Hello to any organizers or leadership of SWNYC who may read this. Please feel free to pass it along.
My name is Peech, I live in Kansas, and I am a Black American Woman of Color. I feel it’s necessary to get that out of the way. I’d like to preface my letter by saying that this writing, in no way, is an attack on any individual. This is not an attack on white people or white women. I ask that you keep that in your minds while reading it.
Yesterday, I logged onto tumblr to see the sign greet me. As a Black woman, “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” has always been a thorn in my side. It is erasure, plain and simple. Because if woman is the nigger, then “what are black women? Double niggers?” (a paraphrased quote from Pearl Cleage) sums it up best. Many black women feel this way, from the moment they know Lennon and Ono wrote the song and proudly performed it.
The sign, however, is not my (only) issue. My issue is SWNYC’S culpability regarding the sign appearing at the SlutWalk. It has been said nearly 4,000 people attended SWNYC and, out of all of them, one lone Woman of Color was forced to be the voice of reason and ask that the sign be taken down. In a sea of four thousand people, not one non-Person of Color thought, “hey, i don’t think that’s right” and took action to make it right (by asking the protester to put away her offensive sign).
My issue is that, if, in a sea of 4,000 people, no one is willing to speak up about such a glaringly obvious slur such as “nigger” (when SlutWalk was designed around a slur, “slut”) would they speak up about anything else that could happen to a Black woman in such a large crowd? That sign, the protesters who safely carried it around, the silent and happy white faces around her in the photos, and the words I’ve seen come from SWNYC organizers as a result of the sign tell me one thing, very clearly: SWNYC (and, in connection, SlutWalk itself) is not a safe space for Black Women of Color.
This brings me to Suzy and Kimberlynn. Suzy, who has denied the veracity of quotes of her words on tumblr, said: “I don’t need to make any more fickle internet friends. I have a whole bunch of rad people in my life, from all walks of life, who have my back, and I have theirs. But you wouldn’t know shit about it, internet folks. Now allow me while I go and enjoy my life with the people I trust. For real. You enjoy making enemies on the web. Have a nice life.” (link) This, erasing those Women of Color who do not have the luxury of going outside, leaving jobs to protest, or even feeling safe enough to “enjoy” their lives, came after she stood up and made herself the face of SWNYC by saying: “I repeat Y’all don’t know shit” (link) Suzy then decided to tell us that there was no way 50 people could supervise 3,000 and I wrote this in response to her.
Then there is Kimberlynn, who penned an apology laden with so many excuses and justifications that I could not find the “We apologize” if it would have saved my life. In this apology, she says: “This person made a grave mistake and I, along with all the other individuals in our organizing, am deeply hurt and enraged by her mistake. We are sorry that it happened. Yes, it stung. Yes, it’s triggering and disappointing and upsetting. But it is also an opportunity to show her, as well as other people who may be in a position to commit the same mistake one day, that this is simply unacceptable.” (link)
After having Suzy tell everyone who would listen to stop talking, stop complaining, and stop “making enemies”, we are treated to Kimberlynn telling us, “We know it’s disappointing, BUT…” I bolded everything before the word but to illustrate exactly what was negated by the word “But.” Simply put, and there is a consensus on this, the “apology” wasn’t an apology, it was another way to shut Black Women of Color down in voicing their ire.
If you really wanted to apologize, it would have been something in the vein of, “We’re truly sorry this happened at our walk and we promise that from now on, we will do everything in our power to make sure SWNYC activities are safe for Black Women.” There was no need for a page and a half of rhetoric and excuses. There was no need for Suzy to try and shut us down because we “don’t know shit.” There was no need for the arguments. There was no need for your facebook moderator to try and shut down all commenting on your page. It seems everywhere Black Women turn with SWNYC, we are blocked. We cannot blog, because Suzy will come after us. We cannot comment because your moderator will delete comments or close the page from any and all comments. We cannot even feel safe, because Kimberlynn wants us to know “no space is truly safe.”
In all of that, I ask you, how do you then tell us SWNYC even wants us there? It is obvious from the examples I’ve given that you do not care about our safety or about checking your privilege. It is obvious that your notion of freedom only includes non-black women and non-black WoC. I myself have wondered many times, in New York, New York, with the many Black Female activists who are there, how you organized a 4,000 attendee rally and not a single speaker was a black woman. Many WoC (both Black and non-) have said SWNYC is not a place for WoC (because: the word “slut” isn’t one we often hear in reference to us, the significance of the oversexualization of WoC in American/Western culture, and because of the reaction from SWNYC leadership to the sign and the reaction to the sign from WoC). But for me personally, my largest issue with SWNYC is your reaction to the backlash from this sign.
No, 50 people could not supervise 4,000 attendees, but it was your responsibility to provide adequate supervision/personnel to keep everyone safe. No, there is no “truly safe space” in this life, but this isn’t about life, it’s about SWNYC and it was your responsibility to make THAT a truly safe space.You made it truly safe for every other person who attended - has there been backlash about any other activity, sign, interaction, or sub-event at SWNYC? not a substantial one, if one at all. So why, when thinking about how to make it safe for everyone, could you not have provided a safe space for Black Women as well? Lastly, instead of blaming us, shutting us down, erasing us, yelling at us, belittling us, and having non-black PoC speak for us, why couldn’t you have just said, “This was REALLY fucked up and WE APOLOGIZE that it happened at our rally”?
I do not support SWNYC. I will not support SWNYC. I will not ever feel safe enough to do so - and I can imagine many black women feel exactly the same way.
Please feel free to share this at your meeting.
Peech E. Keen