Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kill A Sex Trade Worker and Serve 1 Day In Jail

In another startling example of whose bodies matter, convicted killer Wayne Ryczak Wayne-Ryczak456 was sentenced to one day in prison and time served since his March 5, 2007, arrest for the death of Stephanie Beck. Judge Stephen Glithero declared it to be the equivalent of 30 months in jail.  The crown had requested 7-10 years in jail, and Ryzacks lawyer had  requested two years less a day to be served in the community. While Becks mother weeps for the loss of her daughter,  the construction worker from St.Catherines, Ontario is free to go on with his life. Does it matter that Beck was only 29 when she died, or that she was pregnant?  Does it matter that he dumped her half nude body in a snowbank like used trash?  All that the so-called blind justice system saw when it adjudicated this case is that the victim was a prostitute.

"Devastated, we're devastated," Beck's mother, Alice Dort, said from her home in Nova Scotia, according to the St. Catherines standard. "She was a very loving person," Dort said of her daughter. "She had a heart of gold. Her lifestyle, to me right now, this whole thing has judged her on her lifestyle, not as a human being."

Yet Ryzack saw fit to strangle her to death and claim it was in self-defense after being hit with a lamp.  Please explain to me how you can strangle someone to death in self-defense.  Strangulation is active, you must continually apply pressure for an extended period of time to kill someone.  If her death was so accidental why did he dump her body instead of calling the police? 

Andrea Dworkin theorizes that , "When men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body. It is as pure as anything on this earth ever is or ever has been. It is a contempt so deep, so deep, that a whole human life is reduced to a few sexual orifices, and he can do anything he wants. She is perceived as, treated as--and I want you to remember this, this is real--vaginal slime. She is dirty; a lot of men have been there. A lot of semen, a lot of vaginal lubricant. This is visceral, this is real, this is what happens. Her anus is often torn from the anal intercourse, it bleeds. Her mouth is a receptacle for semen, that is how she is perceived and treated. All women are considered dirty because of menstrual blood but she bleeds other times, other places. She bleeds because she's been hurt, she bleeds and she's got bruises on her. Prostituted women are women who are there, available for the gynocidal kill. And prostituted women are being killed every single day, and we don't think we're facing anything resembling an emergency. Why should we? They're no one. When a man kills a prostitute, he feels righteous. It is a righteous kill. He has just gotten rid of a piece of dirt, and the society tells him he is right."

In an act that can be be termed nothing less than patriarchal bonding Judge Glithero, confirmed Dworkins statements by denying justice to Beck and her family. How different would the sentencing have been had he killed a successful white male?  In a patriarchal world wherein men make the laws, justice cannot help but be made to serve its master.  Prostitutes know this, and this is why they do not report it when they are raped or otherwise physically abused.  Their bodies are expendable simply because they must market them as a commodity. Ryczak  walks the streets a free man, not because he is innocent of a crime but because he acted as an exterminator to a member of a class of women that society has declared undesirable and dirty. Judge Glithero affirmed the social stigmatization with his sentencing decree.  Clearly murder is only truly worth punishing when the victim is deemed to be a loss to society.  We will never know what Beck, or her child would have contributed to this world had they been given a chance to live.  All that we can be certain is that their voices have been silenced for an eternity, forever existing as a cold testament to the  disharmony of worth and value in a patriarchal world.

Note:  I originally searched for a picture of Stephanie Beck for this post, but of course her image has been lost to the stands of time, whereas the image of Ryczak her killer is readily available online. 

Reference:  Accessed: May 17, 2008   Accessed: May 17, 2008

Does FGM Reduce Women to Sex Toys?

My first stop in the morning is Racialicious. This morning there was a post regarding an advertising campaign in Spain. In an effort to raise awareness, women who have been circumcised are depicted as toys.

fgm1 The post specifically questions the desire of Western feminists to impose their ideas of female emancipation upon others.  It is theorized that female circumcision is decried in the West, because it may reduce the ability of a woman to experience sexual fulfillment, whereas in cultures were it is practiced women experience a bond.  It is used as a right of passage, or a declaration of womanhood and community.   Wade asserts that,  "many women say they’d much rather have clean drinking water and freedom from penalizing economic policies imposed by the U.S., than sexual pleasure." 

If we are to accept that statement as factual, then western feminists are imposing cultural norms upon women from different geographical areas.  Living in an area where all have access to clean drinking water and food,  subsistence needs have become secondary considerations to most Western peoples, whereas a daily struggle for survival must be of pressing concern in the regions where the practice of FGM is dominant.

While I will acknowledge that subsistence needs are extremely important, it cannot stand as a defense of this procedure as it is currently performed.  This is not a question of womens autonomy, it is a question of child abuse.  According to WHO, infant girls  are being circumcised.  A child cannot possibly give informed consent to FGM, much less an infant. fgm2 The authoritarian nature of the child/parent relationship is what allows such disrespect of bodily integrity.  While I hear the voices of the women talking about cultural imperialism of western feminists, I also hear the cries of pain from the young girls who are being mutilated in unsanitary conditions, without anesthesia.  It is the elephant in the room that is left out of this article.   Does an adult sentient female have the right to decide what is appropriate for her body...absolutely.  If  FGM were being performed by choice on women, as much as I disagree with the practice I would stand in defense of it.  This as we know is not the case, it is performed on children.  According to WHO, it is most often performed on girls under the age of 10.

As she lies there with her legs tied together, is she aware that she might be undergoing shock that could lead to her death? Think about that, someone who has just begun to live, has unknowingly risked death.  fgm3 Is she aware that in years to come she risks urinary and reproductive tract infections, caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, various forms of scarring and infertility?  Is she aware that a 2006 study by WHO has shown that women who have had Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth and that their babies are more likely to die as a result of the practice? Is she aware that, serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a caesarean section, dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth of the baby and prolonged hospitalization following the birth? Is she aware that, the study showed that the degree of complications increased according to the extent and severity of the FGM.

