Celebrating the Extraordinary Who Are Relegated to Ordinary: A Tribute to Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson
May 12, 2013
Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ Mother’s Day Tribute to the Phenomenal Legacies of her two Nanas for The Feminist Wire
Too often, we do not celebrate the extraordinary individuals who, because of their race, gender, and/or socio-economic standing, lived what appeared to be ordinary lives. This year, I am paying homage to my paternal and maternal grandmothers’ lives and legacies. I proudly stand upon the shoulders of my Nanas—Mrs. Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Mrs. Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson—whose lives were remarkable.
My grandmothers grew up in abject poverty in Rock Hill, South Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Nana Chapman was the third of four children born to Jack White, Sr., and Maggie Pagan White. When she left school in the fourth grade to financially support her family by working as a domestic cleaning white people’s homes, she was forced to abandon her dream of becoming a nurse. Alone with limited financial means as a domestic laborer in the 1930s, she moved from South Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when she was 12 years old. Nana Watson’s formative years were also quite challenging. She was the 9th child of 10 children born to Mattie Garrett Cranford and Henderson Cranford. She was orphaned early, losing both of her parents as a very young child. Both her paternal grandmother Mrs. Francis Macklin, and paternal aunt, Mrs. Florence Cranford, raised her and her siblings. Nana Watson was an excellent student who completed the 11th grade during the Great Depression. Never overzealous with their Christian faith, Nanas Chapman and Watson were active and engaged members in their churches—Jones Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church and Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church, respectively. Neither woman subscribed to the belief in a vengeful God who would bring His wrath upon those who didn’t follow (human interpretations of) His will. Nana Chapman always taught and believed that “good deeds are their own rewards.”
During World War II, Nana Chapman worked at the Budd Automotive Company, then subsequently began working at Sichek Clothing factory in Philadelphia, where she quickly rose to floor manager. Throughout her tenure at Sichek, she was an active union member and a shop steward.
During that same period, Nana Watson became a pioneer by breaking the virulently racist Jim Crow color line by becoming the first African-American woman to write laundry tickets for Memphis Steam Laundry and Cleaners. Prior to her, no African-American women worked in this position because it required collecting money from and interacting with white customers during a time when racial segregation was strictly enforced. This type of work was reserved for white women. African Americans, nevertheless, endured and resisted this U.S.-sanctioned domestic terrorism.
Nana Watson valiantly persevered despite the racism that I can barely imagine, much less stomach, that she endured from most of the white women customers who didn’t want to accept laundry tickets from a “Colored Woman.” While it was not her intention, she was a trailblazer who broke ground in this field and paved the way for those African-American women who followed her.
With the first African-American President of the United States in his second term, many will probably not view Nana Watson pioneering job as an extraordinary act. However, one need only talk to the surviving elders from her generation and earlier to learn first hand about the horrid impact of the brutal, state and locally inhumane, racist and sexist Jim Crow laws. These were the laws of the Confederate states from 1876 to 1965. Some of the many seminal award-winning works that document a plethora of historical accounts of the era include: Tera Hunter’s To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War, Paula Giddings Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching, Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, Danielle Maguire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years: 1954-1963, the Hands on the Freedom Plow:Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC anthology; Blackside’s PBS television series Eyes on the Prize, and Duke University’s Beyond the Veil: African-American Life in the Jim Crow South. These are a few thoroughly documented references that underscore what Nana and all African-Americans experienced daily during Jim Crow reign. Being the first African American in any type of employment that was his/herstorically reserved for white women and men was no small feat.
And yet, there was no fanfare for the pioneering work of Nana Watson and Nana Chapman primarily because we live in a classist society and the work of laborers, most especially Black women laborers is not valued or respected. They, like so many African-American women of their generation, were unsung and very quiet extraordinary sheroes.
Challenging the racial and gender stereotypes of the 1950s and 60s, Nana Chapman demanded that all strata of society respect her and her family. She was committed to supporting African-American health care professionals, attorneys and other business people throughout her life. She was particularly proud that her two sons’ first doctor was an African-American woman.
