Tuesday, August 30, 2016
When I read that Nate Parker had been accused of raping a woman in 1999, I felt anger and disgust. But most of all, I felt dread. I felt dread deep in my bones because I knew that I would be placed in the all too familiar position of feeling alone. As a Black feminist, I feel this way whenever a story breaks that involves both race and gender issues.
I’m not lonely because I sense that I’m the only one with my point of view. Rather, at these times I feel abandoned because my usual allies are not there. Here is a list of my potential allies and why they sometimes fall short.
Black men and Black women stand together in the fight against racism. However, when “the Black community” is discussed, Black men are usually the focus of the discussion. Thus, as a group, we have learned to prioritize Black men.
Let me be clear – protecting Black men is NOT a bad thing. However, when a Black man is accused of victimizing a woman, and the first impulse is to defend the man at any cost, the defensiveness becomes a problem. Over the years, time and again, I have watched Black men rally around famous Black men accused of victimizing women. The pattern held with Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Tupac Shakur, and Clarence Thomas in the 1990s, Kobe Bryant and R. Kelly in the 2000s, and most recently, Bill Cosby. At these times, Black men use the “Trite Defenses List™,” which includes standards like, “She knew what to expect when she went to his room/house alone,” “But we don’t know all the facts,” and other gems.
The urge to defend your own would not necessarily be a bad thing if Black women received the same treatment from Black men. But some of the men listed above victimized Black women and they still received support from Black men. In fact, in my lifetime, I have only seen Black men stand unified for Black women, no questions asked, when it appeared that their attackers were white. (Think Tawana Brawley, the Duke Lacrosse victim, and the young lady at Spring Valley High School.) So, while Black men may experience some patriarchal discomfort when “their” women are attacked by white men, they remain silent about women being victimized in other circumstances. They do everything they can to minimize the allegations, just as many whites do with claims of police brutality.
There are many Black men that identify as feminist, and thankfully, that number is growing. I am encouraged by the fact that I’ve seen so many Black men refusing to blindly support Parker out of shared male privilege. But sadly, there are still not enough Black men raising their voices against gender violence. The end result is that Black women who speak out against such violence must generally do so without the support of their brothers. In other words, we do it alone.
Feminist women share a commonality of experience. We all care deeply about protecting our right to do with our bodies whatever we want, whenever we want. We also all know what is like to feel vulnerable to men’s violence. But historically, white feminists have wavered in their allyship. Whether it’s making Ida B. Wells and other Black women march at the back of a suffrage parade or shaming Black voters for favoring Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008, even with our shared experiences, working with white feminists can be difficult.
White feminists may not understand why some Black people still want to see Birth of a Nation, even if they are troubled by the allegations against Parker. They don’t understand what it’s like for any depiction of you on film to be rare and for a positive depiction to be rarer still. They may not understand Black folks’ outrage at the fact that white pedophiles such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still lauded in Hollywood circles. They may not understand that this outrage leads to skepticism about why these rape allegations resurfaced just as Parker was poised to have a major career breakthrough. Even if white feminists don’t agree with these points, they need to understand them.
The best thing that has happened to feminism in decades is the fact that most feminists now adopt an intersectional approach. Intersectionality means that a true feminist will attempt to see all issues not just through a gender lens, but through lenses of race, religion, sexual orientation, class, age, and any of the other issues that impact the way a woman moves through the world. No longer is it considered acceptable to assert that what’s good for middle class white women is good for all women. There are many more white feminists now who “get” racial issues. And while this is undoubtedly a good thing, there are still not enough white feminists of this type. And because there aren’t enough, the lack of trust that has been built through history persists, preventing the kind of full throated conversations that need to happen around these issues. Once again, it’s a lonely fight.
Based on the prior sections, one might think I’m building to the conclusion that Black women can only rely on each other. But even that is not true. Like any other group, Black women have many and varied life experiences. So, just as not all white women are feminists, not every Black woman identifies as feminist.
I do not dare berate my sisters who do not identify as feminist. Because of the history mentioned above, there are reasons to be skeptical of white feminism. (In fact, even some Black feminists prefer the term “womanist.”) Because of the way racial issues have been framed by the media and certain Black leaders for generations, most Black women either learn or are taught that you are Black first, woman second. (I certainly did as a young girl.) And because of this race-first view, many Black women are skeptical of any attack on a Black man. This is especially true when the crime is sexual assault, the victim is a white woman, and the alleged perpetrator is a Black man. Black women know that the history of white women falsely accusing Black men is very real. When this knowledge of history is coupled with a sincere love for the Black men that we know and encounter daily, it makes sense that some Black women would be suspicious of the allegations against Parker.
