Bad Home Training: An Open Letter to Melissa Flournoy of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast

Originally posted on Women's Health And Justice Initiative:


A little back story:

Last night, August 13th, there was a screening of We Always Resist: Trust Black Women. The documentary touches on the ways that the pro choice framework abandons black women. It talks about solution oriented community activism and the ways that black women are left in the lurch when the conversation about reproductive rights focuses only on the single issue of abortion.  After the film, local activists Deon Haywood of Women With A Vision and Paris Hatcher of SPARK and Race Forward got together to do a panel discussion about their work and the film.

Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana Director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, was the first person to speak. She proceeded to rudely derail the entire conversation. 

This is my response as a member of the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, a queer black femme woman, a New Orleans native, and a daughter of a mother who…

View original 1,959 more words

National Action to Free Marissa Alexander: Urge the State to Drop the Case!

PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY!

From Free Marissa Now:

National Action: Urge the State to Drop the Case! 

Have you heard the good news out of Florida? The Appeals Court threw out the guilty verdict in the Marissa Alexander case, citing a “fundamental error” in the jury instructions which unjustly required Marissa to prove her innocence, depriving her of a fair trial.

In mid-October, State Prosecutor Angela Corey will decide whether to drop the case or set a new trial date. We say drop the case! 

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a perfect time to draw attention to how Marissa’s experience of domestic violence and incarceration exemplifies the widespread racial and gender bias in our criminal justice system.

We are asking you to send letters and/or call Angela Corey and encourage her to seek Justice, not a Conviction! Please send copies of your message to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott so that they know the strength of public opinion on this issue.

The sample letter below may help you get started.

— Free Marissa Now
FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com
facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow
http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/

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SAMPLE LETTER (download as pdf!):

Name __________________________

Address_________________________

_______________________________

Email __________________________

Dear Ms. Corey:

You have an opportunity to allow an innocent person to go free without further cost to the state of Florida and without further trauma to this woman and her family. I encourage you to drop the charges against Marissa Alexander, rather than pursuing a new trial which, if justice is served, will result in a not-guilty verdict.

Marissa Alexander was a victim of domestic violence who acted in self-defense by taking the only action she saw possible at that moment – an action that injured no one. Her case shines a light on how black women in domestic violence situations are often doubly victimized when they seek justice. Ms. Alexander has experienced at least two traumatic events: the first is being repeatedly abused by her husband, the second is being prosecuted and sentenced to prison for defending herself from that abuse.

Ms. Alexander’s experience bears out the fact that women of color are arrested more often than white women when police arrive on the scene of a domestic violence incident.

For this reason, fewer than 17% of black women call the police for fear they will be further victimized by the police or the courts. By allowing Marissa Alexander to be sentenced to 20 years for self-defense, you have given the message to women everywhere that if they defend their lives, they will be also targeted by police and prosecutors.

There is a widespread stereotype that survivors who fight for their lives, particularly if they are black women, are “too aggressive” and not genuine victims. This stereotype was carried out to such an extent in Marissa Alexander’s case that the whole premise of innocent until proven guilty was reversed, as the Appeals Court found.

Please do the right thing by stopping any further prosecution of this innocent mother and daughter. Drop the case, dismiss all charges, and free Marissa Alexander!

______________________________

Signature

***

Send your letter to the following addresses:
(Hard copies make more of an impact!)

Angela Corey, State Attorney
Courthouse Annex
220 East Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: 904-630-2400
Fax: 904-630-2938
Email: sao4th@coj.net

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: 850-414-3300 or 850-414-3990
Fax: 850-410-1630
Email: http://myfloridalegal.com/contact.nsf/contact?Open&Section=Citizen_Services

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Phone: 850-717-9337 or 850-488-7146
Email: rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com

***

Read INCITE!’s endorsement of the call to Free Marissa Alexander.

Getting Free Down By The Combahee Riverside: A Black Feminist Pilgrimage

Getting Free Down By The Combahee Riverside: A Black Feminist Pilgrimage
by Amber Williams

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Fellow travelers at the Combahee River Black Feminist Pilgrimage

On June 2nd 1863 Harriet Tubman positioned herself as the first woman to serve as a military operative for the United States Union Army to coordinate and execute the Combahee River Raid during the Civil War.  She  arrived in South Carolina with the intention of “tearing shit up”(Alexis Gumbs) burning the residences and property of seven to eight plantations and freeing approximately 800 (and potentially more) enslaved people in one night—this number more than quadrupling the amount of people she freed at this point in her career.

