I want to write about the deaths of Black people and intersectional feminism. None of my work is intended for unsupervised consumption by people under 18. Warning: this piece discusses murder, rape and porn.
Since the murder of George Floyd our country appears to have reached a tipping point. There has been so much stress lately: the impacts of COVID19 and its mismanagement has led to illness and death, lack of accessibility to healthcare, poverty, social isolation and increased violence. Racism has always been an fact in our country. Due to increased accessiblity to video capture and increased tensions during the shutdown we now see in undeniable ways the extreme racism Black people have been suffering from. On instagram and in the news I see posts and stories about the killing of black men and boys. I am a nonviolent person (vegetarian for life) but, seeing the riots begin, I felt an unexpected wave of optimism and relief. FINALLY people are standing up for Black people.
As I hear all these pleas to end the deaths of Black men and boys, in the back of my mind a little voice keeps saying: "What about all those Black women who are killed?" I am reading Ralina Joseph’s book “Postracial Resistance”, in the first few pages she notes, “Media portrays that violence as exclusively targeting Black men and boys… Black cis- and transwomen are systematically murdered in the same ways Black men are killed: they are caught ‘driving while black,’ and are casualties of the ‘war on drugs'." I wonder why the deaths of these Black women is not as important to mention as the deaths of Black men and boys. I want to make sure that when we protest and confront the police that we are not working to create a world where Black men are no longer killed but Black women continue to be and without much notice.
White women of privilege are much less likely to be killed than Black women. With or without death being a big risk, the risks for all women at the hands of unchecked power of the police is high. I bring up the following example to show that ignoring sexism and thinking only certain segments of society are at risk for police abuse of power is a grave error.
A friend of mine was in her early 50’s when this event happened. She was with a friend of a similar age. The two of them are white, intelligent, mild mannered women. This occurred in Iowa and they dressed very typically for women of that age living in Iowa. In short we have two women who look and act very unobjectional and appear to be low threat to anyone. This event took place during the presidency of George W Bush. The two women were standing across the street from the building where Bush was inside speaking. My friend was holding a sign that said “Peace”. The police approached them and asked them to leave. My friend is a social studies teacher and knew very well about her constitutional right to "peaceably assemble" in protest. She asked the officer if there was another place that he preferred they stand. The officer took them into custody and cavity-searched my friend. My friend sued the police, for what was essentially rape, however was not able to resolve the case until years later shortly after Obama took office.
In the past feminism has often left out concerns of people of color and racism discussions have often left out the needs specific to women. Black women and other people of color are doubly at risk because of discrimation related to their race and to their gender. Sexism is deeply ingrained in our society. Look at the wage gap, I feel it is a pretty good representation of how people of color and women are treated in this country compared to white men. Payscale.com shows white women making about $0.81 on the dollar and female BIPOC averaging about $0.75 compared a white man's $1.
We are ignoring the increased vulnerability of Black women by protesting mostly about the killing of Black men and boys. In Postracial Resistence, Joseph also mentions how “Black women are called criminals after surviving domestic and sexual abuse”. Let me tell you what this looks like for a woman and understand that the added factor of racism will most likely make the outcome worse for BIPOC women. In an attempt to report abuse I tried to explain the situation which involved domestic abuse and safety of children. The man in question defended himself by calling me crazy. Instead of the police responding by protecting me I was indeed treated as though my experience of abuse were prior convictions. The police discriminated against me and inserted misinformation into in their report which led to the separation of myself from my child for a year and negligence in investigating the claims of abuse. After $40,000 in legal fees which doesn’t even come close to enough to get justice in this country, the admission of guilt by the police and by DHS there was still no justice or accountability. I considered myself privileged to even be able to have credit to pay for legal fees. Many people do not even have that ability. This was by far the worst experience of my life and I have experienced a lot of violence and sexual abuse. Because of this experience, and other unsuccessful attempts to get help during domestic violence situations, I am a person who knows well enough the risk of involving the police. After my own horror I can’t even imagine the level of hell women of color are experiencing with the combined effects of sexism and racism. I was told to stay silent over and over again. I feel, like so many others, that politely waiting for justice is an invitation for further oppression. People need to understand what is going on and things desparately need to change. As a form of activism I encourage you to tell your story and listen to others as they tell their own.
For a less extreme example, in early 2018, a black man beat in my car window and was caught red handed by a neighboring business owner. I immediately dismissed the idea that was brought up about calling the police because of the potential harm to the man and my own fear of the police. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to have a law enforcement organization that we could call when we want help for abuse, to intervene if someone is destroying our property, or if a known criminal was stealing from us? A law enforcement agency that we could count on without fearing we were sentencing the person to death? I think there are many times when that help desparately needed. How do we get there?
At this point it seems unlikely change will happen by itself. I am not a proponent of violence but there are cases where it is unclear how nonviolence can move things forward fast enough to prevent further death and abuse. How would the Nazi internment camps been ended without military intervention? Do we expect Hitler would have woken up one day with a conscience? No. Even if some forceful intervention is necessary it is important to do it in the best way possible with the least impact on human lives. At the same time that WW2 troops were releasing concentration camp victims, some of those same “good guy” soldiers raped women from the camps to death. At home in the US we were celebrating our “good guy” status while we held Japanese people in our own camps. Take a look at your life, take a look at the country. Let's make sure we don't solve one problem while ignoring another. Take a look at how guilty you are of racism and sexism AND lateral suppression. Take a look at your media consumption. Do you engage with entertainment and gaming that involves repetitive murder for entertainment? Examine the roles BIPOC and women are playing in these films and games. What categories are the main characters in? Who dies first? Consider removing that kind of violence from your life so that you are no longer inured to it. Are you looking at porn? Porn is protected by free speach. When we examine porn we find that it is far more likely to see a picture of a woman being used or treated brutally (even images of choking women) than experiencing pleasure. If most people are engaging with porn to get off by seeing women hurt how does that effect our culture? In my opinion most porn is actually a hate crime against women. Do not condone violence towards women by consuming this type of media.
