Silence Still Equals Death: Sexual Violence & Women of Color




By Sikivu Hutchinson

April is sexual assault awareness month.  It also marks the global observance of Denim Day for sexual assault survivors.  Black and mixed race women have some of the highest sexual assault rates in the U.S. Yet, recently, when young women of color in my class spoke on the disproportionate number of women of color victimized by sexual violence they initially trotted out stereotypes like “mixed race women are more likely to be raped because they are the ‘prettiest’ and “black women get assaulted more because they have ‘big butts.’ This intersection of internalized racism and sexism is most potent when youth grapple with how representations of young women of color in the media normalize sexual violence.

The normalization of sexual violence breeds silence in the classroom.  In the clockwatching ten minutes-before-the-bell-rings clamor of my peer health workshop of 11th and 12th graders there is silence, deafening and thick as quicksand. I have asked them a question about the widespread use of the words “bitch” and “ho” to describe young women of color on campus.  Several boys are holding forth in response. They are the same four opinionated boys who have been the most vocal throughout these sessions, always ready with a quip, a deflection or, sometimes, serious commentary that reveals deep wisdom. They are bursting with perspective on this topic, but the girls in the room are silent. Some twist in their seats, some study the tops of their desks in calculated boredom, transporting themselves outside of the room, slain by the language of dehumanization. Finally a few girls chime in and say they use the terms casually with friends, as in “my bitch or my ho,” supposedly neutralizing their negative connotations akin to the way they use the word “nigga.” Some claim the words are justifiably used to describe “bad girls” who are promiscuous and unruly, not realizing that black women have always been deemed “bad” in the eyes of the dominant culture, as less than feminine, as bodies for violent pornographic exploitation. When I wondered aloud whether white women call themselves bitch and ho as terms of endearment I got uncertain responses. My guess is that they don’t, not because white women are necessarily more enlightened and self-aware than women of color on gender, but because white femininity is the beauty ideal and hence the human ideal. Despite the misogyny that pervades American culture there is inherent value placed on the lives of white women. Every aspect of the image industry affirms their existence, and the spectrum of culturally recognized white femininity extends from proper and pure to “sexually liberated.” [Read more…]

Stop Mass Incarceration: National Day of Action

From People of Color Organize:

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for a National Day of Action to Stop Mass Incarceration on Thursday, April 19th. These national actions have everything to do with, and joins with, the upsurge associated with the “Trayvon Martin moment.” On April 19th everyone who is concerned about injustice will join in saying — NO TO MASS INCARCERATION! There will be rallies and demonstrations in cities across the country, from New York to Houston, to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. College and high school students will hold teach in’s and other actions on their campuses. There will be cultural events held on that day. And the architects and enforcers of mass incarceration will be challenged about the inhumanity of the policies they are inflicting on society.

Why? Because, More than 2.4 million people, most of them Black or Latino, remain warehoused in prisons across the country; Black and Latino youth are treated like criminals by the police and the criminal justice system, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive their encounters with police to prove their innocence; Former prisoners wear badges of shame and dishonor even after they serve their sentences — discriminated against when applying for jobs, denied access to government assistance, not allowed in public housing, denied the right to vote. In a short statement being released and circulated nationwide today, Wednesday, April 4th, it declares: “It is time and way past time to stand up and say NO MORE! Our youth are being treated like criminals—guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. The vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin concentrates the racial profiling that leads into more than 2.4 million people being warehoused in prison and the millions more who are treated like second-class citizens even after they’ve served their sentences. April 19th must be a day of standing up and saying NO MORE to all of this. Join us to organize a day of teach ins and rallies in high schools and colleges; a day of youth, tired of being demonized, taking to the streets—joined by many others from different backgrounds, races and nationalities who stand with them; a day of speaking bitterness to the way the whole criminal justice system abuses millions of people. All saying in a powerful voice: NO to mass incarceration and all its consequences.”

 To contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, please email, or call 866-841-9139 x2670.

College for the One Percent

Women's Leadership Project alum & students

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Recently former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum called President Obama a snob for having the audacity to suggest that going to college should be a priority. As a privileged white male college graduate on big government’s payroll Santorum’s message to youth of color is: why go to college when there are unskilled sub living wage jobs selling oranges, cleaning houses, washing cars and shoveling French fry grease awaiting you in the ghetto? Santorum’s anti-college diatribe comes in an era when the need for a college degree has increasingly been questioned by both right wing policy makers and mainstream media. Yet, college-going continues to be one of the bedrock civil rights issues for youth of color in the U.S. Over the past several years the wealth gap between black and Latino households and white households has widened. Over the course of their lifetimes college graduates earn nearly one to several million more than do high school graduates. However, in California, Latino youth have the lowest college going rates among youth of all ethnicities despite the fact that they comprise over 50% of students in California schools. While college-going for African American students has increased college completion for youth of color overall remains abysmally low at major colleges and universities. Historically, colleges and universities that have few African American students and few culturally responsive on-campus resources have lower black graduation rates. According tothe Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, “Curriculum differences also play an important role in graduation rates. Carnegie Mellon University and Cal Tech are heavily oriented toward the sciences, fields in which blacks have always had a small presence. It continues to be true that at many high-powered schools black students in the sciences often have been made to feel uncomfortable by white faculty and administrators who persist in beliefs that blacks do not have the intellectual capacity to succeed in these disciplines.” [Read more…]

A “Scientific” Racist Breaks it Down

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Word has it that the murderer George Zimmerman will finally be charged in the killing of Trayvon Martin.  But the fight for Trayvon has rightfully exposed the polecat underbelly of lynch mob justice in the U.S.