In 1962, Nana Chapman was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and was given five years to live. She wasn’t daunted by the prognosis. With her faith in God, along with the unlimited emotional, psychic, and financial support of her second husband, Willie L. Chapman, my grandfather, Nana outlived this diagnosis by 39-years. Over a 30-year span, the illness caused her to be hospitalized on average of every 18-months. She was exposed to an inordinate amount of radiation, which made her bones too brittle to be exposed to extended sunlight; and she was often in excruciating pain. In spite of these major impediments, Nana insisted on and lived a normal life.
In the 1970s, Nana Watson and her second husband, Reverend Granville Watson, established their own cleaning business, which provided quality janitorial services for Hobson-Kerns Realty for many years. After her divorce, Nana continued providing cleaning services for this and other companies for decades until her retirement at the age of 80.
Both Nanas Chapman and Watson were hard workers who held life long desires and quests for knowledge. They were avid readers with homes filled with books, magazines, and newspapers. Neither woman defined herself in terms of education or paid work. Rather, each saw her quality of life determined by what kind of sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend she was to those she loved.
Long before I had ever heard of and encountered my teacher, mentor, and big sister friend Toni Cade Bambara, Nana Chapman was my teacher and mentor. Until I was 21-years in this journey called life, there was hardly anything that I could not share with her. With the exception of one big secret, I talked to her about almost everything –religion and spirituality, reproductive freedom, politics, my queer sexuality, education, and friendships with my peers. Her home was my second home. During my turbulent pre-teen and teenage years, Nana and I would talk on the phone almost daily for hours at a time. She was my “Nana Banana” and I was her “Apple Pie.” I never felt like she didn’t have time for my issues, concerns, thoughts, ideas, and/or fears. For many years she was literally my emotional and psychic lifeline. She never used the words “Black feminist” to describe herself, but she played a major role in teaching me Black feminist principles. She always made it explicitly clear that there were no limits to any goals that a woman sought to achieve. She would always tell me, “There’s no such thing as ‘can’t,’ Pie.” These conversations played a pivotal role on my current quest to write about and document the struggles of African-American women and other women of color. With a fourth grade education and a PhD. in life experience, she was my intellectual adviser, my trusted confidante, sought after consultant, and my friend.
I will not be a revisionist and say that Nana Watson and I were extremely close because we were not. There was deep love and affection shared between us. However, very unfortunately, with the exception of one-year when she came to live with my mother (Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons) and I during my adolescence, we never lived geographically close to each other. Over the years our relationship was really relegated to phone calls and brief visits over holidays or during birthdays. And yet, she always traveled to Philadelphia to attend major milestone events in the lives of her daughter and granddaughter. While she didn’t think that rape was something to be discussed in public or even private, Nana made several financial contributions, which supported the making of my film NO! The Rape Documentary.
Nana had a will power that would not be denied. When she set her mind on something, there really wasn’t anything that you could do to change it. Even if she changed her mind, it was not because someone forced her to do so. As her health declined over the years, she was not aware that she could no longer fully take care of herself. In her mind’s eye, she was still the same Mrs. Juanita Watson she had always been, just slightly older. I write this because it is difficult to come to grips with the fact that someone who has taken care of you is in need of care. It is often hard to face the sobering aging process. Additionally, it is very challenging to do this work when our aging loved ones don’t believe they are in need of care.
Both of my grandmothers died in the Chinese Astrology year of the snake in 2001 and 2013, respectively. I am moved that they died within a 12-year cycle. I don’t know what the timing all means. I know that being with both of them in their deaths transformed me as much as knowing them when they were physically alive.
I was alone with Nana Chapman during the last three days of her life in 2001. She beat cancer, but not Alzheimer’s disease. I rubbed her body, combed her hair, played African-American spirituals and gospel music in rotation, and called upon her ancestors to welcome her. She wasn’t conscious, and yet, she was present. Recognizing that the end of her human form was imminent, I found my voice to share with her the one secret that I kept from her for over 20 years because of spoken loyalty to my parents and unspoken loyalty to my grandfather. I was molested over a period of two years. I don’t know what she absorbed, if anything, during my highly emotional disclosure. What I know is that a shift happened within me, and my incest burden was slightly lighter. I wasn’t with her when she transitioned from this realm to the next. I left five hours before her last breath. At that time, I didn’t have a full understanding of the process of dying nor did I have a grasp that she was departing. I told myself that I would return to the hospital the next day. Knowing what I know now, I firmly believe that I was afraid to witness her death. I knew she transitioned somewhere between 4:00am – 5:00am on December 22, 2001 because I was awakened by an unexplained loving presence in my bedroom. I knew it was her presence. She was no longer here in the physical form. When I received the call several hours later, I said to my dad (Michael Simmons), “I know. Nana has passed on.”