Fast-forwarding to May 31, 2013, I participated in the Combahee River Black Feminist Pilgrimage, a component of Mobile Homecoming and Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind gathering to honor Harriet Tubman and the 150th year anniversary of the Combahee River Raid. I assumed my participation in this pilgrimage  I would a: help me realize a greater sense of purpose in anti-oppression work and b: allow me to engage in scholarly dialogue about black feminist paradigms and how they manifest in the lives of Black feminist queer women, trans and gender nonconforming people. Although these presumptions were elements of my experience, they were most certainly reductive components of an entire sum—and the total sum went beyond my presumption I could ever imagine as “transcendent”.

Honestly, my willingness to be open to transformation was by no means a part of my experience before arriving. Even after being overwhelmed by a wave of excitement and joy upon receipt of the knowledge that I could in fact attend this pilgrimage, life took a few dramatic twists and turns that forced me to reconcile what it means to exist as a black queer woman torn in utter disarray about my responsibility to my family; unsettled about intimate relationships; and hurting from the manifestations of capitalism playing tricks on my wallet, all while uncovering repressed trauma that  questioned my sense of place and belonging at home . Long story short, I had an inescapable ‘bad attitude’ with very little refuge to uncover the roots. Therefore I questioned the value of my bad attitude at a pilgrimage that may require a more upbeat, energetic persona I felt unable to provide. I wondered how I could be fully present while balancing my reality as a black queer woman disrupted by so many forces in my emotional turmoil and depletion of energy.

With the wisdom, kindness, and patience of family, friends, and mentors, I packed my worries alongside my journal and decided to immerse myself into the unknown beauty of this pilgrimage with all my warranted and unwarranted anxieties. I hoped to find answers to pressing questions that could help me shift my environment in a more self-determined direction. With all of my material and emotional baggage, I finally arrived at the first meeting point of the pilgrimage, still clamoring for some control by micromanaging of transportation and being hyper-concerned about tardiness, only to finally fall into a place surrounded by the beautiful faces of the black women who immediately put my worries at ease. I was instantly comforted up by their energy in a way that mellowed my hovering stress. In that calming moment I knew that I had been called by the universe and my ancestors to be there; caravanning between North and South Carolina, unveiled in the rawness of my essence; eventually, sailing along the Harriet Tubman Freeway while exchanging dried mango, lavender lemonade, kale salad, and “queer (vegan and gluten free) chicken” in the epic novelty of unquestioned closeness and acceptance of everyone. We danced and sang in our seats, reflected on the words of our pilgrimage podcast and dialogued about love, relationships, gender expression, healing, spirituality, nourishment, and autonomy as we journeyed to the Penn Center the location of the duration of the pilgrimage

Upon our arrival, that night, we set our intentions, shared each of our purpose for coming, expressed what we needed from each other for the remainder of our time, and listened to a general overview of why we were gathering. Immediately, what I presumed to be strictly a dialogue space to honor the Combahee River Collective Statement and the fierce legacy of its creators was challenged by a deep understanding of the relevance of the Combahee River and a re-introduction to Harriet Tubman.

Alexis Gumbs hoped this would be a time to evaluate what we are getting free of and intended to leave behind at the river…keeping in mind the infamous imagery of Harriet Tubman’s shot gun symbolizing the promise and commitment of follow through from freeing ourselves from the pits of colonization and capitalist forces manifested from chattel slavery.

I felt called to evaluate the complexity of being mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectuality imprisoned by capitalism, sexism, and racism (just to name a few) while simultaneously recognizing that our very existence is a manifestation of Harriet Tubman’s dream of the abolishment of chattel slavery. I felt accountable to honoring the innumerous sacrifices made through varying forms of resistance by enslaved and freed black folk in order to make it possible for me to be able to say and proclaim “I am” and “I choose”. Resting in this complexity of freedom made it possible for me to celebrate the triumphs of Harriet Tubman and other Black women freedom fighters, both past and present. I remembered my ‘bad attitude’ and all of the other repressed traumas and challenges in my world that in a twisted convoluted way lead me to the River. My tired and stressed body and spirit needed to be in a state of depletion in order for me to unleash any sense of reservation that would stop me from harboring unexamined internalized oppression. I thought about Harriet’s journey to South Carolina and wondered how angry, frustrated, and fed up she must have been in order to coordinate a violent revolt against chattel slavery freeing hundreds of people. Thus, my participation in this pilgrimage surrounded by my unraveling context felt much bigger than a mere coincidence.  I chanted, journeyed, sang, and danced in strength and love in full recognition that “black women are inherently valuable” (Combahee River Collective Statement).

