Friday, December 21, 2012

Hostages: Over the Cliff or "Not One of Those Thelma and Louise Bitches"

Guest post by Holona Ochs

So, Democrats have taken to Twitter to fight the mythical “fiscal cliff” based on the notion that the middle class either matters most or is the most mobilizable ideal But, who is truly the most at risk? 

Interestingly, the fight over tax breaks for the wealthy intersect with the discourse on rape, specifically rape of Indigenous Women.

One has to wonder why Violence Against Women is somehow conceived as a threat to sovereignty. That is – unless we recognize that sovereignty is a concept that has protected a feminist ideal that does not exist. In essence, sovereignty is a concept that provides the illusion of protecting some women by intentionally making “other” women more vulnerable. 

I, for one, am “not one of those Thelma and Louise bitches” willing to (or having to) sacrifice myself to prove a point about the humanity of women. Therefore, I refuse to concede any power to any man or woman who intends to or pretends to dominate

The mere fact that Cantor is able to hold hostage an “uncontroversial” bill retaining the authority of the Violence Against Women Act is ridiculous. What is at issue here is more than simply a matter of women (all women) being held hostage. The issue is that the protection of women is a bargaining chip in a battle over fiscal policy. Pitting women, particularly women of color, against policies defined by either party as “essential for economic growth” is fundamentally problematic because the value of a woman is not a function of sexuality. Furthermore, the use of violence against women as a strategic mechanism for control is absolutely a choice made by those who wish to dominate in that particular way.  Sexual violence is chosen as a strategy because it is feasible and/or because it is somehow morally justified. The resistance to the Violence Against Women Act in the U.S. currently is a strategic choice intended to divide women into protected categories and use violence to subjugate both women and people of color by separating categories of people with access to legal protections, dehumanizing those with the least power through sexual violence, and capitalizing on the rhetoric that this is a function of some rational, cost-effectiveness calculation and/or moral reasoning that is promoted as an “issue of national security”. 

First, if there is indeed a cliff, I’m not going off it. If I’m not benefiting from the current definition of “national security”, I’m not sacrificing my life to promote ideals that make me the most rapable type of woman. I love “Thelma and Louise”.  One of the primary themes had to do with women being in this together, and I support that, but I simply do NOT believe that driving off a cliff is necessary to somehow retain humanity.   

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Blood of the Lamb: How Society Stole my Babies

Today I lost 20 of my babies. Yes my babies! Someone unknown to me came and ripped them out of my future. S/he came and stole them, robbing me of their smiles, their giggles, their groans, their scraped knees, their futures. 

So many babies I’ve lost. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Shelly Frey,… Too many names to list. Too many salty tears flowing like a river bursting its banks down my cheeks. I want to cry to God; I want to sing every spiritual I know. Jesus, wash me in the blood. But it doesn’t stop my heart from pounding. It doesn’t stop my head from pounding as I feel my blood pressure rise. 

Rise I say, rise! I rise up from my kneeling position. I’m desperately looking for safety. I’m looking for my babies. Their cries haunt me. My cries, like a wounded animal, haunt me. I try to muffle it in my sleeve for fear that my child might hear. After all, who wants to have their child see them sobbing uncontrollably?
Minute by minute we are given details of how I lost my babies—well at least some of my babies. Only some of my babies are recognized. Some others, because of their race and class, remain unknown and unseen. Experts on personalities talk about the type of person who stole my babies. Pundits on TV pontificate about the need for stricter gun control. But none of them truly understand.

None of them truly understand the pain I feel. 

Society is robbing me of my babies. 

We protest abortion clinics. We argue that abortion is a form of genocide. We talk about a woman’s right to choose. Well what about my damn right to have my babies live and not have society take them away from me?

Yes, society is worse that any gun seller; society is worse than any abortion doctor. Yet after every tragedy no one talks about how we are responsible for each other. NO one talks about how we work harder and longer trying to achieve some magic bullet that is to offer us a more fulfilling life while we literally stand by and watch them die (remember the gentleman in the subway?). We build more and more houses and hide them behind gates to keep out the bad elements. While we ignore that the bad elements can’t be contained. Greed, selfishness, narcissism, loneliness, and alienation these are our enemies and they can’t be contained behind any gate. They can’t be contained behind a six-figure income and poverty sure as heck doesn’t help either.

