10 QUESTIONS ABOUT RAPE: Answer Anonymously

Posted on Saturday, September, 20th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

“This invisibility, however, means that the opportunities for creative research are infinite.” – Barbara Smith, Black Feminist Historian, Author, Scholar.

Black Women’s Blueprint Relaunches Important Survey In Order to Continue the Work of Ensuring Our Stories Count. Because Our Experiences and Our Lives Matter.

Go To Survey.

10 Questions About Rape

BETTER OFF DEAD: What Happened to Black Women in August

Posted on Saturday, September, 20th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

By Farah Tanis and Aishah Shahidah Simmons

(First printed in The Feminist Wire September 5, 2014)

(L-R) Nikki Patin, Christina Jaus, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Farah Tanis, Sherley Accime #CERD photo: Frances Nielah Bradley

(L-R) Nikki Patin, Christina Jaus, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Farah Tanis, Sherley Accime #CERD
photo: Frances Nielah Bradley

With each of our dead, we mourn the loss of a piece of ourselves and with each of our raped we mourn the loss of a piece of our souls. We can and will name Renisha McBride alongside Michael BrownRekia Boyd alongside Trayvon MartinJada alongside Abner LouimaNaffisatou Diallo alongside Amadou Diallothe New Jersey 4 alongside the Jena 6Mia Henderson and Kandy Hall alongside Jordan Davis and John Crawford III; Aiyanna Stanely-Jones alongside Oscar Grant; and Sakia Gunn alongside Sean Bell. The right to freedom and the right to live and breathe should not, does not, nor will it ever exclude Black women.

We name 94 year old Recy Taylor who, on September 3, 1944, was kidnapped while leaving church and brutally gang raped by six white men in Alabama, propelling Rosa Parks into action, and we name her alongside ourselves—Black women, brazen women who today are still engaged in a centuries old “painful, patient, and silent toil … to gain title to the bodies of their daughters.” -Anna Julia Cooper, 1893.

Anna Julia Cooper source: http://bit.ly/1AcLOmE

Anna Julia Cooper
source: http://bit.ly/1AcLOmE

The week of August 9th, 2014, over two hundred years after Anna Julia Cooper’s statement, six Black women, an out-of-the-ordinary delegation from the United States travelled to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to hold the U.S. responsible for ending racial discrimination on its soil.  The very first of our kind, this herstoric delegation of Black women from America went to face the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). We went to speak of the atrocities and the havoc wrought by racism on the Black bodies of women across sexualities and gender identities. As Black Women’s Blueprint Executive Director and Co-Founder Farah Tanis, Co-Founder Christina Jaus, Critically Acclaimed Poet Nikki Patin, Award Winning Activist Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Healer Sherley Accime and Visual Artist Frances Nielah Bradley, we were transported and transfixed in moments which could only be articulated in historical terms.

Fannie Lou Hamer source: http://bit.ly/1lKRovw

Fannie Lou Hamer
source: http://bit.ly/1lKRovw

Vulnerable, determined and glued to our seats ready to bear our souls as survivors, as human rights defenders, as witnesses and testifiers, we summoned the courage in the presence of the international community to speak the unspeakable—rape in Black communities has become a trivial matter, victims are the brunt of jokes and social media fodder, harm-doers and rapists are excused without question within the context of a racist, sexist, “free-for-all” status quo environment we haven’t seen since slavery reigned in the Antebellum South and rape was legal and profitable. We assert that we are still living in the climate described by Fannie Lou Hamer, when she said a “Black woman’s body is never hers alone.”

We were there to denounce the daily rapes of Black girls and Black women, expose state sponsored violence, denounce the invisibility we feel is almost complete, our relegation to the extreme borders of the margins, and yes we would denounce other crimes—those crimes not just against the majority of Black women in America, but against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, other gender-non conforming people of African descent—“others” routinely unnamed in critical debates on the evils of racism in the U.S.

Trembling with humility and responsibility, filled with reverence as we knew we were and had been for a long time, standing “on other people’s blood”, and standing on very great shoulders. Now more than ever it was time to speak.

Unseen and Unheard

Farah, Christina, Frances, Sherley, Nikki photo: Aishah

Farah Tanis, Christina Jaus, Frances Bradley, Sherley Accime, Nikki Pattin, #CERD
photo: Aishah Shahidah Simmons

We each spoke in turn and simultaneously, in a chorus of voices, video, art, testimony and statement. We deployed our voices in a collective outcry against the brutality that is sexual violence and asked the U.N. CERD Committee what would be done to end the suffering of Black women, girls and LGBTQ people in the U.S. and for reasons too many of us understand feared the worst— that we would not be heard and the response was indeed silence. Member after member of the U.N. CERD Committee spoke on education, prisons, the shooting of our Black sons and brothers, the very real plight of endangered peoples and LGBTQ people, but we Black women did not make the cut that day, despite all we had spoken and despite all we had shown.

“I keep hearing about the murder of Black children, but what about the rape of Black children, women, men, trans folks? What about a form of violence that can result in the murder of the spirit? What about this insidious form of violence that is so pervasive that practically every woman I know has been touched by it? What about protecting the right to exist freely in one’s body? We revere the dead and condemn the living. Who will stand up for the walking wounded? Who will dare shatter this awful, awful silence?” ~ Nikki Patin

Were we truly better off dead?