Together in celebration of black magic, black queerness, black love, and black resistance, we found ways to extract the deepest internalizations of our multiple and intersecting oppressions, mark their transient patterns between our distanced experiences, and dismantle them through the embodied realization thatthe only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us” (Combahee River Collective Statement). We “laid down our varying and interwoven burdens” premised on a collective agreement that “our ancestors worked tirelessly to prove themselves so that we did not have to” (Combahee Pilgrimage Member) and that honoring them meant abolishing the shackles of our contexts as an act of self-love. With my heart, body, and spirit stretched wide open, I felt held, loved, beautiful, and awakened by the presence of my newfound community of women who were so willing to “know” me, to see me, and to be seen in their vulnerabilities. As we interlocked our stories like oak trees strengthened by the outward grasps of sprawling fringed and loosened roots  in love and solidarity, I reconnected to an un-institutionalized form of black spirituality by singing black hymnals and dancing proudly to freedom fighter songs (sometimes) in tears; and in those precious moments I could relinquish any fear of compromising my strength (a consequence and tool in navigating the complexities of my intersecting identities) through an expression of vulnerability and weakness. I didn’t have to navigate the world wandering in silent despair; I could instead stay up late into the night gazing at clear blue skies filled with bright stars for endless hours while being fed and filled with dialogue, understanding, and care. And none of the questions I came seeking answers for were answered in my oasis. Yet I felt ready and rejuvenated to return to Ann Arbor with an awakened spirit packed with even more unanswered questions. Four days at a Black Feminist Pilgrimage and hours spent in meditation at the Combahee River served as a reminder that my ‘freedom’ from deep internalizations of colonization, (in many ways) requires an aggressive unshackling of self-hate, doubt, and degradation in the company and occupation of a black queer feminist collective of beautiful people ready and willing to hold me, as I hold them, in loud, bolstering resistance.

To end this reflection: Thank you to my Incite! Ann Arbor family and Incite! Nationals for informing me of this completely transformative experience and a very, very special shout out to Karla Meija, Kiri Sailiata, Isabel Milan, Alexis Gumbs, and Mandisa Moore for your creative organizing that made it possible for me to participate in this pilgrimage. Words cannot express my gratitude, love and appreciation for your support. I also want to thank Dr. Sheri Randolph, African and African American History Professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor—an amazing scholar who catalyzed my intellectual juices by introducing me to black feminist scholarship. Dr. Randolph, you developed a landscape in which I was able to imagine and actualize myself in a way that no academic course ever could. I am eternally grateful.

In Love and Solidarity

Amber

Amber Williams is a program coordinator at the University of Michigan in the Division of Student Affairs, and advocate of educational equity engaged in tackling the school to prison pipeline, college access for first generation youth in urban/rural Michigan, and supporting queer youth of color empowerment projects by leveraging university resources. She has also been a member Incite! Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti chapter for five years as a facilitator and organizer of social justice education through a black feminist praxis and ideology. 

FREE PATREESE JOHNSON!

A message from the Bay NJ4 Committee:

Dear friends and comrades,

Patreese Johnson of the New Jersey 4 is coming home in August after 7 years of incarceration by the State of New York. She will be released on parole with a felony charge on her record.

For those who may not remember the details of this case, On August 18, 2006, seven young African American lesbians traveled to New York City from their homes in Newark for a regular night out. When walking down the street, a man sexually propositioned one of the women. After refusing to take no for an answer, he assaulted them. The women tried to defend themselves, and a fight broke out. The women were charged with Gang Assault in the 2nd degree, a Class C Felony with a mandatory minimum of 3.5 years. Patreese Johnson was additionally charged with 1st Degree Assault. Three of the women accepted plea offers. On June 14th, 2007 Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20), and Renata Hill (24) received sentences ranging from 3 1⁄2 to 11 years in prison.