Look at whether you are oppressing your own kind for power or advancement? Are you doing it without even knowing it? Regardless of your gender...do you see women having emotions as "hysterical", dramatic or needing to chill out? Could you see these expressions as indicators that something needs to be addressed? Do not call women crazy or act like the emotions of half the population are a sign of their "imbalance" or mental health issues. This only perpetuates violence and discrimination. Instead see the emotional access many women have as an opportunity to learn how you too can access the realm of emotions and let it enrich your life.
If you are taking action now against the injustice of racism and sexism, that is wonderful. Ask yourself if you can take it one step further. We need all hands on deck now to end the death of more Black people and for so many other human rights issues. One more death is too many. One more woman forced into silence through rape or risk to her personal safety is too much.
I was speaking to a young man from Nigeria who was working hard to bring more education to the girls in his country. He was so obviously emotionally impacted by the effects of girls being married off at young ages to arranged marriages and given only minimal education. He asked, “How can we possibly advance our country when we are actively suppressing over half of the population?” I feel this is relevant for all of us.
I also wanted to talk about my Guerrilla Puffs.
Guerrilla Puffs blend was formulated shortly after Trump took office to help us stay engaged and politically active in the face of increasingly overwhelming news. So many things were going wrong at the same time and on such an ongoing basis that I began to see many people admit defeat, stop watching the news and stop being engaged. The herbs my Guerrilla Puffs blend are organic and/or wildcrafted holy basil (aka tulsi), mullein leaf and flower, lemon balm, red clover, calendula. You can see more about each of them in my Guerrilla Puffs story highlights on my instagram page.
With the team working at the time we tested various ratios of the herbs until it had the desired effect. We did this by watching the news, smoking the herbs and observing our inner state. The current blend allowed us to feel we could continue to watch the news and feel centered enough to press forward and stay engaged with political issues we felt needed attention.
Here is what Annie from Baltimore wrote me about her experience with the Guerrilla Puffs:
“My favorite way [to smoke it] is with the classics. The emotional and physical support of the herbs coupled with the startlingly intuitive message of the crutch gives balance to my emotions while also justifying the more intense ones (currently anger and sadness...I cry when I am angry and this blend soothes it all out so I can feel it without it overtaking me). ...the nervine qualities of Melissa and Tulsi do ease the sadness and anxiety I’m feeling while the clover and calendula strengthen my emotional state so that I am better able to express these complicated feelings, but also to function. We can be so overwhelmed by our emotional response that it paralyzes us. The strength from the clover and calendula helps us to keep going.”
For each pack of Guerrilla Puffs purchased $5 goes to RAICES Texas which promotes justice for immigrant children, families and refugees through free or low cost legal services. Their success so far includes the world’s largest bond fund which has allowed them to get over 1200 individuals released from ICE detention (this cost just under 12 million dollars. Justice is too expensive for most families.)
I hope that the herbs in my Guerrilla Puffs can help a little to address the emotional overwhelm about the current events that can lead to self protective apathy. Other helpful things can include not looking at current events but instead committing to some ongoing causes for the betterment of humanity. Food and healthcare are always needed. They should be part of basic rights for all. Take time to prepare, deliver or donate money for food. Find out how healthcare can be improved. What needs done and who needs help in your community. These basic causes that will likely remain issues til the end of time.
Brown Bear Herbs has done fundraising for causes such as Planned Parenthood, Standing Rock pipeline protests, Malala Fund, Raices Texas and conservation efforts through our local Portland Audubon and Nature Conservancy. With the exception of the Standing Rock pipeline which recently achieved success stopping the project (albeit in the midst of massive oil overproduction), the rest of these issues are very much still needing support. Even though the pipeline protest is a win, the treatment of indigenous people in the USA remains tragic. You can work with any cause you feel is important to humanity without needing to hear current events if they are overwhelming you to the point of having difficulty functioning.
You can also work to increase your strength and capacity to help others through improving physical health, therapy, spiritual practices, and other acts of self care. This ability to help others should be a priority, especially at this time.
Social media is not everything but it does have power. In the last couple years I have noticed at least a few cases where a sudden increase in social media attention to legal cases biased against marginalized populations seemed to cause a flip in the outcome, resulting in a much more compassionate legal ruling. This is encouraging. So, do what you can now, even if it is little things like reposting important messages and calling congress people from the comfort of your own home. You can do this level of activism in very short time periods. If each person devoted an extra 10 minutes a day to helping others it would change the world.
Please: *do make sure you understand what you are advocating for or against and whether claims are substantiated*. It is very easy to jump on the bandwagon. If the force of social media is pointed in the wrong direction it can be very harmful to targets who don’t deserve to be censured and cause you to miss out on things you enjoy. I am a long proponent of boycotting and voting with my dollar and find it is a good strategy for change. When I was in college I was vegan and boycotting lots of products. For a while it was going around that there was blood in Heinz ketchup (the kind our on campus housing stocked). Take away my cheese or leather and I can manage but, no longer having properly dressed fries was a whole other matter. To make sure this sacrifice was necessary I called Heinz and was informed me that it was illegal to put animal products in ketchup. Thank goodness. My fries were safe.
I hope you stay safe and healthy and realize that you are important in this fight for humanity.