I have always considered the #BlackLivesMatter movement a strategic opportunity to foreground dignity for all Black lives. Whether this movement evolves or transforms into another, it remains clear that it’s time our actions started foregrounding the notion that breath, life, dignity and justice are the right of every human being, even if that human being is the historically devalued Black woman or girl. It is necessary that we begin to make explicit that an abuse or killing of any member of our society, whether by police, by an acquaintance or an intimate partner—all of these without exception—undermine the viability, the safety and the survival of our communities. Since our beginnings in 2010, Black Women’s Blueprint has labored to use human rights and local grassroots mechanisms to center the lived experiences of Black women and girls squarely within the context of what is too often considered the “broader” racial justice concerns of Black communities. We have always maintained that the lived experiences of Black women and girls with sexual violence, poverty and other oppression are broader racial justice concerns.
Our fifth annual performance of Mother Tongue, entitled Poetic Prelude to a Tribunal, For Black Women, Refugees of a World on Fire was a call for a very particular kind of justice. As part of our work to bring about a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we bolstered dialogue and collaboration through performance arts to center the lives of Black women and girls in the work and the activism to end police and state violence. That night, we also honored #BlackLivesMatter founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors for their leadership on this front as Black queer women.
We will continue to explore and further expound on the possibility of a sustained and collaborative campaign to continue to disrupt current narratives, and produce bold responses to the notion of Black women and girls as mere support character, as single-story protestor, as quintessential grieving mothers, sisters or daughters. We are so much more than that. I envision a movement that would continue to enable Black women and girls to remove the gags from our mouths, consistently speak also for ourselves, lift the silence shrouding narratives about centuries of genocide against us, and highlight the complexity of our experiences as central to that of the Black collective. Through such a movement, we could continue to speak of our own pain as equally significant to the Black collective, to any collective.
Strategic opportunities have been seized and as women and girls, we have taken part in uprising alongside brothers, alongside transgender sisters and in our protests, we continue to name the unspoken names. Black girls willingly “die-in” for all, but no longer are they allowing their own brutalization by police or community to remain in the shadows. No longer should we as women and girls hand our bodies over to the struggle for justice simply to collapse on the front lines, invisible, still invisible. We are finally saying their names as with the very timely #SayHerName events, but now it is time to practice more radical politics.
It’s time for an even more brazen movement. It has already been expounded in detail, and in one form or another, decades ago by sister organizations like INCITE and the Combahee River Collective before that, by legions of Black feminists and by colored women’s clubs and blues women. Sojourner Truth called it to us when she unapologetically positioned women’s rights within the context of the struggle against racism, even though it meant calling out Black men in that immediate space and context. We still need to seize upon her vision. There is another strategic opportunity–one for the present day Sojourners, where we can challenge personal violence such as rape and sex trafficking alongside state violence. Where we will unapologetically address the violence done to us inside our communities alongside that inflicted on us by those with power outside our communities.
What has become clear in our organizing, is that for many Black women and girls, sexual violence occurs along a continuum and across their lifespan. Moreover, it is often a multi-generational phenomenon. There are also racial and cultural implications that should be articulated especially within Black/African American communities as inextricably linked to a historical context, a context which often solidly informs and shapes the personal and political priorities for what gets addressed and what gets suppressed within our communities.
To get there, Black Women’s Blueprint is putting forth a groundbreaking model of organizing which has been used in the transnational context for decades—a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that combines storytelling and documentation, provides victims and survivors a public platform, holds harm-doers accountable, promotes healing, reconciliation and public deliberation; all while challenging institutional and structural practices that perpetuate violence, its causes and consequences.
There is yet another a strategic opportunity. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been proven effective models for community organizing and mobilization, policy advocacy, healing and transitional justice at the international level and at grassroots levels in various cities. In 2006, The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission of North Carolina published successful details in its use of a Truth Commission model to organize communities profoundly impacted by violence, assert the civil rights of African-American members of that community in the aftermath of racially motivated murders that occurred in 1979 at the hand of the Ku Klux Klan and engage community members across racial lines in a process of healing and reconciliation. Last year, the Wabanaki Indian Tribal Governments and the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission launched the first-in-the-Nation Truth & Reconciliation project to examine the history and demand policy around State Child Welfare practices with Wabanaki Peoples. More recently the Mississippi Truth Project launched a statewide effort to create a culture of truth telling and justice that will bring to light racially motivated crimes and injustices committed in Mississippi between 1945 and 1975. I believe Black women survivors of violence could follow this model as one way of healing, speaking truth to power, achieving justice and seeking meaningful reconciliation.
I would like to close with a meditation one more strategic opportunity I see right now. We must continue to build a powerful anti-racist movement for sustainable practices in radical politics, practices that addresses deeply intertwined racist and patriarchal systems and that address both personal and state violence against women and girls. To win, we must engage our allies and build strong coalitions with other feminists of color and White feminists. Let me reiterate: it is time for a more brazen movement, one which demands accountability at all levels in order to end violence against women and girls and against all human beings, a compassionate movement rooted in the reconciliation of communities to themselves, the reconciliation of people and survivors to themselves and to loved ones. Let Black women emerge, equally central—as the embodiment of revolutionary potential.
Farah Tanis is Founder and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint.
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