We in the Bay NJ4 Solidarity Committee need your help in spreading the word about her release and promoting various ways of helping throw down for her reentry and legal defense needs, as a civil suit is also still pending. Please repost links and information to your blogs, networks, listserves, tumblrs, etc.

Please do what you can to let folks know about a go fund me campaign online where everyone is encouraged to contribute. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/2xjwpg

Also, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, the NJ4 solidarity committee is having a happy hour fundraiser at El Rio on June 14th from 4-6. The committee would love to reconnect with folks and hear about your work as well.

With Appreciation,
The NJ4 Solidarity Committee: Cynthia, Deeg, Eric, Io, Ralowe, Tory, Xan

More about the New Jersey 4 (also known as the New Jersey 7):
http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/9908_toolkitrev-nj7.pdf

The Feminist Wire Forum on Muslim Feminisms

The hunger and thirst we endure from sunrise to sunset during this holy month is not only for food and water – the food and water too many of our sisters and brothers all over the globe lack. It is also a hunger and thirst for knowledge, for piety, for humility, for social justice, and for equality. At its most basic, Ramadan is about love. It is a period of reflection and engagement, a path for developing what feminist activist Cathy Cohen calls “radical empathy.”

Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb, Muslim Feminisms Forum: An Introduction

This month, The Feminist Wire hosted a forum on Muslim feminisms featuring a diverse collection of writing reflecting on critical topics such as colonial violence, imperial feminism, human rights, the politics of the hijab, gender violence, and liberatory practices.  Below we’ve shared the list of articles from the forum and the concluding remarks from the editors, Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb.  Reprinted with permission.

The Feminist Wire Forum on Muslim Feminisms:

Muslim Feminisms Forum: An Introduction
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/muslim-feminisms-forum-an-introduction/

Defining Muslim Feminist Politics Through Indigenous Solidarity Activism
by Shaista Patel
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/defining-muslim-feminist-politics-through-indigenous-solidarity-activism/

Seeing Muslim Women With Western Eyes
by Josh Ceretti
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/seeing-muslim-women-with-western-eyes/

Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights
by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/striving-for-muslim-womens-human-rights/

The Hijab and the Pitch
by Laurent Dubois
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/the-hijab-on-the-pitch/

Salam in the City
by Sinat Giwa
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/salam-in-the-city/

In honour of the leadership of US-born African-American/African-Caribbean/African-Latin@ Muslim women in responding to HIV/AIDS
by Prof Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/in-honour-of-the-leadership-of-us-born-african-americanafrican-caribbeanafrican-latin-muslim-women-in-responding-to-hivaids/

Pot Roast and Imperial Justifications
by Amal Rana
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/pot-roast-and-imperial-justifications/

Reframing the Discussion: Concluding Thoughts on the Forum on Muslim Feminisms
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/reframing-the-discussion-concluding-thoughts-on-the-forum-on-muslim-feminisms/

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Reframing the Discussion: Concluding Thoughts on the Forum on Muslim Feminisms
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb

For too long, Muslim feminists have endured the question of whether Islam and feminism can coexist. This seemingly innocent question, asked on the part of concerned feminists and others, presumes (and sometimes even enshrines) the claim of Islam’s incongruity with feminism. The underlying assumptions that frame this tired debate are often articulated in this way: Can religious practice, which often hinges on patriarchal authority and interpretation, be amenable to feminist thought, action, and praxis? Can feminist ideals be sought and attained within a religious (thus patriarchal), as opposed to a secular (and therefore egalitarian), framework? And, more specifically, can Islam, as a religious identity, doctrine, and practice, work in tandem with the principles and ideals of democratic feminism?

Overwhelmingly, the responses from Muslim feminists have highlighted Islam’s inherent egalitarian nature and the Quran’s gender progressive teachings and edicts.[1] They have argued that Muslim teachings enshrine a politics and practice of gender equity. They shore up important examples of the gains historically made by Muslim women all over the world. Muslim feminists, a diverse group that includes scholars, activists, and practicing men and women, eschew and challenge patriarchal readings and interpretations of both the Quran and the hadith (that is, the body of works that reference and document the prophet’s sayings, actions, and doings) in order to support their belief in the mutually reinforcing relationship between feminism and Islam.

