The War on (Black) Women

All war is based on deception

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

When you see the face of the little Black girl above, what do you think? When you read the words above her beautiful curly hair, how do you feel? When you think of Black women and their role in birthing the next generation, what do you invision; danger or an opportunity to build?

The billboard above was placed in SoHo, a neighborhood in New York City not heavily populated by Black people. After seeing it my first question was “why not Harlem or Brooklyn?” Basically why not somewhere where they KNOW Black people who live in New York City will actually see the ad? Well, I can take an educated guess; the ad wasn’t meant for Black women. It was meant to provoke reactions. It was also meant to galvanize people outside of the Black community, basically gain more troops. Fortunately the ad has been taken down. When I first read the ads caption, I thought about my body and why they felt it was the most dangerous place in the world. African women were the first to give birth into this world. How dare they shame us into believing we are less than because we have a right to choose? If the ad meant to empower and educate Black women, it wouldn’t have to attempt to shame us at the same time.

As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “All war is based on deception.”The war on (Black) women is no different. The use of deceptive and offensive images such as the one below from Atlanta, should be considered an act of war. Propaganda is an act of war. We have to see the bigger picture.

BUT these images are only one piece in an intricate web being tightly woven by the politically and socially conservative factions in America. The most recent attacks are hitting women through legislation and media campaigns.

The recent Republican to do list is heavy on reducing women’s rights and light on addressing the toughest economical issues we face today. Attempting to redefine rape is a higher priority than reducing the 16%+ unemployment rates in Black communities. Preventing a doctor from performing a life saving procedure when a woman’s life is at stake is more important than figuring out how not to close half of Detroit’s public schools.  As a Black woman deeply invested in my own freedom and the freedom of my people, I am simply appalled.

The all hands on deck assault of women can be found across the nation, on the state level and in the United States Congress. Click here to read a blog post by Executive Director of the Black Women’s Health Imperative giving a breakdown of the legislative battle ahead of us. House Republicans have already passed an amendment to defund family planning and reproductive services from providers such as Planned Parenthood. I personally remember going to Planned Parenthood as a college student to receive low-cost and quality healthcare services. The loss of their services and others would severly impact women.

Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood is not the only provider lined up against the wall with weapons aimed squarely at their mission and services. The Republicans are also trying to cut Headstart, a federally funded preschool program for low-income kids, by 1 billion dollars. If you are a low-income mother depending on childcare through this program and POW it’s gone, what choices would you be faced with? Work to feed your kids and pay your bills or stay at home and depend on state services?

Definition of rape + Choice + Childcare = all things on the list of enemies for the politically and socially conservative faction aiming it’s weapons at women.

But we are not walking like sheep to the slaughter. We can, are and must act.

Since I’m not a 501 (c) 3 organization, I can say “Call your Representative and find out where they stand on these issues.” If they don’t stand on the side of women, tell them they need to reconsider and why. Click here to find out who represents you!

Like I said this is a war on women, and a war on women is a war on the future of this country.

Wanna know and do more? Check out organizations like Sister SongChoice USA, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Advocates for Youth.

Don’t forget to drop a comment below!

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Let the Oppressed Speak for Themselves

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were all lynched during in 1964 while working to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi. The three activist were apart of a larger campaign to register African American voters in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. This campaign was a threat to the status quo. Their deaths symbolize the risks activists faced during that time and the significance of allies in the movement. The two Jewish activists from New York died alongside a Black activist from Mississippi.

They died serving a movement firmly grounded in removing social and political barriers for African Americans. They served as allies. Jewish Americans and other White Americans made great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement as allies and leaders in their own communities. Leadership of throughout broader movement was owned by Blacks.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an ally and what it means to be a leader. As an activist across movements, I often find myself serving as an ally. Whether it was an action supporting access to higher education or one to pass the DREAM Act, I have stood in solidarity with activists on issues not directly affecting me. As an organizer, I’ve been tasked with bringing leaders together around a certain cause or issue. As a leader I have served as a voice on issues affecting women, youth and the African Diaspora. I’ve also seen some amazing allies contribute in invaluable ways to movements while respecting their roles as allies and not leaders.

So whats the difference between an ally and a leader? Well this question made more sense to me after sitting in on a session at the Center for Progressive Leadership this past weekend. I’d just finished up facilitating a session on different forms of power and what they mean in the overall progressive movement. The segway into an ally discussion was perfect. Oftentimes individuals care about a plethora of issues. The reality however is that we cannot work on every single issue. We can not take up every fight, we can not own every fight. This is why being an ally and having allies is so important. Three of the key takeaways from the session were:

  • Allies don’t speak FOR other people, but try to make space for people to speak for themselves
  • Allies have less less to lose than the community or person they are aligning themselves with
  • Allies walk the walk, they don’t just talk the talk

I am an ally to many movements, but only strive to be a leader when I can provide authentic ownership.