We concern ourselves with our social media presence while ignoring the old lady next door. We walk around with our phones glued to the palm of our hands. Yet, the body of a young woman murdered by her boyfriend lay decomposing in his bathtub for months. We are busy wanting to be seen, yet not seeing each other. We are busying playing roles as opposed to living roles. We are busy talking about economic poverty (a real issue!) while ignoring all the other deficits we face. Our politicians are busy separating people by class and family formation—acting like that makes some us better than the others. Our religious leaders are busy separating us based on their human and flawed understanding of God/Allah/Jah/Hashem/Jehovah...All the while they and we are ignoring each other. We’ve stopped taking care of each other! Who politicizes this issue? Who pontificates on this? Who regulates this?  

So many babies I’ve lost. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Shelly Frey, too many to list. I’m on my knees, scrubbing their blood; their blood that lay pooled at the feet of humanity. 

This is me trying to deal with the grief I feel after the recent news of another mass shooting. I wrote this from the heart and posted without editing. I just needed to get this out.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Con in the Quest

Guest post by Holona LeAnne Ochs

Bureau of Justice Statistics show that native women in the U.S. face the highest rate of violent crime victimization. The vulnerability to violent crime that women of color face is a function of a history of oppression that perpetuates of the mythical value of whiteness. Scholars of pre-Colonial indigenous societies of North America present evidence that gender violence was rare prior to the imposition of Anglican constructions of the race-gendered contract. In the Cherokee tradition, gender categories opposed and balanced one another, neither valued more than the other, and men and women often willingly helped one another despite a theoretically rigid sexual division of labor (Perdue 1998). In Lakota society, a man who battered his wife was considered untrustworthy and unfit to participate in political life and lost privileges that were highly valued, such as the ability to contribute to a war or hunting party (Reyer 1991). In fact, many Native American communities were matrilineal (Klein and Ackerman 1995). The rape of Native American women was considered a tool for controlling and colonizing North America (Deer 1993; Castaneda 1993; Johnson 2003; Block 2002; Hurtado 1996). This same tactic was used to impose, perpetuate, and capitalize on slavery in the U.S. This is not to suggest that violence against women is the exclusive province of colonialism. Colonialism is a particular institution, one in a series of conquests. It is the conquest that perpetuates violence against women, often based on the justification of protecting women, specifically white women. 

Measures to protect white women (e.g.; white slavery laws) divide women, attempt to displace vulnerabilities, but ultimately make all women more vulnerable. The risk of violence that any one woman faces is a threat to all women.  But, the opportunity to improve the value of women overall is greatest where gaps in the social status of women are widest. Improving the social construction of the value of women requires questioning the assumption that men are inherently better than women, refusing the notion that some women are worth more or more deserving of protection, and investing in the notion that care-giving is a valuable enterprise whether done by women or men.

The recent political discourse on rape and reproduction has me thinking about these issues. Frankly, I am shocked by what has been said and the implicit declaration of war on women. However, I am perhaps most concerned by the extent to which those who are most affected are once again disregarded, dismissed, ignored, and excluded. The con in conquest is the lie that some women do not matter. The quest for domination can only be resisted effectively when human dignity is valued and the people who are most affected by an issue are not only included but understood to have a special knowledge that should inform policy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

One Black Woman’s Open Letter to President Obama and Mitt Romney

During this presidential election cycle, I waited with bated breath to hear the candidates speak to me; to speak to issues of concern to me as a Black woman. I watched each debate waiting in anticipation and after each debate I found myself with a growing sense of frustration. My frustration resulted from my feelings of marginalization which seemingly intensified as the election cycle progressed. My marginalization was not the result of the simplistic notion of winners of the debates. Instead, I felt increasingly marginalized because I (Black women) was not discussed. We were invisible. I was rendered invisible because not once did either of you address, in a substantive and critical manner, any of the issue discussed below. Left out of the conversation were issues of: food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, the raced-gendered impact of the wage gap, or the ever-growing incarceration of Black and Brown women.

On the night before this so-called critical election, as the networks run a steady stream of election polls designed to predict the results, I’m still waiting. I’m waiting for one of you, in your “closing” statements, to address me. I’m waiting for one of you to tell me why I should vote for either one of you. The side-show of the media aside, this is indeed a critical election. I argue that this is a critical election but often not for the same reasons the media tells me it is. It seems that once again politics has rendered me invisible. So I pen this letter to both of you. 

As you work to attract the “woman” vote, I remind you that there is no homogeneous woman. Not all women occupy the same social location. The intersection of race, class, sexuality and gender results in different experiences for women. As Black women have long pointed out, we are not simply marginalized as a result of our race or gender. Instead, we are marginalized as a result of the intersection of multiple intersecting socially constructed identities. 

