Thursday, May 3, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry is Wrong: There is a War on Women, particularly Black Women

Politics is about words; it’s a struggle to define issues. E. E. Schattschneider, in the Semi Sovereign People, details how (problem) definition is central to politics.  Deborah Stone extends this argument in her discussion of causal stories and their functioning in the policy process. I say all of that to say—words and images matter!  Whether consciously or unconsciously selected to describe a policy issue/response, words matter. 

On April 28, 2012 Melissa Harris Perry asked her viewers to consider not using the words “war on women” to frame the current conservative policy response to women. According to Harris-Perry

“about a war on women in America. At first, all these war talk had me stockpiling supplies and wondering if I needed to run for the hills or stop, drop and roll, and then it hit me. There is no war on women, and you didn't think that I would say that? Just chillax, my fellow feminists. Don't get me wrong. We are in the midst of a massive, coordinated effort to roll back women's rights. But I take issue of the word, war. War means something specific especially for those who have lived through the war. And we need to be careful with how we use words. Now, I want to urge the folks to just say no to hyperbole and cliché’s. To help out, I want to introduce the MHP guide of what not what not to say in political conversation. Number one, unless someone is shooting at you or about to drop a bomb on your head, you are not at war. Good-bye to the war on women, the war on the poor, the war on terrorism, and other falsely created notions of war. War talk too often distracts us from understanding the complexity of policy.”

Harris-Perry considers the use of the term “war”, as a way of talking about social problems, detracting. She might be valid. If we name everything a war, we might become desensitized to the larger policy issues. However, the narrow conceptualization of her meaning of war, as simply shooting and dropping bombs, ignores so many aspects of war.  

 Bombs don't Equal War 

Bombs are simply a tool of war. Also ignored in Harris-Perry's conceptualization of war is that war involves propaganda and ideology. 

I find the term war, as a tool to characterize the policy response to Black women, particularly useful. This is where a little Bob Marley might be helpful. In War, Marley eloquently sings,

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior/And another/Inferior/Is finally/And permanently/Discredited/And abandoned/Everywhere is war/Me say war.”

I would guess that Harris-Perry, like Marley, recognizes that war is so much more than bombs. That war is also about ideology. It is the ideological component that I want to focus on in my argument as to why there is indeed a war being waged against Black women and why we should call it such.

As a result of policies, or non-policies, Black women are:
“The number of women incarcerated for drug-related crimes increased by 433 percent between 1986 and 1991. But for African-American women it rose an astounding 828 percent, while the increase for white women was 241 percent, and for Latina women a 328 percent increase.” 

The HIV rate among black women living in some U.S. cities is the same rate as that of some African countries, according to a new multicenter study presented Thursday at the 19th Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The jarring findings acknowledge that HIV is not an infection that has been eradicated, but one that has been somewhat forgotten, researchers said.”

“Among full-time, year-round workers, black women with Bachelors' degrees make only $1,545 more per year than white males who have only completed high school.”

“single Black women have a median wealth of $100, which is less than 1 percent of the wealth of their same-race male counterparts. It is only a fraction of one-percent of the wealth of single white women….Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.

As the above suggest there is a war being waged against Black women.  

Black Women are the Recipients of Policy Drones
Why I think that there is an ongoing war on Black women. War is about power, it is about ideology, it is about a desire to eliminate those that some group has determine does not belong. War is about changing behaviors. If we unpack the policy treatment of Black women, from a historical perspective, we can see how indeed there has been a war against them. This ideological war involves the: 
  • Power to define in a systematic manner, Black women’s value to society;
  • Power to determine how these women are to be treated; and
  • Power to alienate, destroy and/or remove Black women from society.
I agree with Harris-Perry that it is a cliché to talk about war on drugs, war on the poor, etc. However, what Harris-Perry ignores are other definitions of war which include “active hostility or contention, and  conflict.” This is why her plea to end the use of “war on women” for example is wrong.  Since Black women were forcibly stolen from the shores of Africa there has been a war waged against us--there has in fact been active hostility and conflict. This war does not necessarily involve drones, but it is one of ideology with real consequences that often results in our death, incarceration, abject poverty,  and geographic isolation in “ghettos” and by ghetto I’m referring to confinement of those who are considered “other”.  Black women have recognized such actions as war and have mounted systematic campaigns to combat the negative impact of policies directly or indirectly targeting our communities. 

Black women’s villages are being pillaged as a result of policy drones. Policy bombs have been raining down on us via stealth and overt actions. Should I be so bold as to use the analogy of war. This is all being conducted under an ideology that constructs Black women as "bad" and "dangerous". So Harris-Perry, if we can’t call this systematic attack on the bodies of Black women a war, what should we call it?


  1. +1

    I love your blog. We don't get to read this stuff anywhere else.

  2. Dear Mary Sunshine:
    Thanks. Your comment is valuable as it reaffirms why I've decided to blog. I often would not see myself in these rather important discussions. Keep sharing your thoughts.