For this episode of the V WORD we recorded live at WRIR’s first Local Voices Live event. During this event the public got to see live some of their favorite shows/modules. The V Word was honored to be part of this event. Jenn read a piece on community accountability from a community activist who is also a black, queer, immigrant, woman.
Please listen to today’s episode here
Hi my name is Shantae Taylor and I work with JusticeRVA (for racial justice against state sanctioned police violence and mass incarceration), NOACP/Richmond Resistance (for environmental justice) and with RRFP (for reproductive justice). As a queer person of color and immigrant I stand at the intersections of many issues but today I would like to talk about the intersection between state violence, violence against women and how we can create safer communities from the inside out. I want to start first here and talk a little bit about Richmond and then talk about how these issues apply more broadly. I want to be super clear that these issues may be triggering and would like us all to remember that part of accessibility is also keeping each ourselves and each other safe, I will give folks a moment to leave as needed.
-Rape Culture in RVA : I moved to Richmond five years ago and I have so much praise for such an amazing, dynamic and politically active city. However like most places, there is a very strong undercurrent of rape culture. For example, many known restaurants and bars in this city that have well known sexual assaulters and rapists in their midst and there has not as of yet been an city-wide effective campaign to hold those perpetrators accountable – just very brave people doing their best to speak out.
Another example would be our amazing and vibrant punk and hardcore scenes that we love so much. But unfortunately they also suffer from rape culture with it almost being a too common secret. Let us take the example of Dan Cleaves. (I use the example of a white man here to combat the stereotypes thrown against men of color. I also want to be clear that I am in no way using this example to stigmatize against HIV but I do think it is helpful to remember safe sexual practices and to remember that white people get HIV too! It is not just a black or brown problem).Dan Cleaves is a white male who frequented venues in Richmond and was just charged with sexually assaulting and knowingly infecting women with HIV with a particular targeting of transwomen. Many brave Richmonders, survivors included said enough was enough and were eventually able to drive him out of Richmond, but why did it take so long for people to listen to survivors and their wishes? Who is to blame? Are these individual failures or collective failures?
I would argue that these are collective failures. No individual can be solely be responsible for rape culture nor can they be solely responsible for ending it. That does not mean however that people do not need to be accountable for their own actions and take necessary steps to remedy the harm they have caused specific people and the community at large.
I will offer a personal story to help this stick. I am a survivor, however as a black woman I have serious concerns about approaching the police about what happened to me. What if they treat me differently because of my immigration status. How does my black appearance make me dehumanized, thus devalued and more rape-able and not worthy of being saved? How will my community view me? How will I be treated if I present to receive medical care? How does this relate to the long history of sexual violence against black women in this country? How does it relate to the systemic neglect of some black neighborhoods, environmental racism, economic deprivation, the war on drugs and “tough on crime” policing mentality – are these polices making our communities safer for women or more dangerous? How would this change if I were differently-abled? And why would I want to report my assaulter if I know that he would most likely not get proper treatment in jail/prison and more likely get worse after that process?
I think the INCITE! model of violence against women is especially helpful.” INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing.” INCITE! identifies “violence against women of color” as a combination of “violence directed at communities,” such as police violence, war, and colonialism, and “violence within communities,” such as rape and domestic violence.
They basically argue that if we want safer communities from the inside out we are going to have to be careful how we intermesh with the state in terms of mass incarceration instead of rehabilitative and restorative justice. They especially focus on the effects of violence on marginalized groups like women of color, queer folks, immigrants, incarcerated women and how we can lift their voices in this process. (this includes queer women, transwomen, differently abled and gender non conforming women too, because all women matter). It keeps in mind that violence against women of color often takes many forms from environmental racism to state sanctioned police violence and other structural forms of violence and that they need to be examined in a systemic way and addressed in order to really make solid gains in this process.
-I would argue that if we really want to see changes in rape culture in RVA we need to consider this model. Please connect with organizations such as Safe Harbor, VAVP and others that are working on this. You can read more about INCITE at incite-national.org. Thank you for your time.