Now here I am;
and there I am;
and all I am;
Free to be anywhere at all in the Universe.
The experience of being so close and yet, missing her transition sent me on a spiritual quest, which ultimately led me to my practice of vipassana meditation –an invaluable and non-negotiable anchor on my life’s journey.
Only one month ago, I arrived in Memphis during the last 26-hours of Nana Watson’s life. During those sacred hours, I came face to face with the fact that I missed so much with my maternal grandmother. Simultaneously, I also realized that it was not a time for guilt, but a time to support and witness the final stages of her transition into the next realm. I was by her side in deep prayer in her religious (Christian) tradition and in deep meditation in my spiritual tradition. Unlike in 2001 when I was with Nana Chapman, I came prepared to be completely present during Nana Watson’s transition. She was no longer conscious, but I felt her presence. I rubbed and massaged her body and called upon her ancestors to welcome her into the next realm. I shared and reflected upon many things that I’m not comfortable sharing in this article. I practiced Mett? meditation. I played what was perhaps a continuous stream of African-American spirituals and gospel. She made her transition at 4:00AM on April 6, 2013. The song that was playing around the time of her transition was Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Come by Here”— arranged by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. I sat and stood prayerfully and meditatively in silence with Nana Watson’s body while being acutely aware of the universal law of impermanence.
And again, I hear Toni Cade Bambara’s words:
Now here I am;
and there I am;
and all I am;
Free to be anywhere at all in the Universe.
About 45-minutes to an hour after her transition, the Hospice nurse, my mother, and I bathed Nana’s body before the undertaker arrived. It was an incredible ritual. During the bathing, I saw an 89-year old version of my own body. I am flesh of her flesh and womb of her womb in this lifetime.
I am grateful that Nana Watson entrusted me with the profound gift to support her crossing over and witness her final hours in the physical form. This gift has left an indelible imprint on me. I am forever changed.
In life and in death, Rebecca White Simmons Chapman and Juanita Cranford Robinson Watson have directly and indirectly impacted my journey called life. I inherited and now walk with their Black feminist warrior legacies
I close with an excerpt of Dr. Delores S. Williams’ timeless words featured in Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles’ edited anthology My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality:
“…Whenever I reflect upon the sources of my spirituality as a Black woman, I think of love, struggle, work, self-sight, justice, and celebration taught to me by so many Black voices, most of them female. For this I continue to be deeply grateful. For this I celebrate the very force of Life itself.”
May Nana Chapman and Nana Watson be peaceful, happy, and fully liberated.
Sadhu. Asé. A(wo)men. Ameen.
 Delores S. Williams’ “Sources of Black Female Spirituality: The Ways of ‘the Old Folks’ and ‘Women Writers,’” in My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality, ed. Gloria Wade-Gayles, p. 191
May 6, 2013
Pain IS Mutable
#Impermanence #AudreLordeWisdom #UniversalTruth
Photo credit: Dagmar Shultz
“…Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it. I always thought I had a very low threshold for physical pain, that I could not take it and that was that. I did not know how to stand still gracefully when I got beaten, which was every day. I passed out in dentists’ offices. And there was always the secret fear of it. Recently, I had a physical experience that was ghastly and terrible—and wonderful because it taught me about pain.
