What is the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  • Truth | Justice | Healing | Reconciliation

Launched by Black and transnational feminists in the U.S., it is a bold innovative and groundbreaking move by Black women across generations, ethnicities, sexualities and other identities, to confront the ever shifting nature of rape culture and sexual violence against Black women in the United-States. It is the first of its kind to focus on Black women in America. The Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) seeks to address historical and contemporary injustices committed against Black women and pave the way for healing, justice and reconciliation. It is the first of its kind in the U.S. to focus on rape and sexual assault against women of African descent in the U.S., and the risks and consequences posed by their lack of economic, social and political security. The Commission documents the truth of black women and provides healing symposia in New York, Michigan, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Florida and California.

Why a Truth Commission in the U.S.

The U.S. is one of the few places in the world where mass rapes have occurred systematically against an entire race of people (African American women) and there has been no outcry from human rights communities, no processes for justice, and no acknowledgement or recognition of such violations and its impact on the culture of violence against Black women today. A truth and reconciliation commission would go a long way toward recognizing and addressing past and present suffering and helping Black women and their communities to heal.

Our mandates: Truth, Justice, Healing and Reconciliation are all central to our objective.

  • Truth: Provide victims and survivors with a public platform; engage in survivor led participatory action research to document our narratives, our stories and lived experiences as survivors across three-generations (1944-2015).
  • Justice: Holding broader systems accountable, holding community accountable. Defining justice for ourselves. With survivors and community the BWTRC seeks to name and define justice in the next year (self, ancestors, and future generations).
  • Healing : Promote healing for survivors not only through truth and justice, but through various means, the use of art, theater, indigenous as well as formal and informal practices that get at somatic issues, whether that is trauma counseling or spiritually based practices steeped in ancestral traditions or other support as determined by victims and survivors themselves.
  • Reconciliation: Create a model for reconciliation, whether involving individuals or a community which has for far too long practiced the silencing of victims, while perpetuating rape culture is central to this work. Through public deliberations using a human rights framework, and working to build structures of community accountability and systems of safety, we are seeking to define reconciliation as survivors, as allies and as community.

The work is being accomplished in 4 phases: (1) Base Building and Multi-Phase Organizing (2) Conducting Community-Based Participatory Research, (3) Producing a Final Report and (4) Holding a Public Tribunal set for 2016.

A Tribunal and Reckoning is Set to Occur on April 29, 2016

The BWTRC’s final product will be a report on its findings, including ongoing advocacy and specific recommendations for community, institutions, law-makers and the UN on ensuring the right to concrete healing, and resources towards reconciliation and transformative justice. The Commission expects to release its full report in early 2017.

As stated by the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission At its core, the truth and reconciliation process is [one centering human rights] and an exercise in democracy. The broad public must actively engage in this process in order for the Commission's work to be fruitful. It is an effort to help Black communities grasp the importance of having an accurate and richly collective memory of the sexual and reproductive violations on the bodies of Black women and girls and their persistent impact in contemporary times, how these violations happened and why. This is not an effort to create a monolithic understanding within the community of Black women’s experiences with sexual violence, but rather to amplify the community's and in particular, Black women’s multiple voices, perspectives and experiences of these violations and their lasting impact. One end goal is thus a collective memory that incorporates these diverse points of view and a depth of historical understanding within various communities beyond Black communities that rely upon contextual analysis, self-examination and an examination of the responsibility of the nation-state.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES:

1. Provide a blueprint for community mobilization so that the U.S. in its political transition of power in 2017 keeps its commitments to the survivors of what the World Health Organization is calling “the most pervasive human rights violation in the world”—violence against women; and especially those from marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by rape and the spectrum of sexual violence. In particular, we refer to commitments made by the Obama Administration in VAWA, the new Guidance on Gender-Bias Policing, U.S. reports to the U.N. Committee on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and Convention Against Torture (CAT).

2. A recognition of the centrality of the rights of women of African descent within racial justice concerns of all people of African descent.

3. A renewed focus on increasing resources for meaningful primary prevention programs which focus on factors that impact both the risks and the consequences of sexual violence, i.e. patriarchal systems of hyper-masculinity, poverty, discriminatory policing and over-criminalization.

4. The development of sustainable intracommunity models for harm-doer accountability and transformative processes to address and eradicate gender-violence.

Making Truth and Reconciliation Irresistible with Mother Tongue Monologues

Art has always provided us as a people, and particularly as women of the African Diaspora, an important venue for handling a myriad of cultural crises. Combined with a history of political activism, art has enabled us to galvanize others and organize ourselves to address poverty, violence, and other forms of interpersonal and state repression in societies around the world. Art has enabled us to make the invisible, visible, and to take joy in small and large victories. Art within the context of Black Women's Blueprint and Mother Tongue Monologues has helped us to raise awareness, create community, issue calls and response, and connect people more deeply and collectively to a process of centering of Black women, leading to the culmination of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Via our annual Mother Tongue Monologues, art has helped to open all audiences to new ways of seeing Black women in all of their diversity—as powerful, as alive and entitled to recognition owed.

MTM2015

Mother Tongue: Poetic Prelude to a Tribunal, For Black Women, Refugees of a World on Fire was the final call for a Tribunal, to challenge the notion of Black women as mere support character or protestor, but as truth tellers of our own stories of brutalization by police as well as brutalization by our own communities and in our homes.

MTM2014

Mother Tongue: Monologues for Truth Bearing Women, for Emerging Sons and Other Keepers of the Flame worked to foreground the mandates of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault which are truth, justice, healing and reconciliation, with Black women’s testimonies, and a call for public deliberation.

MTM 2013

Mother Tongue Monologues for Lesbian Ancestral Wives and Revolutionary Women Speaking the Unspeakable built on previous debates regarding the construction of Black female sexuality and drew its audience into conversations about one of the most taboo subjects in Black sexual politics—homosexuality and gender nonconformity and violence.

MTM2012

Mother Tongue Monologues for Black Girls and Stolen Women Reclaiming Our Bodies, Our Selves, Our Lives propelled the issue of Black women’s sexuality to center stage in an outcry against racism, against the erasure of Black women’s histories and contributions, against patriarchy and misogyny and against the killing of Black women’s bodies, our desires and our sense of joy.

MTM2011

Mother Tongue Monologues from the Middle Passage to Today’s Justice Movements was a call and response where rarely any had been heard in recent years to focus on Black women in America. It inspired Black women to reclaim their activist selves by presenting the historical and contemporary lives of black women revolutionaries, Black Feminists and womanists.

LEARN MORE