Sherley Accime, Farah Tanis, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Nikki Patin #CERD photo: Christina Jaus

Sherley Accime, Farah Tanis, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Nikki Patin #CERD
photo: Christina Jaus

“We know and understand full well that the pain [of rape] is real, and though it is expected to eventually become a distant memory, for many of us it is a pain that resurfaces over and over again.”~ Sherley Accime

“As a Black feminist lesbian who is an incest and rape survivor, I am reminded that the struggle to talk about and address state and personal violence against Black women and LGBTQ people in a local, national and international racial justice framework is never ending and relentless. Any individual, organization, institution, treaty and/or law that ask us to choose our oppression is not interested in our full liberation. The end of racism, while extremely important does not mean that Black women and LGBTQ people will be safe from violence.” ~ Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Were all the Blacks still men?

We are making critical demands to the U.N. Committee members on the issue of personal violence. We are speaking honestly and unapologetically about the epidemic of state-sanctioned violence against Black women, girls and gender non-conforming people in the U.S. It is pervasive, it is destructive and the long-term effects are tremendous.~ Christina Jaus

Nikki Patin, Frances Nielah Bradley, and Sherley Accime

Nikki Patin, Frances Nielah Bradley, and Sherley Accime

“What I offer is visual representation of my narrative. It was meant to be for me to be here, and you were all meant to witness this”- Frances Naelah Bradley

Though we were standing there, fully flesh and blood, had we really fallen out of sight and out of the minds of these leaders from which we demanded justice?

“It is by telling our own life stories and by writing new narratives toward justice that we practice liberation, heal ourselves and shift the current paradigm—lifting the foot of oppression off of our necks so we can be free. Therefore the Black Women’s Blueprint will continue to make our voices equally central to all processes, all debates and strategies on race, racism and we will position our gendered experiences squarely within the context of what you consider the “broader” racial justice concerns of Black communities—bar none. The rapes and sexual assault of Black women are racial justice issues.” ~ Farah Tanis

All Black Lives Matter

We refused to beg. Not after all we had done. Not after all we had said. It was enough. We were enough, and this is exactly what we told three women from the African continent. We meditated on the words spoken by Anna Julia Cooper in 1892:

Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.

We demanded recognition and ready with strategies, prepared to act in voice and protest, and on August 14, 2014 the last day of our mission to the U.N. it was African women Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah of Burkina Faso; Afiwa-Kindena Hohoueto of Togo; and Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill of South Africa who named Black women in America. It was African women who acknowledged the centrality of our experiences to the broader racial justice struggle, and it was them who named the rape of Black women in America a human rights violation. We had finally been heard and it was African women who were able to hear us. We had been seen and it was them who saw us first, with all the pieces of our selves and all the pieces of our souls.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Frances Nielah Bradley, Farah Tanis, Nikki Patin, Afiwa-Kindena Hohoueto, Sherley Accime #CERD photo: Christina Jaus

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Frances Nielah Bradley, Farah Tanis, Nikki Patin, Afiwa-Kindena Hohoueto, Sherley Accime #CERD
photo: Christina Jaus

With the release of the U.N. response acknowledging the plight of Black women and LGBTQ people of African descent in the United States, it has increased our resolve. We must build where racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic systems have worked to divide and conquer. We must move from positions of arrest. We must tell our stories. We must protest in whatever way we deem fit or enough, and we must certainly heal as we seek justice. All of these are acts of revolution.

BWB New LogoAbout Black Women’s Blueprint Truth Commission

Black Women’s Blueprint‘s Truth and Reconciliation Commission On Black Women and Sexual Assault is the first of its kind to focus on Black women in America and their experiences with sexual violence was launched by Black feminists in the U.S. It is a bold, innovative and groundbreaking move by Black women across generation, ethnicity, sexuality and other identity to confront the ever shifting nature of rape culture, and sexual violence against African-American/Black women in the United-States.

Since its launch in 2010, Black Women’s Blueprint’s and members of its Truth Commission have been very involved in human rights advocacy, which places gender, gender identity and sexuality squarely within the context of what are often considered “larger” racial-justice concerns of Black/African American communities in the U.S. Part of our work over the years has been to monitor U.S. compliance with regard to specific human rights treaties and engage with treaty bodies as well as communities through training, development of testimony and since 2013, the development and submission a Shadow Report in response to the U.S. periodic report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  On June 30, 2014, Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) submitted their first Shadow Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Please access the report entitled “Racial Discrimination And Sexual Violence Against Black/African-American Women, Including Those Identifying as LGBTQ and The Impact of Inadequate Racial Justice Initiatives and Violence Prevention Policy Implementation in the United States” co-authored by Farah Tanis, L. Michelle Odom, and Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

__________________________________________________________

Farah Tanis & Aishah Shahidah Simmons #CERD photo: Christina Jaus

Farah Tanis & Aishah Shahidah Simmons #CERD
photo: Christina Jaus

Farah Tanis is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Black Feminist Organization Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) and the Museum of Women’s Resistance (MoWRe). Currently housed at Black Women’s Blueprint’s HerStory Archives, MoWRe is internationally recognized as a Site of Conscience.  Farah launched and Chairs the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the U.S. ever to focus on Black women and their historical and contemporary experiences with sexual assault. Farah also created Mother Tongue Monologues, a vehicle for communicating Black feminist praxis at the grassroots and for addressing Black sexual politics in African American and other communities of the Black Diaspora. You can follow Black Women’s Blueprint and Farah on twitter at @BlackWomensBP and  @FarahTanis1. For more information, please visit: www.mothertonguemonologues.org/aboutfarahtanis.htm