Given this, there are a few issues that I would encourage you both to consider. These include: 

Poverty: Black women are increasingly poor. When you speak of the middle-class or tax-cuts for the wealthy you are failing to address this growing epidemic among Black women. “The poverty rate for Hispanic and black women rose even more than the poverty rate for women generally – for Hispanic women to 25.0 percent in 2010 from 23.8 percent in 2009 and for black women to 25.6 percent in 2010 from 24.6 percent in2009."

Child poverty Not only must we address the poverty rate of Black women, but we must also pay attention to child poverty. As stated in Color Lines, “More than one in three black kids—a full 36 percent of black youth—live in poverty and 31 percent of Latino kids lives in poverty. In 2009, … 16 states reported poverty rates for black children that were upwards of 40 percent. And in five states, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, more than 40 percent of Latino kids there lived in poverty. However, no state has a white children’s poverty rate that’s over 23 percent.”

Unemployment: In the most recently released unemployment rates, it was reported that the unemployment rate among Black women “fell from 12.6% to 12.4%.”  Unemployment for Black women remains above the national average. As we discuss the economic recovery, we have to ask, what has been the Black woman’s experience?

Food insecurity: “Overall, 15.4 percent of women experienced household food insecurity in 2008; this varies, however, by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic White women were least likely to be food insecure (10.3 and 11.1 percent, respectively), compared to more than one-quarter of Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women. Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black women were also more likely to have very low food security (13.4 and 10.2 percent, respectively).” Simply put, Black women, and by default, their families, are hungry. There is a relationship between their experiences with hunger, unemployment and poverty. Some of these details get lost when we speak of women as a group.  

Wage Gap: When you speak of the wage gap and pay equity for women, as a result of treating women as a monolithic group, you lose sight of the fact that not all women share the same experience. One’s experience with employment discrimination, measured via wages, depends on his/her social location. Consider that “Black women, in comparison to White women have median weekly earnings of $595 and $703 respectively. Latina women’s median weekly earnings is $518.” When we speak of the gender wage gap, it is imperative that we discuss how this is raced. Additionally, wage discrimination is not the only form of discrimination women confront in the paid labor force. So please, don’t simplify the issue of employment discrimination by treating women in a monolithic manner or by failing to consider the wide spectrum of discrimination women, based on class, sexuality and race, face. 

Incarceration: “In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly 3 times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women (77 versus 47 per 100,000).” A number of factors contribute to the ever expanding rate of incarcerated Black women. For example, the often construction of Black women as “bad Black mothers” and the other negative stereotypes of Black women rooted in images such as Jezebel and Sapphire result in the implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, held belief that Black women are inherently corrupt and immoral. Thus, the protections afforded to other women are often denied to Black women.
In thinking of the Black women and incarceration we also have to ask, what is the impact of Black women’s incarceration on the Black family? While not categorized in terms of the gender of the incarcerated parent, the data shows that “1 in 15 black children, 1 in 42 Latino children, and 1 in 111 white children had a parent in prison in 2007. Black children are 7.5 times more likely and Hispanic children are 2.6 times more likely than are white children to have a parent in prison.” How will either of you address such collateral damage?

As we prepare to elect the president of the United States, I pause and think of the nature of representation. What does political representation, from a Black feminist perspective, mean? Representation is not simply a benefit of those who can contribute, financially, to your campaign. As elections become more and more expensive and as we spend millions of dollars in key states and among key demographics, we need to ponder who is left out. 

During the 2008 Presidential election, for the first time in U.S history Black women, among all voters, “had the highest voter turnout rate.” Additionally, Black women’s voter participation “increased 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004 to 68.8% in 2008” (Lopez and Taylor 2009). Yet, this history of Black women’s participation in presidential politics remains virtually unseen.  Black women have been politically engaged. We are participating. However, this participation has not necessarily resulted in representation.

Black women have been, historically and systematically, politically neglected and misused. Via institutional and social practices and processes, we have been rendered invisible. Black women’s experiences remain unchallenged, in part, because women are constructed as a homogeneous group. Policy discourses, when not treating women in a monolithic manner, are apt to use negative systems of representing Black womanhood and center her often as the source of all that ails the Black community. Consequently, we are seen but never really seen—we are the invisible voting bloc. 

As a result of this invisibility, political, social and economic structures and processes lack the willingness to pay attention to the needs of Black women. The passive neglect, omission and misuse of Black women in the political and social spheres have long been challenged by Black women activists. They have waged various campaigns designed to bring recognition to their plight—a plight that is indeed different from that of other women and Black men. This letter is my small contribution to the longstanding Black woman’s fight for recognition. 

As a Black woman I am not looking for symbolic representation. Instead, I am concerned with how either one of you will explicitly address the problems faced by Black women, some of which I detail above. Will you represent me?