In progressive spaces I often work with allies who elevate themselves to leadership positions. When you have less at stake than the group you’ve aligned yourself with, I think you should proceed with caution and deference. Now, this concept is harder for me to digest in some spaces. As a Black person, I’m not confused when it comes to who can lead or make key decisions in a movement for my freedom. People identifying and living as Black can and should. That makes sense to me. As a feminist, I’m encountering a different struggle.  I struggle with men who assert their leadership and intellectual position as feminists. I’m questioning what the role of men can be and should be in the movement to end gender-based discrimination towards women. Yes, we need you as allies. We need you to work with other men, open minds and build relationships based on mutual respect.

When men jump to say “we’re also oppressed under this patriarchal system,” I don’t disagree with that. Men are affected by patriarchy in real and oppressive ways.  I just ask that you see past your oppression and serve as allies in a movement to achieve equality and fairness. Can we have our space as women, seeking liberation for women? I demand that we must. Feminism is for everybody, the movement has room for everybody. Build new spaces instead of seeking to own ours. I ask that you build with other men. We need you as allies, to stand in solidarity, not as leaders.We have the ability to speak for ourselves, we need you to speak to men as men. We cannot do this alone.

Oppressed groups have the ability to speak for themselves, they need allies to stand in solidarity. Let the oppressed speak for themselves, trust that they can and support them when they do.

What a Free Woman Looks Like

Today I chatted with a friend about some of the most influential Black women in popular culture. We talked about the Nicki Minaj/Lil Kim battle, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. I felt like I was undergoing a G-20 classified security clearance for a rouge feminist operation. I felt most at ease when he asked “what does a free woman look like?” and “what is her life like?”

Well I’m a woman. I also happen to be a woman in the pursuit of freedom. I started the Freedom Pages with idea to share with folks my musings on this journey towards freedom. Reading Pearl Cleage’s “I Wish I Had a Red Dress” novel was the first time I read a list of all things a Free Woman should possess. Her list impacted me so deeply. It was one of the reasons I decided to go to Haiti. So I decided to compile what we discussed along with some more ideas below.

1. A free woman has the  power to choose.

2. A free woman has the ability to make informed choices.

3. A free woman uses new tools to build her house.

4. A free woman is educated about the world around her.

5. A free woman has options and has the choice to explore them or not.

6. A free woman takes risks.

7. A free woman understands that she can only control actions of her own.

8. A free woman uses self-reflection as a platform for growth.

9. A free woman helps other women and girls become free.

10. A free woman defines and affirms her own image.

11. A free woman understands and embraces her body.

12. A free woman experiences and confronts challenges in life.

13. A free woman values relationships.

14. A free woman will read this list and begin to define what it means to be free for herself.

What do you think a free woman looks like? What does her life look like? What would you add to this list? Take away?

The Five Senses, plus one

The Heroes of Independence, where the Haitian Revolution was won.

The city of Cap-Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city and is home to over 800,000 people. Since the January 12th earthquake over 40,000 survivors have relocated here. Driving through Cap-Haitien for the first time was slightly jarring. Everyone seemed to be moving in some direction, where I’m not sure. The unemployment rate is at 95%. The only place I can compare it to is East St. Louis, Illinois. There African Americans face a similar plight with 90% + unemployment rates, poor housing, along with high poverty and disease rates. East St. Louis does not however have the same historical significance as Cap-Haitien, the Haitian Revolution started here. This is King Henri Christophes town. I am surrounded with great Haitian history. But I am also surrounded with the legacy of colonialism, political corruption and deep poverty.

Tuesday morning we went to visit a brother and sister Gaby knew in the largest hospital in North Haiti. The claim to “largest” is not what you would typically think. Words can not express the despair and sickness I saw there. When we entered the compound there were people milling around. Walking up to the surgery ward I saw a small dog laying in the middle of the steps surrounded by people who paid it no attention. The dog looked half dead. The structure is unlike what most Americans think of when they think of hospitals. There was an emergency ward, a surgery ward and separate wards for women and men. However, you will find no receptionist to tell you where to go. You will find no halls and no separate patient rooms. The room held about 25-30 beds all with patients who looked like they were at deaths door. Any patient who stays here must bring their own linens, their own food and basically fend for themselves. I still cannot remove the stench of sickness from my mind. I will never forget the smell of pending death. Now you may ask why I am designating these people to death, I’m not. I did not see one person in the recovery phase. There we flies open air bed pans and an extreme lack of sanitation. The emaciated look of these human beings was stark and it would take nothing short of a proper medical facility to improve their quality of life.

