I feel that it is vital that we use our platforms to discuss these issues, because the more that we discuss these matters, the closer we can get to finding solutions and making resources more accessible, as it is harder for people of colour to access these.
Image Credits: MIT Media Lab licensed via CC by 2.0
The stigmatization of sexual violence in the black community:
“I really don’t want to believe it’s because black girls don’t matter enough” – Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Sexual Assault, Rape, Sexual Violence is not something that we as the black community openly speak about. It is deemed as a taboo subject, there has always been and continues to be a hush hush approach to matters such as these.
The perpetrators tend to be protected, whilst the victims are silenced and made to feel guilty for the actions of their abusers. This culture of silence is of particular detriment to survivors due to psychological trauma and also making harder to access resources such as mental health facilities, being able to take legal action, inhibiting them from being able to take steps into recovering and dealing with these experiences.
Not talking about issues such as these means that we aren’t able to explore solutions or able resolve the structural dilemmas which aid these matters to persist.
It is really important that we address these issues as it affects so many people, in the black community especially, whether it has happened to us, personally or we may know of people it has happened too.
We need to also acknowledge that sexual violence doesn’t exclusively happened to women, men can also be victims of sexual abuse, it is key that we make sure that men, black men especially know that it is okay to talk about their experiences so that they are able to access the resources that will be able to help them to deal with trauma, also breaking the silence will be able to help them engage with these services too.
It is also very crucial that we pay particular attention to the structural and societal issues which facilitates this, it is important to look at how power dynamics play a massive part and how patriarchy and race operate in tandem when analysing the experiences of black survivors.
“Sexual Violence knows no race or class or gender, but I do think the response to it does” – Tarana Burke - Founder of the #MeToo Movement.
The experiences of black female survivors have been erased from the discussions of sexual violence in the public domain.
When it comes to talking about women and their experiences and how it is approached in feminist discourse and particularly mainstream feminism it can be very damaging through the way in which it is very exclusionary and does not factor in issues such as race, class and sexuality. Angela Davis describes mainstream feminism as ‘bourgeois feminism’ in the way in which it primarily seeks to advance those already at the top.
It is crucial that when looking at systems of oppression such as patriarchy to realise that they have a multifaceted nature and that it is not only the dynamics of gender which facilitate oppression but also how race, class and sexuality work in tandem with patriarchy as a tool of oppression. In that issues such as these are ‘intersectional’ as coined by Kimberle Crenshaw.
‘Intersectionality’ as defined by Crenshaw is about the way in which multiple forms of marginalization can occur in tandem with one another and how these systems of oppression and interdependent. In applying this theory to feminist discourse, it shows how feminism is more complex than just sex and gender inequalities and helps us to understand that there are different levels of oppression. It also helps us to acknowledge there can be systems of privilege, such as white privilege, heterosexual privilege, which means that one woman may be not be as oppressed as another woman who may face multiple oppressions at the same time. And finally, intersectionality theory means that the way in which we shape our solutions need to be intersectional too and not only factor in gender inequality but other forms of oppression also.
#MeToo, R Kelly and Power Dynamics
The #MeToo movement was founded by an African American woman, Tarana Burke in order to empower women and help them to come out about their experiences. This movement was founded over 10 years ago but has been recently popularized in the media over sexual violence scandals with people in power, in the music, industry, in Hollywood, names like Weinstein, R Kelly, Bill Cosby continue to pop up in our discussions of sexual violence.
The recent ‘Surviving R Kelly Documentary’ has allowed for a more nuanced discussion of sexual violence in that black women who are survivors were able to express their experiences. I feel as though this documentary was a landmark moment by showing the experiences of black women. When the media portrays sexual violence, they focus on white women as victims of sexual violence, whilst black men and women who are survivors are erased from the picture.
I feel that it is vital that we use our platforms to discuss these issues, because the more that we discuss these matters, the closer we can get to finding solutions and making resources more accessible, as it is harder for people of colour to access these. Also, the more discussions that we do have means that these matters will be less stigmatized, and it will mean that survivors won’t have to suffer in silence. Movements like #MeToo show both women and men that there is support available for them and its okay to come out about their experiences, to talk about their trauma. It is important that we don’t ostracize people who have been through these experiences, we sit down and listen to them, we help them to access the support that they need.