FGM cannot be reduced to  an argument about cultural imperialism.  Someone has to speak for the children  who have no voices of their own.  If as feminists we hold womens bodies inviolable then the same should apply to infant girls.  As parents we have the power to make life or death decisions for a child, however children are the responsibility of us all. fgm4 Tears will not wash away the needless bloodshed or return the lives that have been been given in the name of patriarchy and social cohesion.   It is simply callous to claim we cannot judge because of western privilege, when each day infant girls are subject to such abject torture. 

We do not deem it cultural imperialism when we encourage the use of condoms to halt the spread of aids, so why should stopping such an inhumane practice  fall into that category?  A womans body means something, her future children are worth something.  Just as once we believed the earth was flat, until through science and reason we lifted the veil of ignorance, so to can education bring a halt to this.  Educating mothers on the risks of  FGM is a testimony to how we are able to love and cherish ourselves as women.  Indeed I am more than my vagina, but that does not mean that it is not a significant part of my being.  I demand the right of each woman, and or child to the unassailability of their bodies.    To justify FGM in the name of maintaining cultural norms is to be party to a river of blood.  I am unwilling to live with this stain to "own" my western privilege.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sex And Black Male Entitlement

Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter are the authors of Don't Blame It On Rio. I recently came across an interview that they did at, BlackVoices. To say that I am upset is an understatement. I must state that my judgment is based solely on reviewing the interview posted there, as well as reading an excerpt from the book.

From the Preface of Don't Blame it on Rio:
At a minimum, black men make trips overseas for physical reasons that include sex. However, many have experienced a level of physical and sexual intimacy, a sort of sexual healing, that they see as lacking in many of their current relationships with black women. They also make these trips for cultural reasons. They describe a deep embrace and recognition to a people, a time and a land that they do not get here in the United States and do not see in black women. Most importantly, these men increasingly travel overseas because of a profound sense of identity that they find and create on these trips. So what they ultimately end up paying for is access to an elite male experience, and intercourse with a set of beliefs and ideas about black manhood that they think are denied to them by black women in America. The problem is that during these journeys, sometimes consciously but also unconsciously, black men are led further away from black women--not just physically, but also emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

What we are talking about her is the denigration of Black women for the services received from sex trade workers. Black men want to be recognized, treated as men, and valued, well I tell you what, you first. Exploiting women for the purposes of self elevation is disgusting and predatory. These women don't respect you fool, they need MONEY. If she tells you how handsome, strong, and sexy you are it is because you have become necessary to her subsistence. The economy of Brazil and indeed the capitalist mode of exchange to which we are all subject to impoverishes women. The feminization of poverty is a global phenomenon.

MTW: What do black men feel like they're not getting from black women at home?

JW: The dilemma is that part of what men feel like they are not getting from black women is also connected with what they feel like they are not getting from America as well...
Men also seem to feel like they are not getting the type of physical and emotional care that they think they need and deserve. For a class of black men that work at some of the highest levels of America there is a feeling that they want peace in their household. I point out in the chapter "She Acts Like A Man" that men may confuse peace with submission, but there is a sense that black men want their homes to be different than their work environment. In other areas, black men seem to want black women to be physically smaller, they want black women to be more exploratory in their sexuality and a host of other things.

Where to begin with this one... No matter what issues black men face in the outside world due to racism, classism, etc he is still able to exercise patriarchal privilege within the household, despite claims to the contrary. How much more must women submit to patriarchy for men to feel valued? Imagine that they are suffering from a lack of physical and emotional care while their terrible, evil, wives are busy doing the majority of the housework, childcare, and elder care. I know the women should just give up sleep altogether, and then of black men would be satisfied. If acting like a man means I refuse to be worked until I look older than you, then too damn bad. Black women have historically been treated like beasts of burden, and if refusing to wear the yolk of oppression, smiling broadly breasts out means identifying as a male, I say its about time black women were given our due.
Final thought on this one, the whole acting like a male thing is tired. Since black women first stepped foot on this continent we have been ascribed the ultimate "un-woman" category. Yes, we are woman enough when you want us on our backs, but when it comes to work, we better grow some balls and get in there with the big boys. Enough of the gender binaries. Taunts aside no one decides our gender or how we choose to negotiate it but us. Grow a vagina, it might make you a kinder person.

Book Excerpts:

This is perhaps the biggest one. On these trips, men don’t just have sex; they also live out their sexual fantasies. As one man said matter-of-factly, “Everything you’ve seen on a video, I have done!”

What typically happens at first is that men just have rampant sex. However, on their subsequent trips they usually have made plans to do all the different things that they have only dreamed about or seen on videos. I talked with one man who was going for his second time, and I asked him what some of his expectations were for his upcoming trip.

He said, “This time I want to do a threesome, but with anal.”

Invariably, this type of sexual adventurism leads them to have more varied sexual appetites and interests. A number of men come back from these trips going on about how sexually free Brazilian women are compared to their current or past partners.

Once again it is all about the men and no reflection on how their behavior is effecting Brazilian women. To them these are just bodies to be purchased, used and discarded like yesterdays news. But it is a healthy experience right?

Much of this whole phenomenon is founded on the belief and idea that Brazilian women are the most beautiful women in the world. Invariably, professional black men come back with problems with the way black women look. But it’s deeper than the physical looks, although that’s the driving force. The way Brazilian women look and care for themselves make black men see other things in black women that they feel are lacking. The comparison becomes very strong. And the mind-set is, why sift through the large number of black women to find one who works out and looks good and isn’t overbearing, when you can have a sea of “perfect” women in Brazil?