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the Creator of the internationally acclaimed and award-winning feature length film NO! The Rape Documentary and an Associate Editor of The Feminist Wire. She is a member of BWB’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Aishah is also an adjunct professor in Women’s and LGBT Studies Program at Temple University and she was an O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor at Scripps College during part of their 2014 Spring Semester. She screens her work and lectures extensively across North America and internationally about ending all forms of sexual violence; queer identity from an AfroLez®femcentric perspective; the grassroots process of making social change documentaries; and non-Christocentric spirituality. You can follow Aishah on twitter at @AfroLez. For more information, please visit: http://NOtheRapeDocumentary.org

BLACK WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT TO THE U.N. COMMITTEE ON RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

Posted on Monday, August, 11th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

shadow report writing photo

REPORT ON RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK/AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN, INCLUDING THOSE IDENTIFYING AS LGBTQ, AND THE IMPACT OF INADEQUATE RACIAL JUSTICE INITIATIVES AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION POLICY IMPLEMENTATION IN THE UNITED STATES.

SUBMITTED BY BLACK WOMEN’S BLUEPRINT

June 30, 2014

                                                                                                 IN RESPONSE TO THE

85th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

11-29 August 2014

Geneva, Switzerland

 WRITTEN BY

Farah Tanis

Co-Founder, Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint and the Museum of Women’s Resistance, Chair of the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault.

 L. Michelle Odom

Communications and Development Manager, Black Women’s Blueprint, Advisor, the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault, Founder of the Revolutionary Love Leadership Series, and Management Consultant.

 Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Black Feminist Lesbian Filmmaker/Activist, Creator of NO! The Rape Documentary, Associate Editor of The Feminist Wire, Commissioner of the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault.

 SECTION I. REPORTING ORGANIZATION – Black Women’s Blueprint , Inc.

 This report was authored by Black Women’s Blueprint, a national membership organization of 180 women, men and transgender people of color in the United States of America, with its headquarters in New York City.

1. THE ORGANIZATION: Black Women’s Blueprint is a national Black feminist organization using civil and human rights approaches to organize and develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender; race and other disparities are erased.  It engages in progressive research, historical documentation, policy advocacy and organizes on social justice issues steeped in the struggles of Black/African American women within their communities and within dominant culture.  Black Women’s Blueprint is the convener of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission ever to focus on Black women in the U.S. and their historical and contemporary experiences with rape/sexual assault.  The organization is the national technical assistance provider engaging 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country, providing training and capacity building to address gender-violence on their campuses.  Black Women’s Blueprint also administers a small museum, The Museum of Women’s Resistance (MoWRe), which uses multi-media art to provide a historical context and to spark dialogue on the civil and human rights of women and girls in the African Diaspora. The Museum is recognized as a Site of Conscience by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

2. THE AUTHORS:  Farah Tanis is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint and the Museum of Women’s Resistance (MoWRe). Tanis also Chairs the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault (BWTRC).  L. Michelle Odom is Communications and Development Manager, Black Women’s Blueprint, Advisor, the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault, Founder of the Revolutionary Love Leadership Series, and Management Consultant.  Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the award-winning, Black Feminist Lesbian Filmmaker, Creator of the internationally acclaimed, Ford Foundation-funded NO! The Rape Documentary.  Simmons is an Associate Editor of The Feminist Wire, an Adjunct Professor at Temple University, and a Commissioner for the U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault.

3. All three authors have first hand experience with racial discrimination and sexual violence across a spectrum of human rights violations, and this report is written with support from and on behalf of the 180 members who make up the organization representing a variety of ethnicity, sexualities and income status and other intersecting identities in order to offer the CERD Committee first-hand accounts about human rights violations endured by women of color in the United States.

 SECTION II. INTRODUCTION AND ISSUE SUMMARY:  Racial Discrimination and Sexual Violence Against Black Women.

1. This is the first Shadow Report submitted by Black Women’s Blueprint to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The organization is particularly concerned with the U.S. implementation of CERD articles 1 through 6 which condemn “racial discrimination and exclusion” and requires States to…“seek to avoid it in policy or practice by governments, organisations and individuals.”   The organization is also concerned with the attainment of “security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm…by any individual group or institution” outlined in article 5(b) of the Convention. Racial discrimination and gender-violence continue to be significant issues in the United States as Black women, including those who are sexually marginalized like lesbians, bisexual or transgender women, are impacted in ways that demand closer examination and warrant exposure to public scrutiny and policy-makers.  In this brief report, we will focus our attention on a specific law and a federal initiative in the United States which inadequately or do not address racial discrimination and gender-violence against women of color.

  1. The recent federal racial justice initiative My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) which excludes remedies that would address racial discrimination in the lives of women and girls of color, and
  2. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) from which communities of color, (but communities of African descendants in particular), continue to receive a disproportionately lower-share of resources that would enable the law to have more impact where it is most needed.

2. Racial Discrimination – A recent racial justice initiative by the White House, “My Brother’s Keeper,”[1] created in February 2014, will provide opportunities for young men of color in education, employment, criminal justice, violence reduction, mentoring, and “ensuring access to basic health, nutrition, and to high-quality early education to get these kids reading and ready for school at the youngest age.”[2]   While necessary and laudable, My Brother’s Keeper does not purport to tackle the deteriorating conditions and alarming circumstances facing women and girls[3] of color.  In response to this glaring oversight, The African-American Policy Forum, a legal and policy think tank, wrote and delivered a letter to President Obama with over 1500 women of color signatories requesting the inclusion of women and girls of color into this Federal Initiative.  “We write to join the concerns expressed by the letter from 200 Black Men about My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and to share our hopes that together, we can re-align this important Initiative to reflect the values of inclusion, equal opportunity and shared fate that have propelled our historic struggle for racial justice forward.”[4]

The exclusion of women and girls from the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative reflects a pattern of neglect in the United States as My Brother’s Keeper centers on a paradigm almost exclusively informed by the experiences of men and boys of color with racial discrimination.

