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.

 

 

 

 

We Gon Be Alright:  What to Do Now That Trump is President

 

It happened.

On Tuesday, November 8, Donald J. Trump was declared the President of the United States of America.  Though Hillary Clinton dominated the popular vote, the electoral college handed Trump the White House.  And, of course, nearly the entire world is confused, shocked, livid, and understandably terrified.

Unfortunately, I predicted this in a Facebook status a few months prior—before the election was a complete circus.  Granted, the status was a semi-political science fiction narrative, but there was also an element of truth.  Even legendary science fiction genius Octavia E. Butler foresaw an oppressive American government in her Parable series. In The Parables of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, the Earthseed community (and others who are considered heathens) are targeted, traumatized, and even murdered by the supporters of the President Andrew Steele Jarret.

Like the fictional presidential candidate, Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” for White citizens while scapegoating the disenfranchised groups.  Black folks and non-Black people of color, women, the undocumented, the disabled, LGBTIQAs, Muslims, immigrants and refugees were immediately fell under the scrutiny of racist White people who feared having resources snatched from them.  Young women and girls were traumatized after finding out that Trump openly admitted to sexually assaulting women and young girls.  And like that of Jarret’s, Trump’s followers resorted to violence against non-White, non-Christian folks,  becoming increasing audacious as the months passed.

These facts alone are some of the reasons why people were so devastated about this man’s victory.  Why non-voters and third-party voters are feeling the wrath of those who voted for Clinton.  And why people are drawing lines in the sand, taking to social media to force Trump supporters off their Facebook pages due to his (supposed) anti-LGBTIQA rhetoric.

In the mist of the post-Election chaos, there was a glimmer of hope in Rochester that week.  On Thursday, November 10, I and many others in Rochester had the opportunity to meet Dr. Angela Davis, former Black Panther Party member, author, and professor.  Courtesy of MJS Productions, Dr. Davis blessed the entire East High School Auditorium with her kindness, wisdom, poise, and respect.  She not only critiqued the 2016 election, but understood that the government system (and the current party structure) never represented the people—the oppressed groups in particular.

“We have to reimagine politics,” she proposed, “to imagine a political party that represents the oppressed.”  She further emphasized that those who choose to participate in the voting process to work towards a multi-party system and a party that incorporates intersectional feminist politics.

I walked away from the event energized and validated as a literary activist and Radical in regards to my misgivings about this election.  A non-registered voter for eight years, I wasn’t going to have anyone place the blame on me simply because I didn’t hand Clinton a struggle vote.  Dr. Davis’s suggestion to reimagine politics resonated with me; another world is possible, but many of us seem hesitant to even envision themselves dismantling the current system to create a new one.  So I wondered what actions Radicals and liberals—especially comrades of color—can take from this moment forward. What can marginalized groups do to combat a fascist government at this point?

For starters, we (meaning Radicals) need to check those scapegoating non-voters and third-party voters.  We are not the reason why Trump won and Clinton has yet to represent anyone but corporate America.  And let’s not forget that the majority voted for Senator Bernie Sanders, who could have easily won the Presidency had the Democratic National Committee not sabotaged his campaign. The DNC’s intervention and the non-existence of true democracy left a bad taste in the month of many of his supporters, so their decision to Netflix and chill on Election Day is understandable. Also, voters pointing the fingers at those who refused to support Clinton are ultimately blaming the latter for the hate crimes erupting throughout the country.  What they don’t understand, however, is that these post-election assaults against marginalized groups would have occurred regardless of who moved into the White House.

Which is why I also urge Liberals and Radicals to genuinely recognize each other’s political efforts—especially those who choose not to vote or vote for a third-party candidate. The latter uses direct action, literally activism, online activism, protesting, and other effective, peaceful tactics.  Our initiatives are just as important as the Liberal’s right to vote, their trips to their state capitals, or petitions to their local representatives.  One of the many reasons why the Leftist contingent isn’t a political juggernaut is because of the division among us.  As we fight over ideologies and the corniness of John Lennon quotes, the Ult-Right disregard their differences to execute their oppressive agendas.  With so much at stake this time around, it is the duty of us Leftists to collectively organize, strategize, and implement our initiatives without hesitation.

In addition, we need to educate ourselves and each other on government laws so we are equipped with the knowledge to protect ourselves legally.  What I’ve learned as an activist and writer is that education is paramount to fight for one’s liberation.  In fact, education is the very foundation of our freedom and oppressors acknowledge this.  So, the more we Leftists know the more strategic our contingent can be as we organize.   I have comrades who are often recommending literature such as The Privacy Law and the USA Patriot Act and The New Jim Crow.  Folks can also Google information about protections against unlawful arrests, state and national anti-discrimination laws, how to shield your personal information from government officials and so forth.  If one cannot afford certain books, PDF versions are often available via the interwebs.