If you were going to sell your car, wouldn't you take it through a car wash first? Of course these women are beautiful and well kept, their bodies are their main commodity. To not invest in them would be bad business sense. To compare that to a professional black women who is working a double day is not only unfair, it smacks of a divide and conquer.

In my heart I do not have any animosity towards the sex trade workers. I know that they are doing the best that they can within a system that is predicated on exploitation. Most sex trade workers have a history of sexual abuse. The work that they do is inherently degrading and damaging to the soul. My anger is directed at the black johns who seek to assert their patriarchal privilege by exploiting these vulnerable women, and then in turn demonizing black women. It seems to me that the only way these men can realize themselves as individuals is by constructing a reflective other to demean and otherwise harm. Though they may profess to idolize Brazilian women their predatory behavior says otherwise. We do not reduce to a commodity that which we respect and or love.

If it is about reclaiming manhood why is there a fixation on sexual acts? This can only be understood as affirming masculinity, if the masculine is understood as mendacious lechery, and the feminine as submissive, reducible body parts. Rather than engendering sympathy, what this book does is enrage my sensibilities. As a WOC I am tired of being denigrated for the benefit of others. Nothing has changed since we were sold naked on the slave blocks. Our bodies are considered to be always ready for consumption, or thought of as cheap and efficient labor. Enough, go sell your sad story to someone that gives a damn. Today I am a little short on empathy.

Mother's Day protest hits police murder

By Stephen Millies
New York
Published May 15, 2008 9:45 PM

Courageous parents whose children had been killed by cops went to the Manhattan office of New York Gov. David Patterson on Mother’s Day, May 11. They demanded justice at a news conference organized by the Justice Committee and Parents Against Police Brutality.

Supporters joined these parents in wearing bloodstained shirts with the names of police victims. Some brought pictures. Everyone demanded justice for Sean Bell.

Parents whose children are murdered by police “never have a happy Mother’s Day,” said Martha Laureano, a leader of the Justice Committee.

In a letter to the governor, these parents called for “a special prosecutor for victims of police abuse and violence.” They want the New York Police Department to leave Juanita Young alone.

Young has never stopped fighting for justice for her son, Malcolm Ferguson, and all victims of police terror. She went to the press conference along with the other parents.

Ferguson was unarmed when he was killed at point-blank range by police officer Louis Rivera on March 1, 2000, in the Bronx. Five days before his death Ferguson had been arrested for protesting the acquittal of the four cops who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times.

Last year a civil court jury determined Officer Rivera was “100 percent responsible” for Ferguson’s death and awarded Young over $10 million. The Bronx district attorney is appealing the just verdict and refuses to reopen the criminal case against this cop. Police continue to threaten and abuse Young and her family.

Young is currently facing criminal charges of assaulting police who invaded her home. They claim the legally blind mother threw a box of cake mix at them.

Margarita Rosario also came to the governor’s office. Her son, Anthony Rosario, was shot 14 times and her nephew, Hilton Vega, eight times on March 12, 1995. Both were lying down when they were killed by former bodyguards for ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Neither cop was ever charged.

Allene Person came for her 19-year-old son, Timur Person, who was killed by police on Dec. 13, 2006, in the Bronx, while his hands were in the air. Four police bullets were pumped into his body.

Joann Mickins came for her son, Corey Mickins, who was shot a dozen times in his favorite Harlem restaurant by plainclothes officers on March 13, 2007. Police claim Corey Mickins had a gun, yet there were no fingerprints on the alleged weapon.

Loretta Cerbelli came for her son, Kevin Cerbelli, who was killed inside the 110th Precinct station house in Elmhurst, Queens, on Oct. 25, 1998. “While my son was on the ground, they shot him in the back,” said Loretta Cerbelli.

Nicholas Heyward Sr. came for his 13-year-old son, Nicholas Heyward Jr. The young honor student was killed by a housing police officer while playing “cops and robbers” in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Houses on Sept. 27, 1994.

Altagracia Mayi came for her son, Manny Mayi Jr., a Queens College honor student. Manny was chased 16 blocks through Corona, Queens, by a white lynch mob before being killed on March 29, 1991. None of the members of this racist gang was ever indicted; instead, one was later admitted to the police academy.

Doris Busch Boskey sent a letter to the event on behalf of her son, Gidone (Gary) Busch. Busch was shot 12 times by cops in Brooklyn on Aug. 30, 1999, despite witnesses who said he didn’t pose a threat to anyone.

None of these killer cops or lynchers was ever prosecuted.

Young told the crowd, “Either we bury this system or we bury our kids.” No justice, no peace!
Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Just as they are remembered by their mothers so too must we sketch their names in our hearts and minds. POC cannot pretend that we live in a system where justice is equally applied. There are those that would tell us that our bodies do not matter, and it is up to us to assert our worth and our value. It is beyond an affront that we continue to be murdered, beaten, and abused by those that are charged with protecting society. Who is going to protect us from them?

Even as I teach my son to approach a police officer if he is in danger, in the back of my mind I wonder how long I can issue that advice. As he ages he will no longer be viewed as an innocent child. Based on his race and gender, society will view him as threat regardless of his intent. How many will cross the street when they see him coming, grabbing their wallets or their purses? How many will assume that he comes from poverty, or a disfunctional home? How many will ascribe the baser traits of human civilization to him, despite the goodness of his soul?

As a mother I raise my voice in solidarity with those mothers who have lost a child to police violence. Tonight as I embrace my child I will think of the mothers whose arms ache to hold their children. Until these officers are brought to justice how can the soul be still?