3. The Initiative warrants closer examination in order to ensure the U.S. is meeting its obligation to ensure non-discrimination for all persons of color including women and girls in the following areas:  Racial barriers for women and girls in the employment sector where economic inequality and racial disparities in earnings between white Americans and women of color abound.  A National Women’s Law Center study found in July, 2013, “Unemployment rates have declined for most subgroups of women since the start of the recovery, but not for adult African-American women.”[5]  Black/African American women suffer disproportionately high rates of un- and under-employment and have a wider gender pay gap than white women and other women of color.  “The gender pay gap affects all women,” wrote the American Association of University Women, “but for African American and Hispanic/Latina women, it is a steeper climb.”  Their recent report found Black women are paid a mere 64% of what white males earn.[6]  Moreover, it is difficult to find support for claims of racial discrimination by the agency charged with handling such matters – the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – in 2013, a typical year, found “no reasonable cause for 63.8% of the 3,146 “color-based” charges received in that period.[7]  The higher rates of unemployment and under-employment for Black/African American women, lower rates of pay, and inability to address employment discrimination through official channels, render our concerns invisible and exacerbates survival and quality of life for Black women in this country.

4. Racial Injustices abound in the criminal justice system as women and girls of color have almost single-handedly expanded the prison industrial complex.  Black omen are three times more likely than white women, to be jailed.  During the period of 1997-2007, the women’s prison population grew by 832%, while during that same year, the male prison population grew 416%.[8]   The case of Marissa Alexander in Florida, is one extreme example, where a 33-year-old woman now faces a 60-year sentence for firing a warning shot in the direction of the man who physically abused her.  No one was hurt.[9]  Tanya McDowell, a homeless woman who used a babysitter’s address to send her child to a better school, was arrested and charged with first degree larceny, an extreme reaction and another example of this disturbing pattern.[10]  Alexander and McDowell are part of a growing pattern of criminalization of Black/African American women.  The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander, does an excellent job of documenting the disparate way in which drug policy has been applied in this country. Unfortunately, Alexander does not include comparable data on heterosexual women and LGBTQ people.  In the 2011 release Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People In the United States, authors Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock give readers alarming commentary about the disproportionate rate that LGBTQ people, especially those of color, are incarcerated for ‘sexual deviance.’  Similar to Alexander’s book, Mogul, Ritchie, and Whitlock delve into how crime is socially constructed.  They show the historical origins of how race constitutes what is considered a crime, while also examining how notions of gender plus race plus class plus sexuality, all inform who is incarcerated and who is not.[11] The 2012 release Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation, by Beth E. Richie, brings issues of {Black women’s} sexuality, class, age, and criminalization into focus alongside questions of public policy and gender violence.  Richie brilliantly demonstrates why there is a non-negotiable need to radically re-frame the criminal justice stories.[12]

5. Sexual Violence Against Black/African-American Women and LGBTQ People– The U.S. criminal justice system is not stopping sexual violence.  It’s not making any of our communities, especially Black communities, safe from violence.  We are not eradicating sexual violence in Black communities with tougher crime bills and laws.[13]  Even more troubling, is the difficulty we have in relying on the official data.  “A thorough analysis of federal data published earlier this year by Corey Rayburn Yung, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, concludes that between 1995 and 2012, police departments across the country systematically under-counted and under-reported sexual assaults. After nearly two years of work, he estimates conservatively that between 796,213 and 1,145,309 sexual assault cases never made it into national FBI counts during the studied period…That’s more than 1 million rapes.”[14]

6. “Intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking are important and widespread public health problems in the United States. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, based on a survey conducted in 2010.  Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men.  Those numbers only tell part of the story—more than 1 million women are raped in a year and over 6 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year,” found the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).[15]  The same study found, “Approximately 1 in 5 Black (22.0%) and White (18.8%) non-Hispanic women, and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (14.6%) in the United States have experienced rape at some point in their lives.  The CDC also found, “Forty-four percent of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”[16]  Researchers also find disturbing occurrences of intimate partner violence.  “Domestic violence can happen anywhere and is not bound by race, religion, or socio-economic status. But, recent studies show that African American women are at three times the risk of experiencing a lethal domestic violence event than any other racial groups in America.  Indeed, domestic violence murders are among the leading causes of death of black women ages 15 to 35.”[17]

SECTION III. U.S. Government Response

1. The U.S. continues to struggle with addressing violence against Black/African-American women. Reauthorization and Extension of the Violence Against Women Act is an important step toward addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the levels violence and lack of justice experienced by women and LGBTQ people of color.  However, for the first time since it was passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act VAWA, was threatened and faced challenges to its extension in 2013. The components most in danger were in regard to protections and programs that encourage CERD compliance by promoting justice and inclusion for women of color and LGBTQ women[18].

2. Additionally, the Department of Justice made another significant step forward by issuing a revised definition of rape that does not limit the victim or perpetrator to a certain sex or gender, recognizes all penetrative acts as rape, and includes instances where the victim is unable to give consent.  Nevertheless, the 2011 ruling in Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. the United States by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, further demonstrates the United States’ responsibility and mandate to address violence against women as a human rights issue in both U.S. law and policy.