While organizing, we have got to learn how to protect ourselves physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually.  Trump’s victory granted racists the permission to traumatize/dehumanize at will, attacking the marginalized online and in public with impunity.  Assaults against Muslims have increased since Trump’s win while Black folks, children of immigrants and/or undocumented adults, women, and others face harassment through social media.  Therefore, we must take initiatives to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and those being targeted.  I plan on investing in various forms of self-defense because, as a Black woman, I’m more likely have a White Supremacist mistakenly run up on me.  Knowing that, I need to take all kinds of precautions.

And due to the elevating brutality and need for significant changes within the political system, we Leftists need to heavily lean on one another.  This is not the time to fight over tactics, political ideologies, and which organization possesses the most knowledge.  This is also not the time to place minorities in the position to wipe away White Liberals or give in to White guilt.  We’re now required to respect one another, for allies to listen to the pain, struggles, and solutions of the groups who are greatly affected by the outcome of this shit show.  Members of marginalized groups also need the space to support one another.  I went to a Building Leadership and Community Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) meeting on Friday night and I felt nothing but love, validation, and liberation at that moment.  I didn’t have to explain myself, my views on the election, or why I didn’t vote.  I was surrounded by Black people who heard my frustrations while allowing me to support them in return.  I needed that.  Now imagine if everyone had a squad such as mine.

The election triggered an arousal in people politically, forcing many to recognize that the current system is not only broken, but needs to be completely bulldozed and rebuilt.  Conversely, strong radical movements such as Black Lives Matter play an important part in pushing for the reimagining of political system that supports the social, physical, spiritual, and even nutritional concerns of its citizens—especially the disenfranchised.

 

Black Realism in Marvel’s Luke Cage

So let’s talk about Black television for a minute.

In an industry saturated with shows featuring predominately White cast-members, Black audiences are finally enjoying an influx of Black prime-time entertainment. Courtesy of powerhouses such as filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Writer/Producer Shonda Rhimes, programs like How to Get Away with Murder, Empire, Queen Sugar, Being Mary Jane are discussed on social media threads.  Among these dramas, though, is one caught and retained my attention:

Luke Cage.

Based on the Marvel comic book series, The show chronicles Luke Cage, a reserved, elusive, thoughtful Black man with unbreakable skin and immortality.  Before the groundbreaking web series debuted on Netflix on September 30, activists and comic book geeks anticipated its arrival. While many folks discussed the differences between the comic and more modernized version of the characters, others focused on the show’s political significance.  I myself shared the official trailer on my Facebook page, geeking out while watching actor Michael Colter calmly approached his adversaries as bullets ricocheted off his chest.

Yet when I was finally able to watch the series (Netflix crashed on the day Luke Cage debuted), I wasn’t ready for the pro-Blackness that played on my laptop screen.  Everything from the Black political literature to the music spoke to me.  Its blaxplotation-que references apologizes for the actual 1970s films that caricatured us and African culture.  Luke’s strength and immortality represents the resilience of Black people in general (and with the current political climate, I needed that reminder that we are survivors).  But what I truly appreciate is how the storylines in Luke Cage parallels the reality of Black people.

Let’s start with the origin of Luke’s abilities—how and where he gains them.  Known as Carl Lucas, Luke is imprisoned for a crime he hasn’t committed.  And while locked up, he obtains super powers when a cellular regeneration experiment goes horribly awry.  The fact that Luke’s in jail for absolutely nothing accurately reflects how the judicial and prison system targets Black people. According to the recent Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics, Black men are 5.1 more times likely than their male counterparts to be incarcerated in a federal prison.  As far as Black women, the number of Black women prison has increased to 700% between the years 1980 and 2014.  In fact, they are most likely to be placed behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice.

There’s also the fact that Luke is experimented on against his will. In the episode “Step in the Arena,” Dr. Reva Connors assures Luke and the other inmates in her support group that no experimentations are being conducted at Seagate Penitentiary.   However, that turns out not to be the case.  In reality, government regulations prohibit prisoners and other vulnerable populations from being experimented on without written consent.  Until well into the 1970s, however, Black prisoners and mental health patients are used as test subjects, usually given false information by White researchers conducting these experiments.  This has caused the deaths of many poor Black people who’ve been injected with cancer cells and other deceases.  This is one of the many reasons why—to this day—Black folks distrusts the medical profession.

Speaking of professions, this brings me to the portrayal of law enforcement on the show. And just the cops on the show, there are those in real life who are secretly employed by crime lords.  If y’all watch documentaries like “Mr. Untouchable” and “Cocaine Cowboys,” there are numerous accounts of officers getting paid for doing everything from tampering with evidence to murdering witnesses willing to testify in court.  And because they’re “blue,” they’re more likely going to get away with it.  Furthermore, corrupt officers and crime lords attempt to break the will of Black folks who challenge corruption by targeting their support system. The majority of the officers Luke encounter, for instance, utilize their resources and information against the superhero’s support system. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes exercises similar tactics when Luke dismantles his business.  If he remains silent about Cottonmouth’s crimes or dismantle his support system by framing him either murder or vandalism, the powers that be would ultimately break his spirit.

