Monday, November 7, 2011

Slutwalk Toronto Releases a Response to 'The Woman is the Nigger of the World' Sign

At the New York City Slutwalk on October 1st a woman held up the following sign which quickly lead to a storm of racism, and disagreement.

The apology in the aftermath left much to be desired.  Slutwalk Toronto decided to weigh into the discussion, based in the idea that Toronto is the home of Slutwalk, because the sexist incident that inspired the campaign occurred there.  The following is a snippet of the what the members of Slutwalk Toronto had to say.

In the past month there has been significant discussion, anger and sadness regarding an incident perpetrated by a white woman who participated in SlutWalk NYC. She carried a sign that read “Women are the [racial ‘N’ word] of the world.”

Some have used as an explanation and ‘defense’ that this quote is from a Yoko Ono and John Lennon song from the late 1960s when the intent was to draw attention to women’s maltreatment and oppression in the world. Having the ‘N’ word enmeshed in song lyrics did not make it ok then, and does not make it ok now.

When this song originally was released over 40 years ago, several women of colour and black feminists spoke out to challenge Yoko Ono and John Lennon. For instance, Pearl Cleage is cited as a black feminist who challenged this phrase as racist, saying, “If Woman is the “N” of the World, what does that make Black Women, the “N, N” of the World?” The challenges leveled at that problematic quotation then for racism still stand, and in fact, draw deep angst because that sign being displayed publicly by a white woman now makes the case that little has changed and the lack of awareness of racial oppression in protests, activism and radical statements then still permeate protest culture now.
SlutWalk Toronto does not support the actions or language of this SlutWalk participant. The ‘N’ word has been used historically, and still is used culturally today, as a racial slur that has been a weapon of degradation, oppression and violence. The word in question is connected to race because of the way it has been used against marginalized people of colour, namely black people, to perpetuate hate, disrespect and racism. A few further points on this particular sign and incident:

• This was racism then. It is racism now. We do not support any white people using this racial slur or any others, no matter what point they’re hoping to make.
• This protestor’s intention may have been coming from a good place, but her actions were misguided, and are not excusable, because they perpetuate racism, entitlement to using this word, and negating the experiences of black women.
• We understand the ‘N’ word as a word that was not this protester’s word to use (or ours if we are white women), because she is not a person who this word is used against, or has a history of being oppressed by.
• Not only is this word steeped in a history of racial oppression and violence, we must never forget that racial oppression and violence are still occurring. White women – and beyond that anyone that is not black, including Yoko Ono and John Lennon – are not the people who should be making the decisions on how to use this word or how to change its meaning if that is something that people want to do. Many black women have denounced any use of this word and we support them in this.
• It is not enough to refrain from using racist language. It is imperative to call out individuals who are doing so. Within and outside of SlutWalk protesting and organizing circles, if you are witness to this type of behaviour and you’re in a safe position to do something about it, don’t stand by. At SlutWalk Toronto we commit to address and, if need be, call attention to displays of racism that we see and that are brought to our attention.
 You can read the rest of the statement here.

What did you think of the statement and do you believe that Slutwalk Toronto successfully addressed the issue of racism in Slutwalk?