I understand where these women are coming from because they are right about the history. I just wish that they would go a little further. I wish that instead of stopping with recognizing our horrible history of racism, they would ask questions about the role of gender as well. I wish that instead of prioritizing the men in our community, more women would ask what sort of community we are building when we assert – in deeds, words, or both – that our daughters don’t matter as much as our sons. I wish that they’d ask these questions because I know I’d feel a little less lonely if they did.
In college, I stumbled upon a book called “All the Blacks are Men, All the Whites are Women, But Some of Us Are Brave.” After reading that book, I realized that I could not choose between being Black or being a woman. I am both. And because I am both, I am outraged by both racism and sexism. Unfortunately, because some don’t see the connection between the struggles, I feel as though I inhabit the middle ground between two groups. And while there are a number of people (Black and white, male and female) who see that we can’t fight sexism without fighting racism and vice versa, there are not enough.
Living in the middle is stressful. As long as these groups remain separate, some Black men will call me a traitor for daring to suggest that the Black community take gender issues seriously. Similarly, as long as the groups are not merged, when I rail against racism, I run the risk of offending whites I agree with on gender issues with my “anger.” The pressure of living as a “go-between” is too much at times.
The way to relieve the strain on those in the middle is easy – make the middle larger. We must increase the number of Black men (and white men, and Asian men, and Latino men. . .) that understand sexism in all of its forms. And we desperately need more white people that understand racism. Many problems that are framed as racial issues have a gender component. And most gender issues look different when viewed through a racial lens. When we improve our way of looking at problems, we improve our chances of solving them.
People fighting against racism and sexism have a common goal – making this country a better place. Creating change is certainly not easy. But it’s easier to do it together than alone.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW: CALL FOR PAPERS
The Southern University Law Review is excited to announce its 2017 symposium titled "Fourth Amendment Searches and Seizures after Utah v. Strieff" on February 3, 2017.
This year the law review is very interested in helping the legal community and the general public understand how new developments in the law affect citizen interactions with the police and criminal justice system. Our symposium will focus on developing issues in criminal procedure arising from the recent United States Supreme Court decision of Utah v. Strieff. As the Supreme Court expanded the power of the police to conduct searches, we hope that this gathering of criminal justice scholars and advocates will lead to a better understanding of how the decision will impact the law going forward. The Law Review invites a broad discussion of topics related to the case.
Those interested in participating in the symposium should submit an abstract of no more than 500 words, accompanied by a CV, to email@example.com. The board anticipates notifying the selected speakers at the end of September.
Call for Papers – Friday September 16th Deadline
The Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network
Seeks submissions for the
Law and Society Association Annual Meeting
We invite you to participate in the panels sponsored by the Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network at the Law and Society Annual Meeting in 2017. The Feminist Legal Theory CRN seeks to bring together law and society scholars across a range of fields who are interested in feminist legal theory. Information about the Law and Society meeting is available at http://www.lawandsociety.org.
This year’s meeting is unique in that it brings us to the Global South, and invites us to explore the theme Walls, Borders, and Bridges: Law and Society in an Inter-Connected World. We are especially interested in proposals that explore the application of feminist legal theory to this theme, broadly construed. This might include papers that explore feminist legal theory in comparative or transnational contexts, as well as in relation to the impacts of globalism and other intersections within particular locations, relationships, institutions, and identities. We are also interested in papers that will permit us to collaborate with other CRNs, such as the Critical Research on Race and the Law CRN, and welcome multidisciplinary proposals.
Our goal is to stimulate focused discussion of papers on which scholars are currently working. Thus, while you may submit papers that are closer to publication, we are particularly eager to receive proposals for works-in-progress that are at an earlier stage and will benefit from the discussion that the panels will provide.
The Planning Committee will assign individual papers to panels based on subject. Panels will use the LSA format, which requires four papers. We will also assign a chair, and one or two commentators/discussants for each panel, to provide feedback on the papers and promote discussion. For panels with two commentators/discussants, one may be asked to also chair.
As a condition of participating as a panelist, you must also agree to serve as a chair and/or commentator/discussant for another panel or participant. We will of course take into account expertise and topic preferences to the degree possible.
The duties of chairs are to organize the panel logistically; including registering it online with the LSA, and moderating the panel. Chairs will develop a 100-250 word description for the session and submit the session proposal to LSA before their anticipated deadline of October 19. This will ensure that each panelist can submit their proposal, using the panel number assigned.
The duties of commentator/discussants are to read the papers assigned to them and to prepare a short commentary about the papers that discusses them individually and (to the extent relevant) collectively, identifying ways that they relate to one another.
