is a key space where your voice and your support can help us make a huge difference in the type of culture that exists for the next generation when it comes to gender, equality, and justice. We invite you to join us for this practical step towards cultivating a community in which safety and justice are the norm, rather than the exception. For more information on the forum, or to register to attend, please visit www.btmtucson.com/masculinityforum2020.

              This is just one example of the large-scale movement to cultivate love’s resistance to ordinary cultural systems of domination. Abolitionist Angela Davis characterized this shift best when she turned the serenity prayer on its head, asserting, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” As we reflect on the impact of domestic and sexual violence in our communities this month, may we all have the courage and resolve to follow her lead.

About Boys to Men

VISION

Our vision is to strengthen communities by calling men to step up to mentor teenage boys on their journey towards healthy manhood.

MISSION

Our mission is to recruit, train, and empower communities of men to mentor teenage boys through on-site circles, adventure outings, and contemporary rites of passage.

Justice Begins where violence toward Black women ends

Cecelia Jordan is a community rooted teacher, poet and transformative justice practitioner. Her organization, Love in Public, develops authentic learning experiences for justice-oriented organizations.

In response to My Body Is a Confederate Monument by Caroline Randall Williams. Thank you, Ms. Williams (@caroranwill), for telling this pivotal truth. 

“Do you think your great-great-great-great grandmother was raped?” 

-This is my father’s question in response to the bold statement: I have raped colored skin. I flail in the sea of misogyny, and explain, “an enslaved person cannot consent.” 

“Well I’d hate to think a Black woman couldn’t make a white man fall in love with her,” he says. I am disgusted. 

He retorts, “I just don’t see what any of that has to do with domestic violence.”

I am a Black queer masculine-of-center woman, an educator, a restorative justice practitioner, a sister, an auntie, a granddaughter, a niece, an unapologetic hood nerd, poet and survivor. My life purpose is guided by a not-so-simple question: how do we heal from harm to embrace a politic of care and build systems rooted in love? If “love is what justice looks like in public,” as Dr. Cornel West says, then we must focus our efforts on those most impacted by injustice. This will require us to step out of our comfort zones, and extend compassion to the people who experience generational harm and are denied access to resources. If we, as a society, cannot believe that Black enslaved women could be raped by their masters and overseers, how can anyone fathom that Black women are currently victims of intimate partner violence?

When a Black woman is harmed, they will blame our attitudes, our clothing choices, our pasts, and assume we don’t feel pain. The fact is, our attitude, our unapologetic commitment to unbridled truth, is built in response to society’s abrasive apathy. We still talk about slavery in connection to violence because Black women are still dying in the hands of systems, and because we all make up systems, Black women are dying in your hands. You are responsible for the relics of slavery and colonization. You are responsible for your thoughts, actions and behaviors toward Black women. You are responsible for believing us, or continuing to uphold contrived, inhumane, hypersexualized fantasies where Black women and girls are harmed because we make rapists fall in love with us. All of these anti-Black ideas must be uprooted.

In Circle, where space is held to uncover shared values and build relationships, I’ve learned two things: most non-Black people are not in deep relationship with Black folx, and once “made aware” of this reality, most admit to causing massive amounts of harm. Intentionality does not reverse the impact of the harm caused: pushing Black women out of their jobs, using Black friends to discuss racism, adopting Black children to not seem racist, teaching Black students to be respectable, ignoring racist jokes amongst family, leaving anti-Black behavior at work unchecked. Seemingly quiet personal adherence to such rules at the expense of Black life is to be expected in a society that follows the rule of law at the expense of Black life.

Safety is an unattainable luxury for Black skin. Domestic Violence Awareness Month gives us a haven to  address this unspeakable truth alongside the always-present elephant in the race conversation: what about Black on Black violence? Yes, Black women are four times more likely than their white peers to be murdered by a boyfriend or girlfriend, and twice as likely to be killed by a spouse. We are harmed by our cousins, uncles, brothers, friends and lovers. Black on Black violence, or interpersonal violence amongst Black people, is symptomatic of a society that creates educational, medical, media, and legal barriers on Black life.