Such work, while profound, often cedes too much ground to the charged and often predetermined frames of reference on which the political question of whether Islam and feminism can coexist often hinge. In other words, while Muslim feminists have confronted these questions in real, determined, and sustainable ways, their confrontations leave unturned the terms that shape this debate in the first place. Why, for example, do Muslims feel compelled to answer the question of whether Islam is compatible with feminism by repeatedly defining and defending Islam and showcasing its gender equal principles to non-Muslims? Why don’t we alter the frames of the question, asking, instead, what feminism actually means and whether feminism, as a both a political movement and analytical tool, is amenable to Islam and religious identity and practice? How does our constant re-engagement with this question of the ostensibly contradictory, uneasy, or nonexistent relationship of Islam and feminism obscure predetermined relationships of power and reinforce hegemonic discourses?

As Muslim women, anti-racist feminists, teachers, and scholars from two different backgrounds and positionalities, we have found ourselves reflecting on these questions and repeatedly grappling with the troubling narratives that shape discourses about Muslim women and Islam in Western and non-Western contexts. So, rather than responding to the question of Islam’s compatibility with feminism from a defensive standpoint, we have utilized this forum to refocus our energies on understanding our varied but interconnected religious and political experiences and struggles and to think through both our alliances and complicities. In short, we want to reflect on how our critiques can be imagined and mobilized in the service of revolutionary causes in a period of intense social, political, and economic local and global change.

For her part, Sophia’s faith has served as her political, spiritual, and social anchor. Both her scholarly and activist work engage her own particular experience as an Afro-Arab anarcha-feminist Muslimah missing the whimsy and traditions of her neighbourhood in Alexandria, Egypt, and a homestead in Beir Nabala, Palestine — a home(land) that she has never set foot upon. Sophia’s Muslim politics are shaped by a Third Worldist devotion to disrupting the imperialist binary of Arab vs. African that many of our sisters and brothers in Islam, the West, and SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) replicate. But, as Sinat Giwa articulated in a loving narrative of finding the peace in “Salam’ing to strangers” (only a little pun intended), Sophia’s Islam remains her own. It is a self-aware, anti-racist, and feminist Islam devoted to building solidarity by owning and respecting the complexities of her intersectional identities and those of her peers and allies.

As a Palestinian feminist scholar based in the settler colonial state of Canada (who will soon be moving to the United States), Dana has often struggled to find her own faith amidst pressures to conceal religious practice, to sever ties with religious communities, and disavow violent acts perpetrated in Islam’s name. Dana’s faith is driven by her desire to understand Muslim women’s acts of resistance against interpersonal and state-sanctioned acts of violence. Like Shaista Patel, Dana seeks to enact “feminist theories and practices that recognize the critical and urgent need of intervening in the interlocking workings of state power and gender violences, and that engage with histories of the land we are on.”

Both of our Muslim feminist politics are informed by our commitment to confronting patriarchal acts of violence committed by the state andinstitutionalized forms of patriarchy and imperialism perpetrated by individuals, both Muslim and non-Muslim, without fueling Islamophobia, settler nationalism, or racism. Our Muslim feminist politics are about forming connections between Muslim and non-Muslim justice-seeking men, women, and children and supporting their struggles against colonial and gendered oppressions and sexual violence. Like Josh Cerretti, our feminist politics necessitate that we think about Islam in a way that does not obfuscate the longer histories of Muslim women’s resistance. And, above all else, our Muslim feminist politics are characterized by a refusal to be haunted by pre-scripted narratives that misrepresent the voices of Muslim women and men and overlook their complex lives, multiple interests, and varied experiences.

It is our belief that a singular focus on addressing the question of whether Islam and feminism can co-exist risks missing how Muslim women from all around the world engage questions of gender equalityfight gender oppressions, and secure women’s rights on a day to day basis. The articles we have chosen for this forum offer a sampling of such radical practices and provide insights into the plurality of our religious beliefs and political commitments. We do not wish to romanticize our relationships to our faith. Rather, we aim to ask deeper, more thoughtful, and more urgent questions about the role of faith in these troubled and troubling times. This is why, instead of asking whether we can reconcile Islam and feminism, we choose to think about how the tenets of Islam, its principles of justice, and gender equity inform Muslim women’s struggles on a day to day basis. We ask how Muslim women, individually and collectively, invoke Islam’s authority in their lives and what their actions as Muslim women reveal about Islam’s gender politics. The answers to these questions  are complex, contradictory, and manifold. We believe that asking questions that center Muslim women’s lives can highlight their rich and multifaceted encounters with patriarchal, gendered, colonial, imperialist, and local state oppressions. These questions may yield more interesting and honest conversations about the status of Muslim feminism, its practice, and its influence. It is our hope that our forum has contributed in some small way to these conversations which are already unfolding all around the world in creative and significant ways.