Not long ago I unlocked the old window of my very old Victorian house on Staten Island. Somehow the chain broke and the window fell down immediately and caught my hand. There was no way to pull it out and every one was gone for the weekend. I broke the window and called for help, and it was seven minutes before someone came. I have the scars to remind me. It was crucial, that seven minutes. In it I lived the whole history of pain from start to finish. The genesis of pain, where you put it, how you channel it and how you end it. The choice was immediate: to die, or bear the pain. And what does bearing mean? It means changing or going through. It is not death. It is an experience encapsulated. It could stop. It could be ended. By chewing off my arm, for example. But this was not possible for me. So the pain is transformed. The intensity changes. It has to stop or it has to change. This was a physical knowledge that I had not had before, that pain has a mutability. That is very, very important, and that is just as true about emotional pain: it will change or stop. And the worst thing that can happen is death, but that is a whole different thing to involve yourself in. I felt at that point that there was nothing I could not do, nothing that I could not deal with, because pain will always either change or stop. Always. I have tested this since then, and it is always clear and workable…” ~ 1976 interview with Audre Lorde by Nina Winter featured in “Conversations with Audre Lorde,” (Joan Wylie Hall, editor), p. 16
May 5, 2013
Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Ramesh Kathandhi (Men Stopping Violence) join Spelman College’s Fight to End Sexual Violence on HBCU Campsues
I was honored to receive an invitation from Dr. Beverly Guy Sheftall to return to Spelman College on April 25, 2013 to join their fight to address and end sexual violence on Historically Black College and University campuses (HBCU).
With the news about the recent arrest of four Morehouse College students on sexual assault charges, it is explicitly and undeniable clear that now is the time to continue the very difficult dialogue about eradicating rape and rape culture. Make no mistake, rape and other forms of sexual violence are happening on all college campuses across the country. Tragically, there aren’t many “rape free” spaces. In a culturally specific context, however, the horrible combination of racism and misogyny often results in a deafening silence when Black men rape Black women. This is evident on too many HBCU campuses.
Ramesh Kathandhi and Aishah Shahidah Simmons (photo: Lani Jones)
On the evening of April 25, 2013, we were small in number in Spelman College’s Cosby Auditorium. And yet, we had a powerful post-NO! The Rape Documentary discussion about breaking the silence about sexual violence and ending rape culture on our college campuses, in our families, our communities, and society at large. I was very fortunate to co-facilitate the dialogue with Ramesh Kathandhi, who is the internship coordinator at Men Stopping Violence. Drs. Beverly Daniel Tatum (President of Spelman College), Darnita Killian (Vice President of Student Affairs), and Kimberly Ferguson (Dean of Students) were also in attendance and expressed a commitment to tackle this issue head on with the students.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons (middle) with Drs. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Cynthia Neal Spence, Lani Jones, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Darnita Killian
We will continue and broaden this dialogue at Spelman College in the fall 2013 and in the spring 2014. Stay tuned for details when they become available.
Infinite gratitude to Drs. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Cynthia Neal Spence (Associate Professor of Sociology and Trustee of the Board), and Spelman College’s Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC) for their tireless and relentless work to not allow the vicious rape epidemic go unnoticed, unchecked, and/or unaddressed. Founded in 1981 by Dr. Guy-Sheftall, the WRRC has been long-term supporter of NO! The Rape Documentary from conception (1994) to completion (2006) and distribution (present day).
May 5, 2013
Radical Love, Race, and Feminist Futures
On May 1, 2013, Brooke Elise Axtell with Monica J. Casper, Heather Laine Talley, and Aishah Shahidah Simmons concluded The Feminist Wire’s (TFW) 10-day Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti Racism Within Feminism with their Radical Love, Race, and Feminism article.
…We are called to be fiercely honest, compassionate, and gracious in our discourse. Radical love can hold our rage, our sadness, and our grief over the ways we have failed each other, and may continue to fail each other. Without love, we remain fractured beyond measure.
In closing, we want to offer an opening; that is, our Forum has been as much about forging dialogue as it has been about trying to locate lived experiences. Over the past ten days, this collection of essays, visual art, poetry, creative nonfiction, and love notes has functioned as an invitation to think critically and to act ethically, to recognize our structural locations, and to innovate new ways of living as allies and practicing community.
As part of our commitment to continuing this dialogue about race, racism, and anti-racism within feminisms, we will continue to publish works that engage our deepest concerns as a collective. We invite you to share your insights with us as we explore more of this fertile and volatile terrain…
Painting by Mequitta Ahuja
Radical Love, Race, and Feminist Futures includes links to every single article, love note, poem, interview, and visual artwork that was featured in the Forum. If you missed some of the featured pieces or would like to refer to them in the future, you may do so by clicking here.