To be Black woman is to be a constant shield and target. Holder of a society’s pleasure and pain. To be strong, eloquent and cold. To be confident, beautiful and bitch. To be mammy, maid and slave. To breastfeed the child that will later be your master. To be violated but nobody calls it violence, just a symptom of a violent society. To be too much and never enough. While our institutions fortify this violence, its roots can be found in the bloody soils of chattel slavery. Here, in our closest interpersonal relationships, we are socialized in abuse. Though less visible, our relationships are confederate monuments, too; they reap terror through our family structures, work systems, and our lives.

 

In the U.S., Black and Indigenous women face higher rates of domestic violence than women of all other races. The rules that govern our society make it clear that our criminal legal system is not interested in consequences for people who hurt women. Instead, it is designed to incarcerate and re-enslave our people through a Constitutional loophole. If we consider the 13th Amendment to be a systemic noose, then our criminal legal system is a slave monument constructed upon the belief that some are more worthy of humanity than others. Old sayings like “what happens in this house, stays in this house” serve as a reminder that our culture is not only rooted in silencing victims, but in protecting the village; in the hood and the modern day slave quarters where the boys in blue enter like overseers and deliver their so-called version of justice.

Our current version of justice is inherently violent, inhumane, and outdated. We see that violence seeps through domestic soil and grows more domestic violence. In the present-pain of a massive epic fail, we do not want our harmers fatally punished, incarcerated or disposed of—we want healing. And still, when Black women decide to break the silence, we are too often dismissed or made complicit in racist attacks on our people. We fight for scraps of hormone-induced power because it feels like we have none. We stay in abusive relationships because we are always trying to save our people.

We will know what justice looks like when we know how to love Black people, and especially Black women. Loving us is not about returning to the goodness of whiteness, but about acknowledging the violence of white perversion and the falsities of its “truths.” Imagine a world where Black women heal and create truly just systems of support and accountability. Imagine institutions made up of individuals who pledge to be co-conspirators in fights for Black freedom and justice, and commit to understanding the layered foundation of plantation politics. Imagine, for the first time in history, we are invited to complete Reconstruction.

In this generational war on Black people, it is Black women who face violence on multiple fronts. In honor of this month, and in the days, months and years to come, make time to see and listen to the Black women in your life. Don’t speak, don’t argue, just remember you can never even begin to imagine the immense amount of unspeakable pain we carry, both epigenetically and in this lifetime. Be of service and stay late to help; don’t ask for uncompensated labor. Buy lunch and cook dinner; gift money, for no reason at all. Learn about the true history of this country—about systemic violence and anti-Blackness. Talk to your folx and find ways to hold people accountable. And above all, build deep relationships with people committed to communal transformation, radical policy change, and resources every system in this country needs.

Every interaction with a Black woman brings either the opportunity to address domestic violence and slavery, and atone for systemic harm, or the choice to continue to follow violent societal norms. Know that this awakening will change everything. We must change everything in the name of love, of future, and in the spirit of Black women who continue to carry our movements toward justice.

To take action, visit Love In Public and help provide safe learning and healing spaces for Black folx during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in the months to come.

 

 About Love In Public. Love in Public provides authentic and tailored learning experiences to justice-oriented organizations to build strong relationships, center the identities and experiences of those most pushed to the margins, and catalyze those findings to inform a path toward organizational change and sustainability.

We integrate critical pedagogy, restorative justice, and healing practices into our learning work which is based in theoretical understandings of Black queer feminism, Latinx Critical Theory, Tribal Crit, and more. Together, we engage in simulations, poetry, speech, and opinion writing workshops, gallery walks, improvisation theatre, deep listening activities, and circles.

 

Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls

October 2019 – Supporting indigenous women and girlsWritten by April Ignacio, a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the founder of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots community organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education beyond voting for members

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Beverly’s Story

October 2019 – Supporting Survivors Who StayThis week’s untold story centers on domestic abuse survivors who choose to stay in their relationship. The piece below, written by Beverly Gooden, was originally published by the Today Show in 2014.

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