Violence in Radical Clothing: Sexual Misconduct Towards Black Women Within Radical Organizations

“In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing:  anti-humanism.”

—Shirley Chisholm

Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100 Co-Chair and Organizer Malcolm London stepped down after his arrest for aggravated assault.

While his supporters consider him a hero for his work within the community, others conveyed a completely different narrative.  A woman identified as “Kyra” wrote an open letter to the BYP 100 organization and Chicago activists about how London sexually assaulted her and his reaction when confronted.  Though the letter itself was composed in 2015, the offense itself occurred three years prior.  Kyra only came forward when her newsfeed was “bombarded with images of the person who harmed me accompanied by descriptions of him as a hero and upstanding human” which “was nothing short of traumatizing.”

Unfortunately, Kyra’s experience with London and the retraumatization she endured is nothing new.  Sexual misconduct towards women within the Black radical community is prevalent, but rarely discussed.  Prominent Black male organizers like London often receive protection from the organization while the victims are encouraged to remain silent to “help the movement.”  Meanwhile, the male leader targets yet another innocent woman member of the organization with the knowledge that they will not be held accountable for their crimes.

So why do organizations such as BYP 100 work diligently to defend these predators?  For one, respectability politics plays a significant role. Young men like London present themselves appropriately enough to establish trust within the community.  They don’t patrol the streets with pants sagging, spewing street slang (which is perfectly fine if they did).  These charismatic personalities package themselves as quintessential Black male radicals: their speaking voices woven with articulation and queer feminist vocabulary as they speak highly of Black women.  They are the hype men at marches who always volunteer their time and bodies for an arrest, the sensitive professors who quote Assata Shakur like they’re free-styling.

These men exude superstardom while doing the work necessary to promote the organization’s mission through the mainstream media, a tool needed to attract potential White allies. Besides White demonstrators reducing the White demonstrators reduce the likelihood of Black deaths at protests, the participation of White folks makes the organization look “less threatening” to the White community in general.  The beloved Black leader is essential for recruitment, so any controversy regarding sexual assault reflects poorly on the organization.

The organization’s disregard for the safety of Black women also perpetuates anti-Black Woman ideologies.  In his autobiography, late Black Panther Party member Elderidge Cleaver speaks candidly about his hatred for Black women and how he sexually assaulted them.  He admitted that he and other members of the BPP dated light skinned women primarily because of their resemblance to Whiteness.  Regardless of their complexion, the female members were  berated into silence about the mistreatment they endured while forced to promote “Black Unity.”  The abuse wasn’t even disclosed until years after the original party was disbanded.

This brings me to the conclusion that these male-dominated organizations resent Black women. Though we’re branded as a detriment to the Black community, these organizations recognize that female presentation is also crucial to pushing their political agenda.   So in hopes to recruit Black women, the Black male leader is used to promote the illusion of a safe environment.

“The worst part of it all,” points out Vichina Austin when critiquing the Chicago-based organization, “is that BYP uses feminist/womanist language in order to attract Black women to their “movement”. This not only creates hunting ground for predators like Malcolm London and Timothy Bradford, but teaches them the language so that they become master manipulators. And this is the same language that they “re-teach” during these “restorative justice” processes.”

They impress us with Black Womanist ideologies, befriending many of us though something seems a little off about them.  Unbeknownst to us, they are lowkey grooming what they consider the most vulnerable demographic, earning our trust and secrets to seem dissimilar from the cis-heteronomative Black men who normally hate us.  In actuality, however, these so-called worshipers of Black women are just basic ass misogynists who studied the right literature and followed the right feminist bloggers.

Whenever Black women are victimized by a male member (a leader especially), the organization (and its members) encourages the female victim to remain silent for the sake of the movement. When she refuses, she is met with the burden of proof and receives no support from the organization.  “BYP hasn’t stopped at using a rapist as the face of their organization,” Austin continues. “When several women came forward about another abuser and BYP member, Timothy Bradford, the so-called pro-Black organization was (and still is) silent. Recently, another woman came forward about being abused by this person, and still no word from BYP or their chair, Charlene Carruthers.”

Bradford (a.k.a. Phade Wayze) is a prominent organizer/activist in the Chicago area—one known for his knowledge of Black history and African politics.  According to his victims (or people put off by him), he employed his intelligence to befriend fellow female activists, only to eventually sexually abuse them.  Unfortunately, two of those women are friends of mine who trusted him enough to consider him a brother and comrade, so even when I write these words I’m thinking about all the various ways he will catch these hands.

But I digress.

The fucked up (and unsurprising) part involves the army of Bradford Bots that shot from all corners to defend him.  This squad placed the burden of proof on the victims, questioning their motives, credibility, and even the validity of the evidence presented.  In turn, the latter is defending themselves on social media and through private messages, becoming more triggered by the backlash received from semi-complete strangers.  Luckily, these wonderful, strong survivors also have supporters who go to bat for them at the drop of a hot.  But that’s only if they are brave enough to disclose, given the statistics.

What’s even more traumatizing is that the severity of the male perpetrator’s manipulation is unrecognized until they’ve gained access to our houses, our thoughts, and in some cases, our bodies.  Because most women within the radical community are trauma survivors, we blame ourselves for “falling” for the bullshit again or disregarding our intuition.  However, it is not our fault that these men adhere to White supremacist standards regarding women.  Nor is it our fault that these organizations have a house slave mentality, kissing the boots of a demographic that ain’t paying attention in the first place.  By placing their reputation above women victimized by their leaders, organizations like BYP 100 are no different from the Catholic churches that transferred priests who targeted innocent children.

In Dear Sister, Disability Justice Activist Mia Mingus writes, “Many of us envision the kind of coordinated community capacity that could hold healing circles and develop safety plans for survivors; work to build deeper emotional capacity and educate community members so that they can confidently intervene in instances of violence and support each other to do so; and train folks in accountability processes and healing for people who have caused harm or perpetuated violence, who oftentimes have been victims of violence themselves…for example, not just the healing and safety of survivors, but also accountability, knowing the very real history we have of responses to violence that have resulted in harmful legislation and criminalization.”

We envision Black-operated organizations being a safe space for all Black people—especially women and gender non-conforming people. For those who’ve experience various forms of trauma and discrimination simply for having the audacity to speak.  But the reality is that organizations like BYP 100, the former Black Panther Party, and Black Lives Matter tend to support violent Black male leaders who aren’t trying to hold themselves accountable.  As a result, these violent predators are given permission to utilize their political power and popularity to victimize Black female/gender non-conforming radicals.

If that’s the case, what will it take for them to do so?  What would make them stop protecting predatory Black men disguised as leaders simply to keep up appearances?  Shaming Black women into silence backfires (and rightfully so) as they turn to social media to put on blast these men and the organizations harboring them.  Black women risk their lives for the Black community at large. That fact alone is why we are owed a safe space that guarantees protection and support from violent males in radical clothing.

 

 

 

 

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