Cross Dressing, And Muff Diving In The House Of Saud

Picture By: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times

In my perusal of the New York Times, I came across an article that at first seemed to explode with the potential for subversion, in a country known for its strict control of its citizenry. It is entitled, "Love on Girls’ Side of the Saudi Divide". My first thought was, finally a side of Saudi Arabia that never makes the press. My seven year old son has more personal freedom than the women of Saudi Arabia, and so any act of resistance on their part is extremely exciting to me. According to Katherine Zoepf of the NY Times, young Saudi Women are cross dressing in order to enter traditional male only spaces. This is happening at a great personal risk to themselves, because if caught the penalty is harsh. One of the young girls mentioned in the stories even dared to flirt with a woman while she was dressed in "thobes, the ankle-length white garments traditionally worn by Saudi men, and had covered their hair with the male headdresses called shmaghs. One of the girls had used an eyeliner pencil to give herself a grayish, stubble-like mist along her jaw line."

Further in the article Zoepf states, "There are reports of a recent spate of ugly confrontations between youths and the religious police, and of a supposed increase in same-sex love affairs among young people frustrated at the strict division between the genders." This commentary of course is interspersed with assertions by the young women she interviewed, about how much they believe in the Wahhabi religious establishment. Keep in mind that this is the same government that bans women from driving, enforces the strict wearing of the abaya, restricts women from traveling without the express permission of their nearest male relative, and keeps them confined to women only spaces. What's not to love? The girls are quick to report their love of this form of Islam, as well as its enforced heterosexuality.

Did you catch the opening that Zoepf missed? By presenting those that are having lesbian sex as simply subverting a system of control she missed the opportunity to explore different sexualities in Saudi Arabia. It is reinforcing heteronormaitivity to assume that these women are not experiencing genuine feelings for other women. She asserts because the women are always in each others company they turn to each other for sexual release rather than identifying purposefully as lesbians, or even as bi-sexual. In the Victorian age when much of womens sexuality was similarly denied, women were known to have romantic friendships with one another. They may not have been able to name what they were experiencing as such behavior had yet to be labeled, but that did not make their feelings any less real. I believe it is erroneous to assume that availability, rather than will is always the causation of sexual behavior. When Victorian women were asking their husbands to sleep in another room so that they could share a bed with their "friend", are we to assume that such relations were always for sharing platonic intimacies?

The same of course is true of her scant report on women cross dressing. Obviously women have throughout time dressed as men to achieve a freedom that has been denied them due to their gender, but does that mean that all of the women that are dressing as men are doing so for the sake of expediency? I doubt it. Religion does not make Saudi Arabia immune from people who are trans gender. In fact the strict gender performativity that is enforced would seem to me to encourage shifting. Many trans people report how restrictive western society is to live in due to adherence to gender roles, how much more so must Saudi society be? How many would take the opportunity if presented under any mantle to express who they truly are?

Why are these identities not explored? Could it be the combined desire of the Saudi and Western society for lesbians and trans people to remain invisible. Ignoring their existence does not make them any less real. I submit that these questions were not asked because globally trans people and lesbians are considered bodies that don't matter. After all what could be gained from a conversation with the marginalized sub group stigmatized as un-women. No it is far safer to write about girls gushing about flirting with men, or throwing aside their abayas to gyrate to music. Heterosexual and man crazy, is a norm that is comfortable for most. Real, concrete identities that disturb understandings of sexuality and gender are simply unimaginable for those who refuse to contemplate the fluidity of gender and sexuality. Gotta love those binary identifications, they reinforce power dynamics of hetero/ homo, male/female and keep us from knowing who we truly are.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oprah Is A Whore, Barack And Wright Are Homosexuals ?

Courtesy of Black News, Your Views, comes a video that must be seen to be believed. A Reverend from Harlem, James David Manning has named Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, and Jeremiah Wright the Trinity of Hell and has questioned their sexuality. He calls Barack a pimp and Oprah a whore. This is beyond pandering to the lowest common denominator.

He accuses Oprah of specifically betraying white women by supporting Barack. It seems he credits white women with Winfreys success, and posits that her refusal to support Clinton is tantamount to biting the hand that feeds you. He goes on to encourage white women to boycott not only the Oprah show, but all related Oprah products.

Black women apparently should not be entitled to decide for ourselves who we choose to support. We must constantly look over our shoulder to make sure not to upset the status quo. Should we dare to think that autonomy applies to us, men like James Manning are waiting in the wings to remind us of our place in society. Free thinking women are whores. We are less than. How dare we refuse to submit. How dare we decide to use our brains.

You would think that, that would be enough ignorance and hatred for one man for one day, but oh no... He goes on to attack Barack. He repeatedly references his middle name thus preying upon the the islomphobia that is so dominant in the US today. The fact that Barack is not a Muslim, or a terrorist is seemingly irrelevant, what is important is the suggestion that he may be. He is guilty of collaboration based on a name he did not choose.

Ok, I thought he has to be done now, but oh no... Barack is not only a "terrorist", but a pimp. Manning then goes on to denigrate both Barack and Reverand Wright by calling them homosexuals. I wish to make clear that labeling someone a homosexual should not be considered an insult, but in the homophobic world in which we live it is pandering to those that hate based on ignorance, and fear.

I don't know what God Manning is speaking to, but I am quite sure that She/He (God) does not want someone speaking hatred in her/his name. You bring shame upon yourself sir. You represent all that is wrong with our society. Hatred, fear and intolerance breed contempt. You claim to be warning others of the potential harm that Winfrey, Obama and Wright are intent on wreaking upon society, however may I humbly submit that it is you and others of your ilk that are the true apocalypse. Judge not lest ye be judged.