3. Throughout its June 2013 Periodic Report to the CERD Committee, the U.S. engages in a relatively unprecedented frequency in mention of gender, women, sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity. The report highlights steps taken by the U.S. Government with regard to legislative, judicial and administrative measures to combat racial discrimination.  In addition, the report notes administrative and policy measures taken to eliminate disparities with regard to access to adequate health and care; housing; education; employment and protection from violence. As Black/African American women and the LGBTQ community continue to be subjected to various forms of violence with little protection by the State, we find that the report fails to adequately establish how racial discrimination undermines the attainment of “security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm… by any individual group or institution” outlined in article 5(b) of the Convention; nor does it adequately accept state responsibility for respecting, protecting, and fulfilling equal access to these rights.

4. In Section 187, of Article 6 of the U.S. CERD PeriodicReport, the progressive ideal of empowering communities themselves to address issues of violence, with a necessary highlight on sexual violence, is detailed, stating specifically that, “…the best response to violence against women—the response most likely to empower survivors and hold offenders accountable is a response driven and defined by the community itself.”  Yet from a systemic vantage point, institutional racism—racial profiling, police brutality, mass incarceration and poverty among others–a dynamic exists within communities that persistently makes it difficult, if not dangerous, to address issues like intra-community rape and other violence in communities of color.  Because of the effects of racism, issues directly related to a lack of human rights, such as hate crimes based on sexual orientation or identity, the feminization of poverty, infant mortality and reproductive justice, are currently not considered within a racial justice framework.

5. Furthermore, the steps to address issues within Black/African-American communities, and those faced by women in particular, continue to point to solutions that are more reactive.  These remedial steps are not discussed within a historical context that acknowledges the intense networks and relations that have influenced and continue to enable violence to occur in these communities.  These remedies become ineffective when factors like history and the present cultural manipulation that create and sustain environments where rape and other forms of violations are permissible, are not reconciled.  The admission that oppressive conditions exist, coupled with a neglect of identification of the source or factors that contribute to those specific conditions, is present throughout the report.  We need to look at how a society dominated by a racial hierarchy, has historically allowed specific images and damaging ideas about masculine identity and expectations, as well as stereotypes and damaging ideas about Black/African American women, to be propagated, normalized and imprinted on the minds of generations past and present.

6. The injustice that Black/African-American women and LGBTQ people experience is not just at the hands of individual intimate partners, brothers, classmates or other members of their own communities.  It also stems from racist systems and from the racism they experience in subsequent efforts to seek protection or remedy.  Eliminating racism and other intersecting “isms” in law enforcement and the judicial system is also critical to protecting the human rights of Black women and LGBTQ.  It means adequately resourcing our college campuses and public schools so that they can develop tools for public education about consent, that not just counter but ultimately empower a new generation to eliminate rape culture in the media and elsewhere.  It means making it explicit that the U.S. has a commitment to addressing violence and all the interlocking and cyclical factors that increase the risk for victimization and the risk for causing harm.  It means providing resources that help us, as a community to create environments that facilitate inclusion and that create cultures in communities which consider any violation against one of its members, whether at the hands of the state or by another community member, a violation against the whole community.

7. Yes in its PeriodicReport to the CERD Committee, the United States does explicitly mention gender, sexual violence, and sexuality, and names Black women and women of color in ways it has not done before.  We consider this report a possible springboard for meaningful action by Black/African-American women and LGBTQ people continue to make their own voices equally central to all debates on race and place their gendered experiences squarely within the context of all the racial justice concerns of Black/African-American communities—bar none.  Rape and sexual assault in Black/African-American communities are racial justice issues.

SECTION IV. Recommended Questions

  1. How will issues impeding the healthy development of women and girls of color be highlighted and addressed on a scale comparable to plans made under the My Brother’s Keeper initiative?
  2. What will be done to improve the drastically under-reported cases of rape in U.S. communities of color?
  3. What will the U.S. do to reduce incidences of intimate partner violence and other instances of lethal domestic violence in Black/African-American communities and/or LGBTQ communities?
  4. How will the U.S. address the increasing criminalization of Black/African-American women and LGBTQ people?

SECTION V. Suggested Recommendations

1. Given the recent federal racial justice initiative My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) which excludes remedies that would address racial discrimination in the lives of women and girls of color, and The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) from which communities of color, (but communities of African descendants in particular) continue to receive a disproportionately lower-share of resources that would enable the law to have more impact where it is most needed, we recommend the United States do the following:

  1. Revamp MBK as a “My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper Initiative,” and follow the recommendations in the African American Policy Forum letter(s)[19].
  2. The U.S. must do what it said in Section 187, of Article 6 of its 2013 Periodic Report to the CERD Committee. “the best response to violence against women—the response most likely to empower survivors and hold offenders accountable is a response driven and defined by the community itself.” Make adequate funding to Black/African-American communities that will go toward community driven and sustained responses to sexual violence.
  3. The U.S. must overhaul its racially biased criminal justice system, which in the name of making communities safe from violence, disproportionately criminalizes Black/African-American and all women, men, and youth of color inclusive of all sexualities.
  4. Significantly increase funding for communities of color under VAWA.  Additional funding under VAWA should be used for a major initiative to train 911 telephone emergency response operators to reduce under-reporting of rape and other cases of sexual violence.
  5. Remove any threat to the Violence Against Women Act by ensuring it is consistently re-authorized and that it meets its original objectives of addressing the disproportionate rates of violence against women and girls in the U.S.
  6. Address racial discrimination against victims and all people of color by providing specific training for those working within the criminal justice system, including police officers, lawyers, prosecutors and judges, and medical personnel.
  7. Eliminate Mandatory Arrest and Prosecution policies that perpetuate racial discrimination and do not protect victims from harm.
  8. Undertake information campaigns to raise awareness among women belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities about the human rights mechanisms and procedures provided for in national legislation on racism and discrimination.


