Today is Day 31. It is the last day of this national month-long letter writing campaign in support of Marissa Alexander. Though the 20-year-sentence Alexander received after firing a warning shot to protect herself from her abusive husband was overturned, she remains behind bars.
NOTE: It was announced today that Marissa Alexander will be retried on March 31, 2014.
This campaign was led by Mariame Kaba of the Chicago Taskforce Against Violence Girls and myself, the creator of 'Emotional Justice Unplugged.' It brought letters from a diverse group of males—from Black New York City high school kids, to middle-aged White men in Chicago, from the son of Indian Hindu immigrants to scholars of all races—to speak up in solidarity with this woman. The last contributions are a letter and a piece of art. The letter comes from GlobalGrind president Michael Skolnik (which you can read here) and the art from Hugh-man (seen here). This aim of this campaign was to create a process, a way for men specifically to practice engaging in defense of black women and to break the silence around our suffering. The act of breaking a silence is an intimate revolution. It is crucial in creating the possibility of change. 'Emotional justice' is about the politics of our emotionality, creating a process and practice to navigate those spaces where we are silent, battling, bruised, beaten. It is work. It is messy.
Many men practice paralysis when it comes to the assault of Black women. Society litigates Black female behavior; it routinely plays judge, jury, executioner–but rarely defends, and even more rarely fights for her. Communities of women routinely fight for the bodies of Black men. I am not interested in playing the 'oppression olympics' that so often immediately follows that statement. It is cancer. Black women already hold the gold, silver and bronze medals in organizing and responding in defense of Black men. And it is no prize. Those politics are bruising spaces where Black men and women go at each other comparing how much we stand up for them and how little they do for us. Part of 'Emotional Justice' is about creating process and practice that calls on men to engage, to do, to stand up, to stay, to stay standing, to become engaged, to take action, to defend a Black woman when she is attacked.
It is simple. You have to practice standing up for Black women, you have to create process to do that. You just do. No shortcut, no prizes, no cookies, no medals. It is necessary, important, continual process. And it is what a community of Black men must do. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we see that happen.
On Day 23 of a campaign engaging a nation to stand up in defense of a Black woman, Dr Brittney Cooper—also a Black woman— was publicly assaulted by a Black man. It happened at the Brecht Forum during a panel discussion about what it means to be an 'ally' or 'comrade.' The assault happened in front of an audience of men and women and after some time, the man was finally restrained and led out of the space. Dr. Cooper wrote about the assault here.
…And so the litigation of Dr Cooper's behavior, manner, action began. It began because that is our practice and process when it comes to a Black woman being violently attacked. We talk about how Black women should behave in order to avoid another such violation. We may mock her, ask why a Black woman would expect Black men to come to her defense. We are practiced in our condemnation of each other as women. We are deadly in our ability to go after the violated and ignore, excuse or defend the violent. Dr. Cooper is a brilliant mind, she is a scholar, a writer, a thinker. She is a sister colleague and she is my friend. I also know the brother who assaulted her. I totally condemn his action. I condemn his behavior.
So now what? Men who do not know Marissa Alexander, but do know Dr. Cooper, engaged in this campaign. Where is the collective action, the public accountability of the brother by those men? Where is their collective public condemnation of the violence? What is their process in engaging and dealing with this brother? What do they intend to do about this violation? Part of this work is requiring Black men to respond publicly and collectively in word and deed when a Black woman has been publicly violently attacked. Accountability is not the same as criminalization.
At the moment, here's what happens: Confusion, paralysis, some individual action and inaction. Politics clash with emotionality. Brothers who claim feminist politics will say they do not want to appear patriarchal, brothers who claim Afrocentric politics will blame feminist politics, brothers who claim nationalist politics will invite women to moderate their behavior—but stay out of it in order to avoid maligning Black men. That enables a disengagement and for all to do nothing. Worse, then comes the silence. The stretched out quiet of folk wanting the situation to go away and using silence to assist its disappearance. Unacceptable.
The instinct to protect and defend is neither gendered nor political, it is human. That is what we need to re-discover. That can only happen through practice. The work is to create process to defend black women. And then to practice that process. Because before 911 is called, a hospital involved, before violence escalates, there was a time when a community knew, saw and chose. Today is Day 31 of a campaign engaging a nation of men to stand up in defense of a black woman. Time to connect the dots and create process. How willing are we to do that work?
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NYC Radio Host and Playwright