Color Me White

I can think of nothing that represents internalized hatred more than desire to lighten ones skin. There is a thriving market for creams that prey upon the insecurity of others. What is not well known is how damaging these products are. In an attempt to lighten ones pigment, the usage of creams will burn layers of skin. The damage is often permanent. Users are left with highly visible scars.

Dr. Persadsingh says some of the products contain steroids and hydroquinone, which are mutagenic. This means they can cause changes in the body that can lead to cancer. Many users, he notes, find their skin gradually becoming darker when they quit using the chemicals, and some develop a scaly layer on their skin. Few return to their original skin color once they have used skin lighteners.

“The prolonged and continued use of these creams will lead to a face looking like a grater,” warns Dr. Persadsingh.

“When we are faced with this type of damage there is nothing that we can do except to advise the patient to live with their condition,” the dermatologist says.

The visibility of these scars match the scars on the inside. Behind the desire to bleach ones skin is not only a hatred of all things black but an elevation of whiteness as an ideal. The body becomes the marker of racial hierarchy that is prevalent in society. If blacks were valued, or even treated as equal, would there be a desire to lighten skin?

Though black bodies may be free, minds are still colonized. This is evidenced through things like the doll test, which I previously blogged about. The desire to view lighter skin as positive is a remnant of slavery. House slaves were lighter skin and often related to the slave master. They had lighter duties and worked largely indoors, whereas the field slaves were of a darker hue and were required to do more physical labor. Light skin became something to be praised, and perpetuated through selective breeding.

This self-hatred is perpetuated by the media. Darker skinned people are commonly represented as the thieves, liars, rapists, murders etc. Through the lens of pop culture there is a daily representation of dark as somehow deficient and or morally bankrupt, whereas whites inhabit clean, pure and successful places. Combine this with a high level of poverty, a high imprisonment rate, and a reduced access to higher education, is it really surprising that there are some that attempt an escape through mutilation? All whites may not acknowledge their racial privilege but it is inescapable, and highly visible to those bodies that are stigmatized due to skin color. When a name can reduce your chances at employment how much more powerful is skin color?

These creams, soaps and deodorants are predatory. They reinforce difference and encourage self-hatred. In the form of a commodity they represent who matters in our society. Self hatred is a disharmony of worth and value. To profit off of this carnage of the spirit, is to actively assert the correctness of racial hierarchy, and highlights the true nature of capitalism -- profit at any cost. In this framework black bodies are for the consumption of others, i.e existing solely for the purposes of exploitation. We live in a racist, patriarchal, capitalist state that is built upon the colonization of brown bodies and until this foundation has rotted to the core, many will seek drastic action to mitigate their positioning as the bottom rung of society. Who among us does not wish for better based upon socialization? If we teach inferiority, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Declare your worth and demand that these companies who profit from the social disease of racism stop producing these harmful products.

Rape In Darfur

In support of Amnesty International and the women of Darfur, I am posting an article from their website posted last February. War is not only played out on land it is reified by womens bodies. Historically, men have raped women to assert their dominance over other males. This can only be rationalized by viewing women as property. Despite the fact that this has occurred for as long as there have been wars, rape has only recently been declared a war crime. This is not an issue that is isolated to Darfur, rather it represents the most recent reincarnation of the male ability to wage war using womens bodies.

As I sit in the safety of my living room in Canada, I cannot conceive of what life is like for these women. My children are well fed, being educated and we feel no fear. Like many we go about our ordinary lives with a sense of entitlement. As westerners we look at these events through an affected lens, rather than an example of womens oppression. But for an accident of birth that could be me, it could be anyone. Suddenly the minutia of my daily rituals seems rather pathetic in light of the real pain and suffering others.

How exactly does one live a life in the shadow of daily fear? This is something that cannot be theorized, or problematized, to use common feminist catch phrases. We cannot from the safety of our homes, jobs, universities speak about others in abstract terms. These are real women confronted with real problems. This is a cause that demands action and not theory. It demands a feminism with the heart of a lioness. It is time we women went to war. Our war will be productive rather than destructive. It will not be limited to the creation of safe places, rather it should construct a safe world. We cannot abdicate our duty due to a sense of apathy based in distance, or cultural, or racial difference. We must rise like the phoenix from the ashes of the desert and declare war on rape, and mans ability to subjugate and terrorize women. Today as a women, we should declare, we are not your eternal "other" and we will be the subject and not the object of our lives journey!

"All around the camps there is not enough wood. But the Arab Jammala dominate the area and we daren’t go far out. If you are a man you will be beaten, if you are a woman you will be raped." – Internally displaced man living in a camp, 2007.

At least 2.3 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Darfur. Most of those driven from their homes and communities are now living in more than 65 camps dotted around Darfur.

Hundreds of thousands of people were driven from their home in 2003-4 in attacks that were accompanied not only by killing, but also by rape of women on an unprecedented scale.

Janjawid militias used rape as a weapon to humiliate and punish the communities they attacked. They often carried out assaults in public and abducting some women, taking them to militia camps to live for months in sexual slavery.

There are more women living in camps than men and the threat of rape remains rife for those who venture outside the camps. Many of the camps are surrounded by belts of deserted land with hardly a tree standing. Rapes are carried out on women who leave the camps to go to market or collect firewood. They are carried out by Janjawid militia, government soldiers, armed opposition groups and even by other displaced people.

One girl displaced during the conflict told of being raped by a group of men from the Sudanese army while collecting fire wood. When her brother took her to report this to the local police, the policeman refused to report the case and detained her brother when he questioned the procedure.

"The images of that day occupied my mind. I can’t say I have completely recovered. The shock is still terrible. I don’t trust the police and I never will trust them," said the girl to Amnesty International.