[1] “FACT SHEET: Opportunity for all: President Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to Build Ladders of Opportunity For Boys and Young Men of Color,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2/27/14,  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/02/27/fact-sheet-opportunity-all-president-obama-launches-my-brother-s-keeper-

[2] Ibid.

[3] “My Brother’s Keeper Task Force Issues Report to the President,” The Leadership Conference, 6/3/14, http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2014/1439-my-brothers-keeper-report.html

[4] African American Policy Forum, Why We Can’t Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in My Brother’s Keeper  http://aapf.org/2014/06/woc-letter-mbk/

[5] “Fourth Anniversary of the Recovery Shows Job Gains for Women—But a Long Road to a Full Recovery,” National Women’s Law Center, July, 2013, http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/4thanniversaryrecovery.pdf

[6] The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap,” American Association of University Women, April, 2014, http://www.aauw.org/2014/04/03/race-and-the-gender-wage-gap/

[7] “Color-Based Charges – FY 1997 – FY 2013,” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/color.cfm

[8] “Quick Facts: Women and Criminal Justice – 2009,” Institute on Women and Criminal Justice http://www.wpaonline.org/resources/quick-facts

[9] Hsieh, Steven, “Marissa Alexander Now Faces 60 Years in Prison for Firing a Warning Shot in Self Defense,” 3/3/14,  http://www.thenation.com/blog/178641/marissa-alexander-now-faces-60-years-prison-firing-warning-shot-self-defense

[10] “Tanya McDowell, Homeless Woman, Arrested For Sending Son To School Using Babysitter’s Address,” Huff Post Education, 6/18/11, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/18/tanya-mcdowell-homeless-w_n_850571.html

[11] Simmons, Aishah Shahidah, “Who Will Revere Us? (Black LGTBQ People, Straight Women and Girls” (Part 3), The Feminist Wire 4/25/14 http://thefeministwire.com/2012/04/who-will-revere-us-black-lgtbq-people-straight-women-and-girls-part-3/

[12] Richie, Beth E., Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation, New York University Press, 2014

[12]http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=3170#.U7Hc_l4fLA4

[13] Simmons, Aishah Shahidah, “AfroLez®femcentric Perspectives on Coloring and Queering Gender-Based Violence,” February 18, 2014 Keynote Lecture, Scripps College Humanities Institute’s Spring 2014 “Feminisms and the Radical Imagination” series.

[14] Chemaly, Soraya, “How Did the FBI Miss Over 1 Million Rapes?:  Systematic undercounting of sexual assaults in the US disguises a hidden rape crisis,” 6/27/14, http://www.thenation.com/article/180441/how-did-fbi-miss-over-1-million-rapes

[15] “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey,” Centers for Disease Control, 2010, http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_executive_summary-a.pdf

[16] “NISVS: An Overview of 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation,” Centers for Disease Control, 2010, http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_victimization_final-a.pdf

[17] “African American Women Disproportionately At Risk For Death by Domestic Violence,” HG Legal Resources, http://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=31238

[19] African American Policy Forum, “Why We Can’t Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in My Brother’s Keeper,”  http://aapf.org/2014/06/woc-letter-mbk/

HELP BLACK WOMEN TELL THEIR STORIES AT THE U.N.

Posted on Saturday, August, 2nd, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

“…until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever” – Audre Lorde

Help Us Tell Our Stories

Black Women’s Blueprint has organized a historic delegation to the United Nations Review of U.S. actions under the Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to occur in Geneva, Switzerland.
This is a historical moment in U.S. Black Feminist history as we give our own account, testify and bear witness in voice and action; speak our narratives and center the lives of Black women and girls and their experiences with rape, beatings, shootings and other violation squarely within the context of “broader” racial justice concerns of our communities.It is by telling our own life stories and by writing new narratives towards healing that we practice liberation, heal ourselves and shift the current paradigm—lifting the foot of oppression off our necks so we can be free.  Contribute Now

Here is Where We Need You.

Of the 6 of us headed to Geneva, only one received a scholarship. For one other sister artist and activist, Frances, the cost is not yet covered.

As survivors, we need each other and we need your support.If you know a survivor who is family, a co-worker, a loved one, a daughter or son; if you are an advocate for survivors, or just care about what happens to our bodies, we ask you to consider making a contribution.

Give $10, $25, $30
Give anything you can to help make our load just a little lighter as we journey and bear witness to truth, justice, healing and reconciliation.

Why This Is So Important

 _Black women deserve to be recognized and often there are very few of us represented at any table.

_We Go to the U.N. so we can stand for and with all the Black girls, the sisters left in back alleys, in heaps on their bedroom or living room floors.

_We go to the U.N for those left in building hallways, staircases, backroom parties and basement garages.
_We go for those who’ve been led to believe that they are alone;
We go for those no one believed and those no one helped.
_We go for those who have found their voice and those still trying to find it.
_We go and we speak for our ancestors,
and those future generations yet to come.

For all those reasons, we ask you to give anything to support this historical trip to the U.N. in Geneva where we will represent women from our communities.

Help Make it Possible for All of Us to Be Represented.