TFW’s co-founder and managing editor Tamura A. Lomax said, “[the Forum] was the most diverse critical discourse on this subject/life matter to date.” She continues, “And yes, I’m quite thrilled that it happened at TFW. The issue(s) re: race within (and without) feminism is not black and white, nor is it simply gray. In actuality it’s quite colorful. And if we’ve learned nothing else this past week and a half, we know there’s still lots of work ahead. And, we ALL have work to do.”
The Forum’s lead editor Heidi Renée Lewis, in concert with the team of co-editors (Aimee Meredith Cox, Heather Laine Talley, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Hakima Abbas, Tamura A. Lomax, Monica Casper, Omar Ricks, Shubra Sharma, and Aishah Shahidah Simmons), compassionately and lovingly worked together virtually across multiple time zones in the United States and internationally in Africa and South Asia often while simultaneously on the road, teaching, lecturing, mothering, partnering, conferencing, and dealing with unexpected life altering personal, familial, and professional life crises. Just when many wanted to throw in the towel and forgo the conclusion other than say, “That’s all folks! Take care,” Brooke Elise Axtell, picked up the ball and helped everyone carry it across the finish line.
The power of the compassionate, loving, and selfless TFW Collective can never be denied.
April 24, 2013
Empowering African-American Rape Survivors at Portland State University
The Women’s Resource Center, Women of Color Action Team, and the Multicultural Center at Portland State University hosted a screening and discussion of NO! The Rape Documentary on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Tonya L. Jones, one of the organizers of the event reported that the screening and discussion had a “decent attendance and they received positive reviews on the evaluations.”
On April 18, 2013, The Portland State Vanguard published “Empowering Survivors: Documentary N[O]! Screens at Multicultural Center by Megan Fresh,” an article about the vision for the screening and discussion. Following is an excerpt:
[Tonya L.] Jones’ goal for the program is “that students will walk away reflecting and thinking about how they can be an ally to make all of our communities safer for women of color—for all women period,” she said. “Also, hopefully they walk away respecting the voices and experiences of women of color…
Jones described the intersection of sexual assault and African-American communities, providing the context for the event.
Images of black women are often distorted, and we are made into caricatures,” she said. “Our bodies and our sexuality tend to be degraded in mainstream media. The stereotypes prevent many people from seeing us as full human beings. Because of this, many people don’t take our experiences seriously.
“It affects how people respond to us when we are dealing with sexual assault/violence, in and outside [of] the black community,” Jones said. “Hopefully students will think about this and how important is for all of us to reject and resist negative representations of black womanhood…
You may read the article in its entirety by clicking here: bit.ly/11Dxx3o
April 24, 2013
Sarah-Jane Stratford and Aishah Shahidah Simmons Talk about NO!, Sexual Assault, and Ending Rape Culture for Paradigm Shift New York
April 24, 2013 ~ Feminist journalist Sarah-Jane Stratford recently interviewed feminist documentarian Aishah Shahidah Simmons about her award-winning film NO! The Rape Documentary, rape and other forms of sexual violence; and ending rape culture for Paradigm Shift New York a feminist online community whose motto is “Using the F word. Change NYC. Change the World.”