*Update: We are deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless killings of innocents at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin today. We are equally distressed that Sikh spokespersons have been asked to defend and define their faith on national television during such a time. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as with our Sikh relatives whose communities have suffered greatly from the ignorance and hatred of their fellow citizens since September 11, 2001.


[1] See, for example: Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (Oxford: One World, 2006). Margot Badran’s Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. (Oxford: One World, 2009) and Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (Oxford: One World, 2009). Amina Wadud’s Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999) and Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford: One World, 2006).

______________________________________

Dana Olwan is the 2011-2012 Ruth Woodward Junior Chair in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. In Fall 2012, she starts her position as Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on gendered and sexual violence and the politics of naming honour killings.
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Sophia Azeb is an Egyptian-Palestinian anarcha-feminist teacher, writer, and organizer pursuing her PhD in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She organizes with a number of anti-racist and feminist initiatives, namely the Palestinian American Women’s Association of Southern California. Sophia is also a writer for the popular media blog collective, Africa Is A Country (http://africasacountry.com/).  You can follow her on twitter @brownisthecolor.

In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight

Originally published at Kenyon Farrow’s blog; republished with permission.

In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight
by Kenyon Farrow

Let me first state that there is no pretense of objectivity or an emotional distance here for several reasons.

One, Brontez Purnell is a very close friend of mine.

Two, this issue cuts at the core of some thoughts and problems I have with existing frameworks of victim, and the demands made on victims of violence to behave (past or present behaviors) in a fashion acceptable to others in order to claim one has been victimized; the role of police and questions of political alignments and authenticity; and the demands on victims to recall and script every fact in exactly the right chronology in order to be seen as credible.

Last week, I received a phone call from Brontez—again, close friend and musician/dancer/writer who lives in Oakland, California. It was the day after he and friend/bandmate Adal had left the Paradiso nightclub when two Black men with some Caribbean accent began harassing them as they left the club. Adal is not queer, but the two men, according to Brontez, assumed that they were a couple, and began calling them “batty boy” and other epithets. Finally, they made the statement, “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”

Brontez, clearly enraged, went the fuck off. After more words were exchanged, and Brontez says he spit at the car the men were in, and then he was punched in the face. Brontez says he then hit the man’s car with his bicycle lock and they assaulted Brontez and Adal (who’s face was broken in five places). The police were called but no arrests have been made.

After talking to Brontez about the attack—I read an article in the Bay Citizen, followed by a pretty vigorous debate in the comments section. The debate mostly sparked by comments made by Kevin Bynes, who is known for his work in HIV prevention for Black gay men. Bynes, a bay area resident said he witnessed the incident nearby (and I know of Bynes through my own work in HIV prevention), and that Brontez was lying about the details of the incident noting:

I’m sorry I have to tell the truth because I live in this area and saw the entire incident. The so called victim rode around on his bike yelling at the two guys in the black SUV repeatedly and it wasn’t until the so-called victim spit on the driver and tried to break his window with his bike lock that the two accused “gay bashers” reacted by chasing the guy away. This man TOTALLY provoked this situation and initiated the violence. He took the first swing, spit in the man’s face and tried to damage his car. I’m a gay man who lives in this area and the club they were leaving used to be a gay club that was there for 20 + years and the area is VERY safe for gay people. That was NOT a gay bashing and I think it is dangerous for us to suggest that everytime a gay person gets into a fight its a gay bashing. The guy that is being called a victim really harrassed these guys and they did not attack him because he was gay they acted in self defense. In fact the only gay slurs that I heard came from the victim. I’m so sorry that I didn’t speak to the police this morning.