  • $1,500 will help pay for Frances’ air fare to Geneva.
  • $900 will help with lodging for Frances and another sister.
  • $500 will help with food for the 6 days we’re there for Frances and another sister.
  • $600 will help with printing materials about Black women’s issues, ground transport, and emergencies.
  • If we raise more than we ask here, your generosity will support an additional sister going to Geneva.

Other Ways You Can Help

  • Please tell your friends by emailing them this campaign page, post it on Facebook and Twitter and everywhere.
  • Write an Article or Blog about this by contacting Farah Tanis at ftanis@blueprintny.org
  • Talk about it. Go to www.myfreedomlounge.com to learn more about our Truth Commission.
  • Ask your friends, colleagues, family to give anything.
  • Use the Indiegogo share tools right here on this site!

Who Are We?

  • Black Women’s Blueprint is the convener of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission to focus on Black women and their experiences with Sexual Assault right here in the U.S. and this our chance to send a handful of women to the U.N. to speak of Black women’s experiences of sexual assault to the international community.
  • We’re gathering and telling our stories and believe as the great Audre Lorde said, “Our speaking will permit others to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.”
  • This first delegation of the Truth Commission includes: Farah Tanis,  Christina Jaus, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Nikki Patin, Sherley Accime and Frances Nielah Bradley. 

With Gratitude. – All of us at Black Women’s Blueprint

Find This Campaign On

Contribute Now

Select a Perk
  • $10USD
    Contributor To The Struggle

    A thank you note from all of us on this historical delegation.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    3 out of 300 claimed get this perk

  • $25USD
    Community Organizer

    A picture of the delegation at the U.N. in your email inbox.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    1 out of 200 claimed get this perk

  • $50USD
    Freedom Fighter

    A beautiful Post-Card from Geneva plus a photo of the delegation at the U.N. in delivered to your email inbox.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    0 out of 100 claimed get this perk

  • $100USD
    Civil Rights Activist

    A Post-Card from Geneva, a photo of the delegation at the U.N. in your email inbox and mention on our FB, Twitter, Website.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    0 out of 100 claimed get this perk

  • $250USD
    Human Rights Defender

    A special mention as a supporter in Truth Commission materials, a beautiful Post-Card from Geneva, a photo of the delegation at the U.N. in your email inbox, and mention on all Social Media and Web.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    0 out of 100 claimed get this perk

  • $500USD
    Lover of Black Feminism

    A post-card from Geneva, photo of delegation at U.N., mention in all social media and web; AND private brunch at Black Women’s Blueprint’s Museum of Women’s Resistance.

    Estimated delivery: October 2014

    0 out of 50 claimed get this perk

Standing Our Ground Week: Marissa Alexander You Are Not Alone

Posted on Saturday, July, 26th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

 

 

Call to Action!

Black Women’s Blueprint Stands with Marissa Alexander during “STANDING  OUR  GROUND WEEK” and every week.

Sister Marissa You Are Not Alone.

 Write a Letter to Marissa!

As justice continues to be denied to our Sister Marissa Alexander, and as she continues to face 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot, we continue to stand by her side.   Activists across the country are organizing a “Standing Our Ground Week” to raise awareness  about  reproductive oppression, gender violence and mass incarceration, from July 25 to August 1 in Jacksonville, Florida.

JOIN THE LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN. Here is Marissa’s address: Marissa Alexander, P. O. Box 23872, Jacksonville, FL 32257

 SEND A SELFIE

#SelfiesForSelfDefense project Join others by writing notes to Marissa, taking a photo, and posting it online.

 FreeMarissaNow  @freeMarrissaNow     tumblr

BLACK WOMEN GIVE TESTIMONY AND BEAR WITNESS TO A NEW CHAPTER IN HUMAN RIGHTS AT HOME

Posted on Thursday, July, 17th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

BLACK WOMEN GIVE TESTIMONY AND BEAR WITNESS TO A NEW CHAPTER IN HUMAN RIGHTS AT HOME.

Farah and Aishah 2
“When we construct universal notions of women or masculine notions of Blackness…when we claim only some forms of violence as central to our struggles, we are claiming or remembering particular histories. Central to constructing more radical political struggles is the reclamation and reconstruction of fuller, more complex histories.” -Dr. Elsa Barkley Brown, Black Feminist Historian and Activist

When the United States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1994, it agreed to submit periodic state reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the U.N. body charged with monitoring state compliance with the Convention. However, only after criticism and demands by civil society, including feminists of color, gender justice and human rights advocates, that these reports move beyond male centered paradigms, did the U.S. include in its reports gendered forms of racial discrimination experienced by women of color and LGBTQ communities.  For many of us, our particular experiences as Black/African American women are testament to the ways in which gendered forms of racial discrimination have devastating consequences on the full enjoyment of equality and fundamental human rights both in private and public spheres.

On July 8 and 9, 2014, just a few days after the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Black Women’s Blueprint Executive Director, Farah Tanis and Creator of NO! The Rape Documentary,  Aishah Shahidah Simmons both presented on behalf of Black Women’s Blueprint at the Civil Society Consultations at the US State Department on CERD, the Human Rigths Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination as well as the UPR, the Universal Periodic Review. Both activists testified about racial discrimination and the devastating impact on women and LGBTQ people of color. Farah Tanis presented in person on racial discrimination and the intersection of gender and violence and Aishah Shahidah Simmons presented on intimate partner and state sanctioned violence against LGBTQ people of color. We are about our foremothers’ business and will keep community posted on the work to center the lives of women and girls squarely within what are often considered “the broader” racial justice concerns of Black communities. We continue to make it explicit that a violation against one of us, whether by the State or by a fellow community member is a violation against us all.