If you would like to present a paper as part of a CRN panel, please email:
· An 1000 word abstract or summary,
· Your name and a title, and
· A list of your areas of interest and expertise within feminist legal theory
to the CRN Planning Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please do not send submissions to individual committee members.)
Note that LSA is imposing a requirement that your summary be at least 1,000 words long. Although a shorter summary will suffice for our purposes, you will be required to upload a 1,000 word summary in advance of LSA’s anticipated deadline of October 19. If you are already planning a LSA session with at least four panelists (and papers) that you would like to see included in the Feminist Legal Theory CRN, please let the Committee know.
In addition to these panels, we may try to use some of the other formats that the LSA provides: the “author meets readers” format, salon, or roundtable discussion. If you have an idea that you think would work well in one of these formats, please let us know. Please note that for roundtables, organizers are now required to provide a 500-word summary of the topic and the contributions they expect the proposed participants to make. Please also note that LSA rules limit you to participating only once as a paper panelist or roundtable participant.
Please submit all proposals by Friday, September 16 to the email provided above. This will permit us to organize panels and submit them prior to the LSA’s anticipated deadline of October 19. In the past, we have accommodated as many panelists as possible, but have been unable to accept all proposals. If we are unable to accept your proposal for the CRN, we will notify you by early October so that you can submit an independent proposal to LSA.
Monday, August 1, 2016
The Psychological Burdens of Immigrating to America
With all of the negative stereotyping, if not outright racism, against immigrants during the U.S. presidential campaign, I felt it timely to address a topic rarely discussed when speaking of immigration to a foreign country: the psychological harms of leaving one’s family, friends, and comfort zone.
As an immigrant myself (albeit at a very young age), I have witnessed first-hand the sacrifices my parents made to leave Egypt where they were members of the majority religion, majority ethnic group, and educated middle class. The sacrifices immigrants make are not only the clichéd American narrative of having to start from scratch to build one’s wealth and put one’s kids through college. They are much bigger sacrifices – the psychological effects of displacement from the majority group - often overlooked when discussing the costs of immigrating to a foreign country.
Rescinding one’s majority status in exchange for minority status is arguably the biggest sacrifice made by immigrants. One that most people will not undertake unless faced with the most pressing economic circumstances.
Many immigrants (though certainly not all) to the US had all of the attendant privileges that came with being members of the majority. Social norms were constructed around their religious and social upbringing. Their social and professional networks were expansive and deeply rooted based on their family’s reputations and socio-economic status. Their neighbors and government did not scrutinize them as different, strange, or "other." Cumulatively, this allowed them to access education, jobs, and social services the same as other citizens within their socio-economic class. The entire system was built around their norms and values, thereby shielding them from the prejudice, racism, and subordination associated with minority status in a given country.
Hence, when immigrants such as my parents decide to leave this behind permanently it is often because they have come to the disheartening conclusion that their country offers their children no economic future. And they do not fully appreciate just how difficult it is to be a minority until they experience it. The norms, values, and rules on which a system is based is invisible to the majority while glaringly visible (and adverse) to the minority.
For instance, the way in which immigrants communicate based on their cultural norms are criticized or deemed inappropriate; their dress and standards of modesty are belittled; their morphology and phenotype marks them as “others” deserving of heightened scrutiny; their cultural practices invites suspicion; and their foreign accents cause people to question their intelligence. Over time, such explicit and implicit psychological aggressions significantly deteriorate the quality of life for many immigrants, particularly as compared to their experiences in their home countries.
Hence, being an immigrant is no joyride and the hardships incurred go far beyond the economic difficulties of pursuing the so-called American dream of buying a house in the suburbs, putting your kids through college, and having a comfortable retirement fund.
For some, the psychological harms are too great to bear such that they decide to return to their home countries notwithstanding their prospective economic decline. Most immigrants, however, stay for the sake of their children with the optimism that American society will better integrate their children and grandchildren.
But the current polemic attacks against immigrants from Mexico, the Middle East, and other regions have extended the psychological harms of immigration for US-born children of immigrants. They, too, must face explicit and implicit bias associated with their ethnicity, race, religion, and identity performance. Society harshly disciplines members of the next generation who adopt some of their immigrant parents’ norms, values, and religion through social stigma, employment discrimination, and government scrutiny.
If we are serious about making America a country that not only physically accepts immigrants but also culturally embraces them, we must actively work to shape American culture based on the diverse norms and values brought by each new wave of immigrants. Let’s not be part of the problem by coercively imposing assimilation based on norms and values of the majority without considering the subordinating effects on immigrants who contribute toward America's economic prosperity.
A good first step is to acknowledge and understand the ways in which new immigrants experience psychological subordination that makes displacement from majority to minority status the highest price they pay in leaving their country of origin.