To which Brontez responded:

Yo, this is Brontez. You SADDEN me Mr. Bynes (whoever you are). We we’re unlocking our bikes and these guys stared harassing us. How did you see “everything”? It was only us four outside in the beginning! You act like we just saw these dudes and went in on them and thats a lie. Ive attended the Paradiso since it was Cabel’s Reef and have NEVER had anything like this happen. Me cursing, and yelling at them is true like after someone threatens you with VIOLENCE who wouldn’t? Sorry im NOT the type of girl whos gonna cross her legs and act fucking nice after some jock tells me im “at the wrong club” two blocks from my own fucking house! FUCK YEAH I YELLED BACK AT THEM. If your such a sensible homosexual why didnt you HELP US when these guys were fucking with us? And also my bandmate who was sitting on the sidelines got his face broken and we did NOTHING to warrant that. WE WERE THE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE, verbal and otherwise. I threw my bike lock AFTER they punched me and Adal (who wouldn’t?) I used this tactic to pause them long enough to get their plate number. You call someone a “batty boy” threaten them with violence and then hit someone that didnt provoke you YES THAT IS A HATE CRIME. I was REACTING to being fucked with. How dare you?

My problem here is not that Bynes disagrees with Purnell’s timeline of the events or that he was “disgusted and ashamed” by Brontez’ behavior.

First, Brontez and Adal both say that the men had been saying shit to them from jump, for which Bynes (in my opinion) was likely out of earshot or just didn’t hear. Brontez is just not the type, drunk or not, to start a fight with two other men for no reason, having been out in San Fran, Oakland, and all over NYC with Mr. Purnell over the years of our relationship—even where it is clear that Adal was trying to convince Brontez to let it slide. But as Brontez himself said, and I very much believe, he wasn’t going to just let that shit slide. Brontez actually states in the article what Bynes re-asserts in his comment—he didn’t expect to be threatened with violence at a place he’d frequented for years (both men live in the neighborhood where this incident took place), so I am not sure why Bynes re-states this point in his comment—unless he flat out does not believe anything at all transpired to make Brontez angry in the first place (The Bay Citizen published a second story where Adal corroborates Brontez’s assertion that the men started harassing them first). Bynes’ assertion that the club used to be a queer space but is still frequented by queers seems to ignore the realities many of us know from experience. Many of us have been at “the club” in any city USA that used to be a queer bar, and the straights who then take it over act brand fucking new and further marginalize queers who continue to go there. And since when did neighborhoods or establishments with lots of LGBT people mean they were free from homo/transphobic violence? That doesn’t make any kind of sense.

So the question for me here, and where I vehemently disagree with Bynes, is how one defines “provocation” and who judges what then is the socially acceptable response. I tend to agree with Brontez. Too often people who are targeted for violence have to have their motivations and their recollection of all the “facts” or chronology of all the events hyper-scrutinized beyond recognition if they at all do anything other than lay down and take the abuse (or in the case of sexual assault, you’re accused of lying if you don’t have any physical evidence that you fought back, or you choose to try to still (and steel) yourself to try to avoid further violence, or are simply in a state of shock). And what is more true than not, most of us, in some way, respond verbally or physically fight back.

I think Brontez was enraged by the situation and responded accordingly. But rage, as bell hooks once stated, is an appropriate response to oppression. I actually have never seen Brontez angry to the point of fighting the way he clearly must have been that night. But any of us, caught at the right place at the wrong time, may have responded similarly. People get tired of this bullshit. I am tired of it. I have had people hurl similar epithets and make threats to me. One day I may walk away. Another day, I walk right into that fire. Once, similar to what happened to Brontez—two Black men started with me, but when I didn’t run or back down, they punched my non-black friend instead—who once they engaged, thought was going to be an easier target. So I know what it means to reach that point where you say to yourself, Fuck it. I don’t give a fuck what happens today. I am not going to be disrespected and let you walk away from here thinking that shit is OK to do. Not now.

That’s what happened to Chrishaun McDonald, a Black transwoman in Minneapolis currently on trial for murder. She was outside one evening this past spring when she and some friends were approached by a white man who hurled both racist and transphobic remarks. I don’t know who threw the first blow, but that man was stabbed (many say not by Chrishaun) and is dead. I don’t celebrate his death and yes those trans women could have done a million things to try to get away from him. But maybe they were tired of running, or were so bold as to think they didn’t have a reason to run.