This incessant need to control Luke’s personal power is one of the reasons why the NYPD harass young Black and Brown men in “Take It Personal.”  In that episode, Luke is framed for a cop’s murder and the cops go off and shake down every single person who might look like a Luke Cage supporter. This is similar to the stop and frisk program that once went down in New York City some years back. Black and Brown people (mainly young Black and Latino men) are stopped at random and frisk by officers.  The said officers would then claim that the person “looked suspicious” though there is no proof.  This discriminatory practice continued until it is considered unconstitutional by Judge Shira Scheindlin in 2014.

And I bring up stop and frisk because knowing our rights against law enforcement and other industrial complexes is yet another precaution we Black folks have to take.  We’re often targeted and/or murdered by various industrial complexes, so being armed with information needs to be a requirement in order to stay alive.  Do you know you’re not obligated to speak to the police?  Or allow them to search your property without a warrant? Or even let them hold your attention?  If you said “No,” unfortunately, you’re not alone because it’s common.

The cops acknowledge that many folks aren’t aware of their legal rights, so the former employs intimidation to invoke fear and compliance.  But if those apprehended know the necessary information, then the fear tactics will be ineffective. This is why I love the interaction between a detective and Lonnie—the son of Patricia, a single mother going to law school to become a lawyer. While being interrogated at the precinct by the officer, the teen informs him of the illegalities of him being detained without the presence of his mother, which is illegal.

And did so with confidence (Thanks Patricia!).

That scene is important because the writers are demonstrating for the Black audience how to use knowledge against government-sanctioned oppressors. Not everyone is blessed with a parent who’s an aspiring attorney, so please educate yourself as much as possible. The more you know, the more confident you are when dealing with law enforcement.  And confidence reduces anxiety. Long story short, not only will self-education save your life, but it’s actually a form of self-care.

So is acknowledging sexual abuse and intergenerational trauma—another issue that the Luke Cage series covers very well.  Councilwoman Mariah Dillard is not only the member of a known crime family, but is a survivor of child sexual abuse. As a young girl, she is molested by her Uncle Pete, who still has access to her and Mama Mabel’s business until he is killed by teenage Cornell.

If y’all been watching the show, notice that Mariah’s offender isn’t punished on her behalf.  In fact, her molestation is swept under the rug as she’s sent off to a boarding school. On the surface Mama Mabel was trying to keep her safe. But by not removing Pete from the home and business, however, she basically blames Mariah for her perpetrator’s behavior. In real life, young Black women and young girls are usually held responsible for the sexual violence inflicted upon them.  And the offender is someone they know most likely, so they are going to show up at the house with impunity. Which is what happens to Mariah.  The moment Pete glances at her seductively, she averts her eyes away from his uncomfortably. Her body language suggests to the viewers that she wants nothing to do with her uncle’s advances, yet is most likely blamed her the man’s behavior thus receiving very little to adequate support. So it’s no wonder she snaps when her cousin Cottonmouth accuses her of enjoying her abuse.

Despite all she went through, Mariah is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever known.  There are many think pieces about Luke and his political significance, but the women in the series are just as important.  Characters like Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight, Claire Temple (my absolute favorite), Inspector Priscilla Ridley, and others are strong, intelligent, independent, resilient, street smart and so forth, utilizing their skills and inner resources as survival mechanisms (some of them work alongside Luke are accomplices in their own way).  These characters are no different from the real Black and Brown female activists who sacrifice their time, energy, freedom, and even their lives for the cause and their male comrades.

And, like real life female freedom fighters, these characters are accomplices to a fault. There’s this notion that women (Black women in particular) are to master their emotions at all times.  While pride is a wonderful trait to have, wearing an emotional shield continuously can also be our undoing.  The reason why Detective Knight almost loses her mind is because she thinks her vulnerability is the equivalent of lacking control–which places her in harm’s way psychologically.  Her mentality is a prime example of the Strong Black Woman stereotype that’s been forced upon Black women.  Again, there’s this reasoning that we’re strong, therefore we can handle anything thrown at us.  But that’s not true and it’s extremely tiring—as Detective Knight demonstrates.

As you can see, I love Luke Cage.  Its realism, complex characters, obvious admiration of Harlem for its identity and culture enriches the series.  For me, it’s more than a show about a Black superhero with unbreakable skin.  It mirrors the injustices Black people endure as a people and how corrupt industrial complexes attempt to annihilate our spirits—all to no avail.