Most women raped in Darfur never report what has happened because it’s so unlikely that the perpetrator will be brought to justice that there’s little point in a woman harming her reputation and prospects of marriage.

Police rarely investigate cases of rape reported to them, while if the alleged rapists are members of the Sudanese Armed Forces, justice appears to be impossible. In some instances, it is the person who makes the complaint who is detained.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Muslim American Women And Domestic Violence

A resident of the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services, a shelter near Chicago catering mainly to Muslim women. (Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times)

The western imagination is full of imagery of long suffering Muslim woman. She is destined in our imagination to live a life of oppression, violence and submission. The idea that they would resist, rather than waiting for reward in the hereafter is a foreign concept. Marx theorized that religion is the opiate of the masses, such indoctrination when applied to people who practice Islam is viewed as sacrosanct.

Muslim women are constructed as a monolithic one-dimensional caricatures, thus denying the individuality that they possess. Not only are women leaving abusive marriages they are organizing to ensure the safety of others. This is remarkable when one considers the many cultural, linguistic and financial obstacles that they face. While denouncing relationships that cause psychic murder they are retaining aspects of their culture, and or religion that they deem to be uplifting as they write a new script for their personal journey.

Once leaving unless they are able to enter one of the few womens shelters that specifically cater to Muslim women, they are forced to confront western biases. One Yemeni woman as reported in the Herald Tribune was told, "to throw off her veil, saying it symbolized the male oppression native to Islam." Yet the Qu'ran encourages that both male and female be modest in their attire. Refusing to live in an abusive situation should not mean denouncing aspects of culture, or religion that are deeply personal, or give meaning to identity.

Living in a traditional shelter can be a diasporic experience for Muslim women. Gone are the comforts of community and familiarity that breed trust. They will find no Halal meats, prayer mats, or women dressed similarly to them. Womens emancipation is taught from a specific western framework in which they are largely invisible. Conformity to western practices is presented as the solution to their domestic issues. This approach is quite paradoxical as residents from a western background are in shelters because of experiencing male violence. Culture is no protection from abuse. To leave behind all that is familiar in a bid for freedom to be confronted by xenophobia is a testament to how far feminism needs to progress to aid all women in the struggle for emancipation.

Despite the overwhelming challenges that Muslim women face when they leave abusive marriages there are centers that specifically cater to their needs. One such place is The Hamdard Center in Chicago. According to their website:

What Hamdard Center Offers to Individuals and Families:

Provides crisis line (630-860-9122) round the clock for assessment and brief and immediate intervention and emergency assistance

Provides residential shelter, protection, representation, and advocacy for the victims (women, children, and elders) of domestic violence and abuse

Provides bilingual counseling to individuals, couples, and families. Facilitates preservation and stabilization of families

Deals with the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) in abuse and neglect cases

Provides court ordered assessment, treatment, and supervised child visitation to families involved with the DCFS and/or non-custodial parents

Provides parenting skills training to parents under court supervision

Helps enhance one’s sense of well being, coping skills, and anger and stress management strategies

Provides community education and outreach with a focus on primary prevention and early intervention

Serves as a processing center for a variety of human service needs through a single point of contact

Provides educational, employment, housing, medical, dental, and legal assistance and referrals

Provides consultation to school system, and law enforcement and mainstream community agencies

Transitional housing is a newly funded program that offers free housing to eligible shelter clients for up to eighteen months which can facilitate self sufficiency and long term independence for victims of domestic violence. When victims of domestic violence have no one to go back to or no place to go back to, transitional housing is a life saver.

Our experience at Hamdard tells us that (1) lack of financial independence, (2) lack of affordable housing or long wait for Section 8 housing, and (3) cultural and religious barriers that can create extreme difficulties, force our clients to remain in abusive household and compromise their personal safety and the safety of their children. Victims from our communities are reluctant to go to a shelter for fear of reprisal from the abuser, even when their safety is at risk. Transitional housing is also meant for those victims who have completed their short stay at the shelter and have no place to go.

Hamdard operates this transitional program with supportive services which can accommodate up to ten clients (women and children only). Under this project Hamdard rents four apartment (equipped with security system) in a safe neighborhood but close to public transportation and not too far from Hamdard’s administrative offices. Hamdard will furnish these apartment and all utilities and rent will be paid by the Hamdard Center through the VOCA grants.

Clients who graduate from the Hamdard shelter or clients who want to get away from the abusive situation at home will qualify based on certain eligibility criteria. Each client in the housing project will follow their individualized service plan focusing on their children’s safety and increased independence and self sufficiency. Their stay in transitional housing program may range from six months to eighteen months. Because of multiple barriers, such as, language, immigration issues, lack of employable skills and work history, these clients will need relatively longer time to become self-sufficient.

It is my hope that places that like the Hamdard Center will not only flourish but inspire the creation of similar centers internationally. Feminist activism must be open to cultural diversity to truly aid all women. Making others feel small and backward when they bravely seek to change their circumstances does not fit into the framework of a fluid, progressive feminist movement. Taking the time to understand rather than to judge is how allies are formed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

FGM For Profit

The World Health Organization defines FGM as : "partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora. The WHO defines Type IV FGC as "all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization." This includes a diverse range of practices, such as pricking the clitoris with needles, burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping or tearing of the vagina."

FGM is often examined through a lens of male oppression though its practitioners are female, a crime against women committed by women in collusion with patriarchy. The aforementioned is only one aspect of the mutilation of women. Sierra Leone is an impoverished country with few avenues for financial independence for women. Struggling under adjustment programs designed by the IMF, mutilation of women has become big business. According to the US state department 80-90% of all women are circumcised. The average cost is 150-200 dollars per procedure, and this amounts to an exorbitant figure when one considers that the average income is 1USD per day.