Exhibit A is John Derbyshire, swinging his balls to the breeze for whites fed up with “nonstop” coverage of the lynching of Trayvon.  Derbyshire, a former National Review columnist and mathematician recently broke down a white peoples’ guide to navigating the violent criminal subhuman tendencies of inner city Negroes.  Entitled “The Talk: The Non-Black Version,” Derbyshire’s neo-Birth of A Nation piece offers rich insight into the depth of the white nationalist backlash and the politics of the New Jim Crow.  Martin’s murder elicited a national conversation amongst black parents about how to counsel black youth on public conduct given the realities of racial profiling.  But Derbyshire wanted to set seditious black folk straight about who the real victims were.  Evoking the image of the scary bestial black spook, the post is a mini-primer on black depravity, advising whites and other non-blacks to steer clear of black neighborhoods, avoid events with large numbers of black people, and anticipate situations where they could potentially become victims of black violence.  So if we just arm ourselves to the teeth, make sure those spooks stay in their ghettoes and neutralize race card-playing black politicians we can divide Negro-hood into a neat taxonomy of hostile blacks and domesticated intelligent blacks:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

As with any good quasi-academic white supremacist, Derbyshire cherry picks pseudo science and sociology to reinforce his belief in the innate intellectual inferiority and moral depravity of blacks:

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much  lower than for whites. The least  intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent  of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the  average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the  average black. These differences show in  every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or  nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday  situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

Derbyshire’s link to “everyday situations” tracks back to an article on mortgage lending discrimination.  Nationwide, black and Latino homeowners have been disproportionately targeted by predatory and subprime lending practices (Disgraced mortgage lender Countrywide having been the subject of a major lawsuit and settlement thereof); practices which implicitly benefit white homeowners and hence constitute the very preferences (i.e., affirmative action) that Derbyshire decries as corrosive to the racist fantasy of “pure meritocracy”:

(12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by  affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of  blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the  proportions are higher. In government work, they are very  high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive  engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent  than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government  office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a  black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play,  you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The  DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

(13) In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless  many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad  hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make  friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you  will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of  prejudice…

Although the National Review fired Derby last week the post merely expresses what segregated American television, film, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and polls bear out — that separate, apartheid inequality is still as Americana as apple pie.

Trekkie-in-Chief:Obama and Uhura

By Frederick Sparks

Actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, recently shared  a picture of her White House visit in February.  She also tweeted this interesting tidbit:  “Months ago Pres Obama was quoted as saying that he’d had a crush on me when he was younger. I asked about that & he proudly confirmed it!”

Nichols spoke previously about meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. during the show’s initial run from 1966-1969.  The civil rights leader told her he was a fan and the two discussed the importance of the image she presented on the show.  Nichols credits this conversation for changing her mind about leaving the show after the first season.

Nichelle, my crush is still intact.


Onward White Christian Terrorists

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In yet another act of domestic terror against a family planning facility, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin was fire-bombed recently.  The attack comes on the heels of the bombing of a Pensacola, Florida clinic in January.  Although no one was injured in the attack, the fascist demonization of Planned Parenthood by inciters like Rick Santorum continues to put women’s lives in the line of fire; in an era of vanishing clinics and mounting violence. 

In honor of Abortion Providers’ Day last month I visited a family planning clinic after participating in an abortion rights protest.  The head doctor on staff lamented how few of his colleagues had been trained to perform abortions. Volunteer patient escorts helped protect the tucked away strip mall facility from violent interlopers.  The scene was a vivid reminder of the atrocity of the assassination of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009.    

Tiller was murdered in cold blood in his church by former Montana freemen and Army of God member Scott Roeder, who said he was just following God’s law. At Tiller’s funeral anti-abortion protesters wielded signs proclaiming “God sent the shooter.” His murder was the culmination of years of attempted murders, death threats, bombings and arson attacks waged against abortion providers by white Christian terrorists. While law-abiding Muslim Americans continue to be profiled and surveilled, white Christian terrorists are handled cautiously.  Historically the feds have always reserved their most savage, concerted “counter-terrorist” campaigns for radical activists of color.  From 1956 to 1971 J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI launched its notorious Cointelpro “counter-intelligence” operation targeting radical groups in the U.S.  The operation systematically co-opted, jailed, and murdered activists of color in organizations like the Black Panther Party, the US Organization, the American Indian Movement, and the liberal Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Hoover relentlessly smeared these groups as domestic terrorists. The fire-bombing of a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinic is a potent reminder of how white Christian terrorism gets a pass in the mainstream media.  

Yet white militants who invoke Christian fundamentalism to justify their barbaric acts against women and their allies are still dismissed in the mainstream as aberrations.  Writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center back in 1998, Frederick Clarkson pinpointed the alignment of anti-abortion terrorism, white supremacist activism, and the far right militia movement.  Like the perennial black male inner city perp, the profiles of anti-abortion terrorists are always the same—“disaffected” white middle aged males, drunk with anti-government militia and/or a fundamentalist ethos steeped in the bloody retribution of the Old Testament. Clearly black men running around bombing abortion clinics or plotting to kill abortion doctors would get no farther than the nearest county jail cell.  And as the lynch mob justice meted out to Trayvon Martin, Kendrick McDade, and scores of other people of color demonstrates the threat of “savage” black criminality—particularly vis-à-vis white lives in the heartland or in gated communities—is the only national scourge that must be contained by any means necessary.