I am reminded of Sakia Gunn, when she told a man to leave her friends alone—they were lesbians. I don’t know if she kicked his car, or flipped him the finger. I don’t know if she told him he had a dick smaller than hers, called him a faggot or some other name to push his buttons. But he did what patriarchal men do—he assumed it was his right and Christian civic duty to accost them, and “check” them for being “out of hand.” He got out of the car. She, or one of her friends, may have punched him first. She may have spit in his face. But he killed her. Was that justified? Was she “at fault” for provoking him? Should she have collected her friends and run back into Newark Penn Station? She could have done any of those things, but maybe, even at 15 years old, she decided she was tired of running, or it never occurred to her to run.

I think of the New Jersey 4—originally the group of seven—young Black lesbians also from Newark who one night in a “gay friendly” part of town, NYC’s West Village, were walking and a man made a disparaging comment about them being lesbians, and a fight ensued, with the man being stabbed, which he later described as “a hate crime against a straight man.” They could have went to the other side of the street. They could have decided to leave the Village and go home. They could have quoted Bible passages at him. But they didn’t. I don’t know if one of them struck him first. Nor do I care.

I respect these young women for, despite the enormous consequences that none of them could forsee, making a choice to not live in a world where they could be denigrated for being lesbians, bisexuals, aggressives (AGs), queers or however they think of their identities. And they, like Brontez, don’t present as “victims” in the way our society constructs, because they didn’t just let that shit go. They didn’t run. They saw the danger, decided to move towards it and do what it was trying to do to them, even if it meant they might not win. The “behavior,” like Brontez’s was not befitting of any victim—most people in the moment are resisting being a passive victim (and this is not to also say that people who choose not to fight back in certain moments are less than heroic, nor am I glorifying violent retribution). But it is to say that I think anyone who tries to condemn someone for not allowing themselves to be intimidated by people, especially in this case who are saying if they were a few thousand miles away they’d just as soon kill you for simply existing. I don’t know how I’d react.

And if we’re going to claim that we don’t want to see more Black men going to prison potentially, I totally agree, but if that’s your position then it means that we have to find ways to help and de-escalate situations, even if you think someone is in the wrong and not wait till after cops are called to raise judgement about whether someone exhibited exemplary model citizen behavior in the midst of being threatened. Also, I think that those of us who think critically about calling the police (because of the nature of policing and the prison industrial complex as an anti-Black project) have to be clear that we do not begin to use this as a reason to excuse violence, or question a person’s Blackness or other racial/political authenticity against a person who, for whatever reason, calls the police in a particular moment. It’s not as though Brontez is someone the police don’t also target, threaten and violate. And while the fact that these men were likely Caribbean immigrants invokes racist narratives about Black criminality and homophobia in the Caribbean, clearly these men were quite willing to try to intimidate Brontez and his friend using those very same narratives when they declared “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”

I think Bynes is making an assumption that even if Brontez had never responded, he and his friend would have been safe (on their bikes!!!!) from those men once they turned the corner, even if they were supposedly trying to avoid an altercation right then and there—maybe they were initially shocked that a Black gay man would have the audacity to even respond back to them. Maybe they were trying to impress the women they were with, and they clearly got a response they weren’t prepared for. I don’t know their motives, but I don’t believe Brontez decided to just pick a random fight with two dudes leaving a club he frequents regularly (as a musician this fucks with your ability to make money), two blocks from his own house, in a community he has to continue to live in.

I do hope that rather than starting a war of words (and I have to admit I was mad as hell when I first heard there was some backlash calling one of my best friends a liar), this can actually give us pause to think about what standards we’re holding people to who have been threatened, when one day, it might be you, for whatever reason, who decides not to take the high road.

Kenyon Farrow has been working as an organizer, communications strategist, and writer on issues at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, prisons, and homophobia. Kenyon is the former Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice—an organization dedicated to organizing, research, and advocacy for and with low-income and working-class lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Prior to becoming ED, Kenyon served as the National Public Education Director, building the visibility of progressive racial and economic justice issues as they pertain to LGBTQ community through coalition-building, public education, and media advocacy. Currently he serves on the Executive Committee of Connect 2 Protect New York, and the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies (CLAGS). Kenyon is working on a new report on the Tea Party and LGBT Politics with Political Research Associates, as well as working as a book editor with South End Press.  Check out Kenyon’s blog here.