…Asked what she thinks is at the root of what’s called the current “rape culture,” Ms. Simmons says rape remains a weapon of patriarchy, an attempt to “put women in their place. There is a feeling that the traditional male power structure is slipping away and the immediate response to any perceived uprising is always to squash it. There is also still an idea that it’s acceptable to denigrate women, reducing them to receptacles rather than people, an idea unfortunately perpetuated in the culture and media. The difference between now and a few decades ago is that women are increasingly not silent about the violence perpetuated against them – be it sexual assault or a battering by a partner…
One issue NO! explores that gets very little traction in the wider discussion of rape is that rape is also a weapon of homophobia. “There is an attitude expressed by some men that says, ‘I’m gonna rape her straight,’” says Ms. Simmons. One survivor in the film, Queen, talks about the threat of her assault and how it came from an attitude of “rape isn’t rape if it’s to teach black lesbians a lesson.” This is especially the case if a woman is masculine identified. “When it comes to lesbians,” says Ms. Simmons, “the insistence that she is put in her place is particularly strong. She has to be shown that she is not a man. She is not a peer. She is a woman and thus a receptacle for whatever a man wants from her…
You may read the article in its entirety by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/11k2pEu
Aishah Shahidah Simmons partners with Spelman College in their HBCU Fight to end Sexual Violence against Women
April 24, 2013
Aishah Shahidah Simmons partners with Spelman College’s Women’s Research and Resource Center’s HBCU Fight to end Sexual Violence against Women
On Thursday, April 25, 2013, Aishah Shahidah Simmons will return to Spelman College’s campus to present NO! The Rape Documentary and participate in a conversation with representatives from Men Stopping Violence; and Spelman and Morehouse college students focused on addressing and ending sexual assault and violence against women on college campuses. This event, which will be held at 7:00pm in the Cosby Auditorium on the college’s campus, is a part of a series of events happening on at least 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It is free and open to the public. The screening and discussion is hosted by the Spelman College’s Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC), which was founded by Black feminist scholar and activist Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall in 1981. The WRRC has been long-term supporter of NO! from conception to completion and distribution.
For more information, please click on this link: http://bit.ly/117WTEU
April 22, 2013
The Feminist Wire launches a 10-day Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism
April 22, 2013 marks the first day of The Feminist Wire’s (TFW) 10-day Forum on Race, Racism, an Anti-Racism within Feminism. Over the next eleven days, TFW will publish essays, love notes and art work as part of a continuation of a decades…in actuality, centuries-long painful, difficult, and yet, very necessary dialogue amongst and between feminists of color and white feminists. Please visit TFW daily throughout the duration of this Forum (and beyond); and please spread the word to your networks about the Forum.
Following is an extended excerpt from the Introduction, which was coauthored by TFW Editorial Collective members Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Heather Laine Talley.
Across Liberation, Toward Difference: An Introduction to TFW’s Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism
Perhaps in this twenty-four hour news cycle culture, the horrid sexist and racist sexualization of nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis both at the Academy Awards and in Twittersphere is now old news. And maybe for her sake, it should be.
White feminists’ silence in the face of racism is old news too, but feminism’s troubled relationship with race and racism is something to keep talking about. It was the reaction to Tressie McMillan’s analysis of white feminists’ response to the attacks on Quvenzhané Wallis that ignited our interest in hosting this Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism. To be sure, The Feminist Wire has been engaged in these conversations since our founding, but what McMillan’s piece noted was the yawning vacuum of public response to misogyny directed at a Black girlchild.
Many white feminists jettisoned the opportunity to think about silence as racism. Instead, they cited examples of white women’s response to defend against the critique of white silence. While it is true that some white feminists publicly responded, the very impulse to deny a pattern of silence sidesteps critical feminist and anti-racist work. The legacy of feminism has taught us to ask: in what ways am I oppressed and marginalized? In thinking about race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism, an equally important question is: in what ways do I oppress and marginalize?
We come to this introduction as Collective members, but we have divergent relationships to the very topics we’re exploring in this Forum. We are a Black feminist lesbian and a white, anti-racist, queer feminist who are committed to a vision of feminism that is fundamentally intersectional. We resist the pull to participate in the “oppression olympics” (as coined by Native American feminist scholar-activist Andrea Smith) because we firmly believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.
Given white feminists’ palpable silences in response both to individual acts of racism and to an enduring pattern of white supremacy, our investment in this project is shaped by a specific ethic–we reject the idea that white women can “opt out” of this conversation or instinctively fall back on defensiveness. If our feminism aims for liberation, the discomfort of doing the work cannot function in the service of sid-stepping this difficult dialogue, avoiding self-reflection, or putting either off until later. Later is now.
Here, we want to make TFW’s position abundantly clear: Silence in the face of racism is never justified. In fact, silence in the face of any form of oppression or marginalization is never justified.
And yet, feminist silences are, all too often, racialized. Thus, in the context of talking feminism and race, our relative position to feminism depends upon whether feminism unmodified stands for white women.