Imagine receiving a blood transfusion in a gas station bathroom. Think of that and you might be close to the reality these patients face on a daily basis.

With most things there is a silver lining. While walking through the different wards we did see several groups of young women being trained to be community health aides. They are being trained to go out into their communities and promote positive health. Basic things we take for granted in the States are not common knowledge or practice for many living in absolute poverty. Just as many of us learned to wash our hands, not to cross contaminate and how to care for cuts, the people in this city must learn too. These things are not just organically learned!

Once we left the hospital we headed to visit with the members the of local womens group, The Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL). These women are a stark contrast of those we saw in the hospital. They are working to build power for themselves. I had the opportunity to talk to the women and learn more about the issues they face in Limonade. Domestic violence, family planning and assertion of women’s rights were among the greatest. I took some video footage of them singing a song about strength and power, the internet connection isn’t fast enough for me to load. I WILL load it once I get back to the states.

This is my work, to fight for our women- Ernise, RAFAVAL Coordinator (Pictured Right)

These were not women who sit idly by waiting for someone to save them. RAFAVAL boasts a membership of over 500 women from the 3 sections of Limonade. The women meet once a month. They organized THEMSELVES. Sonje Ayiti partners with them to produce and sell Cocoa d’Haiti. I’ve tasted hot chocolate made from this cocoa and it is WONDERFUL. The proceeds go back into the Koud-a-Koud project to help fund more micro-loans. I purchased some of the cocoa today and plan to share once I get back.

We are who we are because of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. What we become is because of our vision.

My next post will focus on the concept of vision. I’ve seen the fruit of Sonje Ayiti’s vision and will share more examples. I’m headed to Port-au-Prince tomorrow. I’m not sure what I’ll see there, but I’m sure that it will leave one of the many everlasting impressions I have of Haiti. I am staying at the Haiti Response Coalition house and hope to shadow some of their organizers working with communities living in tent cities. Until next time…Peace

My Body, My Mind, My Womb


(Photo: Gwendolyn Magee, Lift Every Voice and Sing)

I want control over my body, the freedom to decide what happens in there, who I share it with and when I share it.

The right to choose what to do with my body has never really been totally up to me. As a child, my parents made health-based decisions for me. They decided what I would eat, when and where I would receive medical care and even what information would go into my head. That level of control was ok with me, my parents were my primary caregivers and did what they believed was best.

As a woman of color in the United States; my body, mind, hair and womb is constantly under the threat of being auctioned to the highest bidder. Regardless of where you live in this country, women’s rights are hotly debated. Whether the auctioneer is the federal government or the local Planned Parenthood; someone else is making decisions and influencing what we can do with our bodies. For many women, the culprit isn’t necessarily some outside player; oftentimes our partners and friends influence the decisions we make with our bodies.

Everyone has an agenda. The government, faith based institutions and non-profit organizations all have agendas. Those who are champions of women’s rights oftentimes pose the largest  issues for me. I recently viewed a documentary called Maafa 21. The documentary outlined what the researchers believed to be a concerted effort, by Planned Parenthood, to extinguish the Black community in the United States. While this documentary is highly controversial, it did make me think about my stance on the “choice” issue. I’ve always described myself as a pro-choice woman. I believe that women should have the choice TO HAVE and/or NOT TO HAVE a child. Unfortunately, I find the messaging around this issue deeply flawed on both sides. On the “pro-choice” side, the messaging is around our legal right to choose not to have a child. On the “pro-life” side, the messaging is around the moral dilemma and physical act of abortion.

It’s not just about our partners it’s about deciding not to consent through INACTION.

Both ends often miss what I think is the most important factor; the woman’s right to choose even before she has sex. I personally know women who refuse to purchase condoms because they believe the man should buy them. I know women who refuse to explore their own bodies because they believe only another man/woman should do so. I also know women who are waiting for marriage and know nothing about their anatomy or how to protect themselves during marriage (yes DURING marriage). Many of our girls are lost. I worked with teenage girls on the South side of St. Louis. OH the stories I heard and oh…the things they had no clue about.

Educating ourselves and our girls about sex shouldn’t JUST be about the act of sex. It should be about having healthy relationships and engaging in healthy behavior. Sexual health starts BEFORE sex. What we eat, our mental health and what life we want for ourselves affect our sexual health.  Americans focus too much on the act and not enough on the circumstances. Once women collectively deal with the circumstances and have ownership over them, our bodies and our minds we will belong to us. We will have more power and of course…more freedom.