Not only does performing the mutilation provide a guaranteed income, it creates a social hierarchy among women. The initiators wield a large amount of social power. A woman that is not circumcised is stigmatized socially, thus reinforcing this cruel practice. To encourage this ritual as a form of female bonding, girls that are mutilated on the same day are sworn into a secret society, for on this day, they became women together in the eyes of society.

Until the economic factors are negotiated FGM will never be eradicated. Though the initiators hold social power, they are dependent on this income for subsistence. If they stop in solidarity, who will they feed their families, and who will pay their children's school fees? FGM in Sierra Leone is a combination of gender and economics.

Those of us that live in western nations cannot imagine the kind of back breaking poverty created in part by the IMF. Destitution leads to desperation and the entrenchment of practices that are harmful for the soul. The "choice" of becoming an initiator is not solely an autonomous decision because of economic factors that must be considered. When we support unfair trading practices in the name of western privilege, we are unknowingly supporting the mutilation of women. It is not enough to educate on the harmful nature of this practice. The initiators must be given another source of income not based in mutilation.

Womens bodies must not continue to be laid waste in the name of a social construction - money. At some point who we value, must outweigh what we value.


Like millions of others, on Sunday I tuned in for the season finale of survivor. This is the first season that I did not actively follow, as the routine format has begun to bore me. The petty fighting, and the false relationships have become a standard affair. I watched hardly breathless, as Probes promoted yet another season of constructed drama. Survivor is returning to Africa. Gabon to be precise.

Probes finally had my undivided attention. I watched the juxtaposition of America and Gabon and could not help but notice the civilized/uncivilized binary. America is represented in the opening montage by a suburban neighborhood. Perfectly manicured lawns, and a kid with a paper route, represent the safe, and ordinary world of America. This is what the next group of survivors is risking to confront the savagery of Gabon. In the colonial imagination Africa is always represented as untamed and somehow exotic. Notice the tribal imagery and the spears. This is presented as a "traditional" land constantly threatened by wild animals. Cue...the dark threat of Gabon....hmmm

To unthinkingly consume this promotional spot, is to internalize the US as a perfect state of harmony, and Gabon as a land of limited structure inhabited by "others". Watching this we can pretend that there are no inner cities, racial divides, rampant violence against women and children, and extreme economic disparity. The land of milk and honey is perfect in every way. The US is not involved in an illegal aggressive war, no it is populated by peaceful advanced people. It is safe and pure, despite the unprecedented rate of incarceration.

Not to worry though, this time Americans do not come as colonizers, oh no, they are arriving to enact their own "tribal ritual". Suburbia is no place for this sort of confrontation. Man can only truly be tested on the dark continent. Africa is where one must go to confront the baser elements of social interaction. A place without the rule of law, a place far from the ideals of the enlightenment, is what is sought after. In this Lord of The Flies like adventure, the location provides permission for regression.

This is permissible because we can pretend that Gabon does not have a government, that people are not literate, and that no thriving economy exists. Such things are the purview of civilized states. Is it even possible that the legal system is based on French civil law system and customary law? Would you believe that the backward Gabonese have a legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch of government? Even more surprising, they have railroads, paved roads, a functioning military, universal suffrage at the age of 21, and a telephone system? Huge uncivilized is that. Those courageous American survivors are risking life and limb to experience something unique.

Survivor tries to pass itself off as just another pop culture diversion,however the basis of the show is creating and supporting the idea of otherness. Naming distant land as different (read:backward) necessarily asserts privilege. It is ultimately an exercise in power dynamics on a global stage, for not only does the power to label exist, but the right to use another's space as a playground. In HD TV one becomes witness to a time honored tradition of the whites mans burden, set to a post colonial imagination. Cue drum beat and spear throwing...

Too Sexy For Prom

I originally came across this story at Breaking Buzz. Apparently, Madison High school decided that Marche Taylors dress was unacceptable attire for prom. What should have been a night full of dreams, and wonderful memories ended with Ms. Taylor being escorted out in handcuffs. Instead Ms. Taylor will remember this night as the night that patriarchy asserted its control over her body.

Society is continually discipling the female body according to the male gaze. If a man finds attire sexually suggestive it is deemed so regardless of the intent of the wearer. Women have never had autonomous control over our bodies. Instead our dress has been dictated according to a moral code that seeks to control for the purposes of ownership. Had a male arrived at the prom naked from the chest up, would his attire be deemed too sexy for prom?

We have not progressed from the idea that women deserve negative treatment because of the clothing that we wear. Despite the gains of feminism, society still seeks to castigate based on appearance, rather than intent. How many people will view Ms. Taylor attire and say that she got what she was looking for, despite the fact that they have no idea what her true intent was. How many will compare her dress to that of a prostitute?

Ms. Taylor will not remember her prom night as the culmination of years of work, instead it will be remembered as a night in which she was unfairly punished for daring to dress her body as she chose. It will be the night that she remembers that women don't have true agency in this society. The handcuffs will forever symbolize in her memory the colonization of womens bodies, should she ever again be tempted to think that she owns her body.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rape In Liberia

According to Amnesty International,"Thousands of women and girls have suffered rape and other forms of sexual violence, yet, more than a year on from the signing of a peace agreement, no one has been prosecuted and it remains unclear if, how and when those responsible will ever face justice."

Even infants are not immune from sexual assault. Some believe that raping a child will bring them good luck, others simply assume it is the natural right of men. With a low rate of conviction rape continues to occur daily despite education campaigns led by the government. According to UNIML Press, UN Envoy, Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG),"commended the leadership being shown by government and county officials in confronting the serious problem of rape, which is currently the single most frequently committed serious crime in Liberia."

