Black Women Still in Defense of Ourselves

By Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

One of the lasting images of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy was the photograph of the “Boxer rebellion,” the all-female Congressional delegation marching up the steps to the Senate to demand that it investigate credible claims of sexual harassment. Outside this frame, and perhaps more compelling, are the stories of when each of these women realized that intolerably destructive dynamics of power were being normalized or even defended by colleagues, spouses, friends and elected officials. Every woman who was prompted into action by Anita Hill has a moment like this.

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SlutTalk

from SlutWalk Delhi

Picking up the momentum of over 100 demonstrations worldwide, SlutWalk New York is set to take place in Union Square Park today. The first SlutWalk march occurred in Toronto after a police officer told a group of students if they didn’t want to be sexually victimized, they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.” Kinda like the NYPD’s advice to women residents in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn where a spate of sexual attacks have occurred since March.

SlutWalk NYC is timely for other reasons too, like the victim-blaming that occurred in the highly publicized Dominique Strauss-Kahn case and the acquittals of NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata on charges of sexual assault against a woman (Moreno has since been sentenced to a year in prison for a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct). SlutWalk NYC organizers are planning to address both issues.

The organizers are also intending to address critiques of the walk, like the issues raised by Black Women’s Blueprint in an “Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk” about its failure to address the concerns and acknowledge the histories of women of color when it comes to terms like “slut.” To be sure, black women have been called sluts, jezebels, hos … everything except children of God. And most times it doesn’t matter what we wear, where we are, or what we are doing. My own experiences of street harassment compelled me to support the aims of SlutWalk though I have not been able to attend an actual march yet. I do have trusted friends who are black women and who have participated in SlutWalk events. Black feminist filmmaker, rape survivor, and activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons delivered a powerful speech at SlutWalk Philadephia and Salamishah Tillet, professor, writer, rape survivor and Co-Founder of A Long Walk Home, delivered a stirring speech at SlutWalk DC. Tillet details the mixed-reception of SlutWalk in “What to Wear to a SlutWalk” and maintains that  “None of this negates the fact that SlutWalk has been the most successful protest against sexual violence in the United States since the birth of the Take Back the Night marches in the 1970s,” a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.

The ultimate test for SlutWalk of course will be whether it can shape into a lasting organized movement made up of women and men of various ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality and committed to end sexual violence against women. In other words, it has to really “walk the walk.”