DEAR SURVIVORS. WE BELIEVE YOU. WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR TRUTH

Posted on Wednesday, July, 16th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

Call for Survivor Narratives - BWTRC 2014

The Missing Invitation

THE RESOUNDING VOICE OF MAYA ANGELOU

Posted on Monday, June, 9th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

The Resounding Voice of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Walking Along Beach

By Cathline Tanis, Black Women’s Blueprint Writing Circle

“The fact that the American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance” – Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou understood the power of language and her words were like a sword forged in the fires of abuse and silence and honed by the innovation and determination of the elders, the women who surrounded her.  Through the years she used her words to hack through the weeds of oppression and clear a path for herself and for everyone whose lives she would touch. Maya Angelou did this her way with a fierceness that defied the circumstances of her early life.  As with many of us, Black women, survivors, Maya Angelou’s voice responded to the pain and violence suffered at the hands of both a racist, misogynist society and at the hands of her own Black community.

For speaking truth so that each of us could also speak, Maya Angelou we honor you.

Maya Angelou used her words to construct a place of authentic voice that she shared with the world and spoke a truth that tackled the issues of beauty, power, race, emotional, physical and sexual violence, family, religion as well as freedom in her own life, the lives of countless women and girls of her day, and those yet to come. Maya Angelou, who chose five long years of silence in response to the violence of rape and vigilantism in her life, came into her voice in what we see as a contemplative process that speaks to our ability to emerge as light despite atrocity.

For teaching us that we too can heal, Maya Angelou we honor you.

When Maya Angelou’s voice emerged from its exile, it emerged as a writer, a poet, a dancer, a visionary, a teacher, a mother and an activist. Her voice was and still remains one of healing and of reclamation, learned and cultivated by a trinity of Black women, Maya Angelou’s mother, Vivian Baxter Johnson, her grandmother, Annie “Momma” Henderson and her mentor, Mrs. Bertha Flowers. Maya Angelou harnessed the power of her words to voice her rage, her growth, her rebirth. Her voice is proof of the healing that can happen within a community of women dedicated to breaking molds, breaking paradigms and breaking chains.

For teaching us that our very existence is justice, Maya Angelou we honor you.

From Phenomenal Woman to Still I Rise and the famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s voice was a voice of inherent becoming, inherent humanity, growth and liberation. She speaks of this liberation in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings describing the painful trill of the caged bird and the hopeful cry of the free bird soaring towards the sky. Her telling of her own liberation, the drawing of parallels and paths, with voice and words will forever enable us to understand the complex “cages” that often bind us as people, but also the complex and creative ways we become free.

For teaching us we create liberation, within what should be community spaces of safety and belonging, Maya Angelou we honor you.

We sing, we hope, we land boldly and we rise. Sister, Mother, Maya Angelou, free bird who dared “to claim the sky” and cast your voice into the world as a beacon of light and strength and emerged a formidable woman. For teaching us that “just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, we too can rise, we forever honor you.

For Maya Angelou, Great Mother, Sister, Author, Poet and Literary Giant (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

 

Why We Won’t Write About Beyoncé and bell hooks

Posted on Thursday, May, 29th, 2014 by admin in Blog - (Comments Off)

By Randie Henderson,

For Black Women’s Blueprint

bell beyonceWe won’t write about Beyoncé and bell hooks because they are both accomplished women who can and have for a long time taken care of themselves. We could engage in analysis regarding whether Beyoncé is a feminist or counter-feminist, wonder how much education she’s actually received, and launch debate about her impact on women and girls around the world. We could also debate use of language, meaning and choice of words with bell hooks—a truly phenomenal woman who has worked hard for her reputation and respect. We could chastise her for her use of the word “terrorist” in describing Beyoncé, or even replay her “Drunk in Love” dancing, but it would not matter.

The truth is, this “debate” has been distracting and while it is important to hear and understand the range of voices across generations concerning the impact of Beyoncé and bell hooks, it appears we’re not all even sure what we are talking about anymore. However, we do know that the longer this conversation continues the less we believe in its productivity.

The problem is not Beyoncé and bell hooks. The problem is that there are a reported 230 to 300 girls missing in Nigeria who have allegedly been found but are unable to be rescued, and because of this global failure, and as with many kidnapped people, they are likely to endure extended periods of torment on their bodies and spirits, in addition to time away from their families.

The problem is Marissa Alexander who is still being treated as a criminal while George Zimmerman remains a free man who is sponsored and coddled even though he murdered a child.

The problem is the fact that Elliot Rodgers, the “suspect” in the recent fatal mass shootings and stabbings of college students near Santa Barbara, California is being excused of his misogyny, racism, femicide, and murders due to mental illness, and yet how many mentally ill black men would have been afforded such consideration—lunacy disguised as grace. Moreover, Elliot Rodgers and many other violent white males like him fuel the war on women, fuel rape culture, white entitlement, racism, sexism, and white privilege.

So the truth is, arguing about Beyoncé and bell hooks will not right any of the aforementioned wrongs.

Thus, while some of us often turn to Bey when needing motivation in the gym and bell hooks for education and assurance that we can excel in this country as black women—Beyoncé and bell hooks do not need any of us taking any more time on them. So unless we are using this conversation to bring about real resolutions and to combat the very real systems of oppression that keep us under siege with boots on our necks, it is imperative that we focus on greater issues so that we can be the catalyst of real change.

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