"Ms. Løj urged all Liberians not to keep quiet about rape but to ensure that rapists are brought to justice. She called on victims of rape and their families not to accept settlements or compromises with the rapists, because this could be a betrayal of the victim and lead to other girls and women being raped."

While I would agree that encouraging a culture of silence regarding violence against women is inherently destructive, accusing rape victims of betraying other women by trying to find their own form of closure is wrong. It is a form of victim blaming. Clearly rape is occurring at an extremely high rate, due to a history of male privilege, lack of prosecution, and a war. It is a well documented historical fact globally, that women are often viewed as the spoils of war. Regardless of the acts of any one individual, until the issues that lead to rape are dealt with, whether or not a woman chooses to negotiate with her rapist after the fact is irrelevant.

Men need to make a connection between their privilege and the damage that is caused by rape. Until society is educated and the rights of women validated this will continue to be a daily occurrence. When a child can be raped by a 65 year old pastor who claimed to be influenced by the devil, it speaks of a callous disregard for females. Rape is a crime against humanity and should be treated as such. This should include the prosecution of ALL acts of rape. No circumstances should be allowed to mitigate the seriousness of the crime, whether it is the devil, superstition or ignorance, women should not be laid waste to empower men. Amnesty International has demanded that "the protection of the rights of women and girls must be at the centre of all efforts to rebuild Liberia." What is unity, and peace without sanctifying the value of women?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Condoleezza Rice

While she is arguably the most powerful black woman in America, her association with the crimes of the Bush administration makes it hard for me to view her with much respect. I often find myself referring to her as "that woman". It is astounding that in a racist, patriarchal, capitalist state that Ms. Rice has reached the level that she has. In my humble opinion it has come at a cost of her integrity. Rice has claimed that part of the reason that she supports the Republican party is because she is black. She credits the party for ending slavery and that is part of her justification.

Recently she once again decided to make her opinion known on the racial divide in America. According to Reuters UK Ms. Rice said, "There is a paradox for this country and a contradiction of this country and we still haven't resolved it." That has got to be one of the most honest things that she has deigned to utter in sometime. This was followed by, "We don't mimic the immigrant story. Where this conversation has got to go is that black Americans and white Americans founded this country together and I think we've always wanted the same thing."

That is where she lost me. She is quite right when she says that blacks should not be compared to immigrants, however the building of the US was not accomplished through the willing participation of blacks. America profited and grew on the backs of slave labor. Slavery is not a relationship between equal partners committed to the same goals. It is the oppression and exploitation of one group of people over another.

Considering the relations of power, how it is possible to suggest a common goal? There are whites today who will not even acknowledge racial privilege and blacks who continue to be stigmatized and marginalized. Perhaps from her class perspective wealth has been able to mitigate her oppression in terms of gender and race but many suffer through daily degradations at the hands of our so-called "partners". If one cannot even own privilege or understand the basic concept, why would the sharing of power even be an option? There is still the outstanding debt of 40 acres and a mule. No formal apology, or the election of a black president will immediately rectify the racial disparity. Blacks represent an internal colony in the United States, and until that is acknowledged and rectified, there can be no true partnership.

The Doll Test: White = Good And Black = Bad

In the 1940's Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed the doll test to examine how black children were impacted by segregation. Most of the children were able to identify racial difference. The children also readily assigned positive attributes to the white doll and negative attributes to the black doll.

The year is now 2008, and it has been fifty-four years since the Brown V. Board of Education. One would assume that within such a large time span that much would have changed. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When tested today black children still chose the white doll over the black doll. It is clear that we have not escaped the legacy of slavery. Systemic racism continues to stunt the growth, and self-esteem of our children.

Black children have internalized the self-hatred that has been promoted by our social institutions. Whether it is the media, or schools etc, everywhere there is the message that black is less than, inferior, and not worthy of love. The eyes of the child in the video speak of a soul that has been damaged. As a mother it breaks my heart, as a WOC it enrages my soul.

In the education system black history is the focus in February during Black History month. The glaring absence of an Afrocentric influence throughout the rest of the school year destroys the attempt of inclusivity. This approach diminishes the contributions of POC, as well as further entrenches racial hierarchy wherein white or Caucasian achievements are necessarily more substantial as they consume the majority of the curriculum. Through invisibility and marginalization, black children learn that their history is not worthy of critical analysis, and that they do not originate from a people that offered anything of value to the world. When the education system later directs them on paths that do not lead to higher learning, they are more readily accepting, after all if blacks have not achieved in the past, why should they?

The media is another large culprit in the devaluation of POC. Blacks are either marked by invisibility, or portrayed as criminals, sidekicks, and servants. Very seldom do we see black characters in successful positive roles on prime time television, or as leading actors in major films. Yes I know we have our Denzels and our Haille Berrys (for the record I am NOT a fan of that woman) but when compared to leading Caucasian actors they are not given as many roles,or roles that offer the same diversity. Consider that Denzel won an award for being a corrupt cop and Haille won her award for playing the role of a woman, who in a time of emotional vulnerability, slept with the executioner of the father of her child. We are often the decorative object rather than the necessary subject in many fictional dramas.

Most importantly black children need to see black people succeeding each and every day. They need role models other than professional athletes and entertainers. Those that have succeeded in that avenue are but a small percentage of the population, and it is not possible for the majority to take that path out of poverty and marginalization. We cannot shuck and jive our way into respectability and self love. Our children have told us so, not only in previous generations but today in the here and now. Though the we no longer bare the physical chains of slavery the psychic and emotional damage are omnipresent. We remain colonized members of a so-called free and equal society. Our children are internalizing the pathology of racial hatred to the detriment of our future as a people.