…This is an attempt to reexamine race and racism from multiple feminist perspectives. To be sure, this is not a Black-white dialogue. This is not a cisgender dialogue. It is not exclusively academic in nature nor entirely activist in spirit. It is multi-voiced, even as it is not representative. It is a conversation that pre-dates all of us, even as it is a dialogue that is no less important now than in previous iterations of feminism, from the suffragettes exclusion of African-American women to the whiteness of the sex wars, to white feminism’s response to and engagement with transnational feminism.
A theme emerges in this Forum–white folks will be called out. And not just because of white silence to recent events, but also because our time is one that is shaped through and through by white supremacy. White privilege may be diluted by class, geography, ability, sexuality, gender identity. And yet, the structural underpinnings of the institutions that inscribe our lives and everyday patterns of seeing and talking are bound together by a legacy of racism, the overvaluation of white bodies at other humans’ expense, and policies intended to promote thriving for white folks.
…This Forum is certainly not meant to be the definitive statement on race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism. TFW is committed to cultivating an ongoing dialogue, and so even as we start this Forum, we know that this is only the start of a long-term and potentially difficult conversation, part of which we will continue to publish…”
You may read the introduction in its entirety by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/ZD0Z9J
March 25, 2013
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is one of the featured artists in the 2013 Philadelphia Queer Media Activism Series
“What is the relationship between queer media and queer activism? How have queers, trans* folks, feminists, people of color, poor people, and people with disabilities harnessed media production practices in the service of social justice activism? How have local Philadelphia artists, activists, and academics mobilized to create films, video artworks, performances, training workshops, and courses that stretch beyond the local context and into the transnational public sphere? The Queer Media Activism series explores these questions through a multimedia, multidisciplinary, and multi-sited series of events during Spring 2013.” ~ Philadelphia Queer Media Activism Series
Philadelphia Queer Media Activism Series Launches on March 30, 2013. Conceived and organized by Dr. Cathy Hannabach, this diverse interdisciplinary series, which is free and open to the public, will include performance, film screenings, and talks on “Drag Activism,” “Social Justice Media Making” “Marginal Bodies, Queer Migrations,” and “Archives, Affects, and Activism.”
On Monday, April 1, 2013, from 12:00PM – 2:00PM, artists-activists Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Monica Enriquez-Enriquez will screen excerpts of their previously completed work and engage in a conversation about their media work, which uses an intersectional lens to explore race, immigration and migration, sexuality, gender, and gender violence, among other topics. This event will be held at Temple University, 812 Anderson Hall, 1114 W. Pollett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122.
March 25, 2013
PRESENTE Toni Cade Bambara March 25, 1939 – December 9, 1995.
Remembering and Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Black Feminist Writer, Teacher, Organizer, Mother, Filmmaker, Cultural Worker Extraordinaire on the 74th Anniversary of her birth.
(Toni and Aishah Shahidah Simmons in October 1994 at the Hatch-Billops Collection in New York, photo ~ Michael Simmons)
“The task of the artist is determined always by the status and process and agenda of the community that it already serves. If you’re an artist who identifies with, who springs from, who is serviced by or drafted by a bourgeois capitalist class then that’s the kind of writing you do. Then your job is to maintain status quo, to celebrate exploitation or to guise it in some lovely, romantic way. That’s your job. If you’re a writer in Cuba, postrevolutionary Cuba, your job is to celebrate the triumph of the national will. If you’re a writer coming out of Kenya, the postindependent era in Kenya, your job is relaly to critique the failure of class struggle in Kenya and to tell the truth and to try and share a vision of what that society should be like if they’re gonna really liberate themselves.
As a cultural worker who belongs to an oppressed people my job is to make revolution irresistible. One of the ways I attempt to do that is by celebrating those victories within the [B]lack community. And I think the mere fact that we’re still breathing is a cuase for celebration. Also, my job is to critique the reactionary behavior within the community and to keep certain kinds of calls out there: the children, our responsibility of children, our responsibility to maintain some kind of continuity from the past. But I think for any artist your job is determined by the community you’re identifying with.
But in this country (US) we’re not encourage and equipped at any particular time to view things that way. And so the artwork or the art practice that sells a capitalist ideology is considered art and anything that deviates from that is considered political propagandist, polemical or didactic, strange, weird, subversive, or ugly.” ~ Toni Cade Bambara interviewed by Kay Bonetti, 1982