(The French version can be found here)
“What kind of society have we created for ourselves?”
Stella Gibson, Tambourine Army
Since 2012, we have been working to make our homes and communities in Montreal safer, more accountable, and more love-filled for Black women and our children. Being consistently asked to witness and share platforms and stages with known Black men who rape and harm our sisters, has compelled us to issue this statement. Sadly, even in Black activist and intellectual communities, sexual assault remains the issue that folks are unwilling to challenge.
We are a collective of survivors, led by Black women and supported by the beloved work of transformative justice practitioners in our wider community. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, god-mothers, other mothers, aunties, birth practitioners, community workers, and scholars. We stand on the shoulders of our Black feminist foremothers and sister-ancestors who have shown us how to do the work that we do in our communities. We honor those in death with our lives and our work in the present.
Importantly, we closely study the work of Black women—such as Marie Vieux, Barbara Smith, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Beth Richie, Nefertari Bélizaire, Stella Gibson—who have worked to develop an intersectional analysis of gendered violence and state violence. We depend on this canon of work as a way of knowing in the world, as our embodied Black feminist epistemology. Undergirded by this collection of work by Black feminist thinkers, we build upon Black feminist histories and theories that are instructive for those of us who work close to the ground.
Yet, we are clear about the shortcomings of Black feminism in North America historically in failing to develop an analysis of the histories of gendered violence that have infiltrated our Black radical traditions for the last 50 years. Black radical cultural and intellectual traditions are inherently spaces where Black freedom is both imagined and theorized, and we acknowledge our intellectual and spiritual kinship with these traditions. Yet, as radical Black feminists, we also note the glaring, normative historic silences pertaining to our lives, bodies, and spirits within these traditions. We note the ongoing violence against us within these traditions. As such, the Third Eye Collective pays particular attention in our activism and work to the histories of complicity within our formal and informal learning spaces in sustaining violence against Black women. With this activist spirit, we offer the following statement as a manifesto of naming, truth-telling, and change-making so that our work as Black intellectuals and activists can proceed unimpeded by the trauma of violence that continues to plague us whenever we step into a classroom, lecture hall, conference space, or reading group and encounter Black men, unchecked, who have harmed us.
Simply, we have had enough.
With this statement, we also offer a testament to the ways that those among us who often claim space within the most valued or most radical sites of Black intellectual genius—as Black feminist thinkers, queer theorists, prison abolitionists, race-radical cultural critics, critical geographers, critical race theorists, and literary scholars—facilitate and maintain the most baffling, painful harms against Black women by erasing the relevancy of gendered violence within our Black intellectual work and by also demanding the privatization of our violence within these sites. One of the clearest characteristics of Black radical intellectual and cultural work over the last 50 years, has been the steely pattern of elevating the minds, bodies, and leadership of Black male thinkers who have knowingly abused Black women in our communities. We have no desire to cast out or shun these men and others who harm among us. Rather, we demand new descriptors, new conditions for the relevancy of our Black intellectual work. What would happen if we re-center the theme of gendered violence within Black radical traditions such that these histories acknowledge violence against Black women as a coherent, fundamental syntax within its intellectual and organizing politic?
We demand that community accountability principles be valued and theorized as important Black cultural and intellectual work. As practitioners of transformative justice (TJ), our spiritual bedrock is the understanding that the personal and political have always bled together for Black bodies. The fundamental principles of transformative community accountability depend on 1) knowledge of violence and 2) a refusal to perpetuate or amplify power held by one who has harmed. These principles are common, already, within our abolition work: Without accountability principles guiding our work, there can be no abolition. How can we imagine a world without prisons, if we have no accountability mechanisms in place at the smallest scale–closest to home– for those who harm us? Being invested in TJ means that through collective action, healing, and accountability, we are learning how to organize an end to sexual violence and rape culture within our families and communities without over-relying on cops, courts, prisons, and professionalized social services. Central to this process, also, is an ongoing commitment to transform the social conditions that perpetuate violence.
In our learning spaces such as the classroom, conferences, or reading groups, practicing a transformative justice model means acknowledging the ways that brilliant Black thinkers who harm are continually credited for their intellectual work. Specifically, a TJ model acknowledges the ways that conference and keynote invitations further create violence against Black women by amplifying the academic and/or intellectual status obtained in these spaces by Black intellectuals who have assaulted and raped Black women, yet refuse accountability. In our work, we have witnessed this unaccountable power of Black male intellectual charisma be used to mentor younger Black men who also rape and abuse Black women. On the one hand, we witness the normative silence of gendered violence, forcefully detached from our Black intellectual work, get passed on between Black men, women, and gender non-conforming people. On the other hand, we witness Black intellectuals who do harm and refuse accountability, then nurture Black worlds of other Black men who also refuse accountability for their wrongdoing. We have also witnessed this dynamic of refusal and violence pass between straight and cis people, and queer and gender non-conforming people within our communities. Hence, this dynamic is constituted within multiple circles with the same lack of proper response. To borrow from the words of Stella Gibson of the Tambourine Army, “What kind of society are we creating and re-creating for ourselves?”
We insist that Black radical work must stop pushing violence against Black women to the private sphere—as a matter to be handled behind closed doors—because it may “damage the community” or impede Black intellectual work that is constantly under attack by the constraints of white supremacy. We refuse to accept this legacy of analysis. One of the great lessons gathered from the early writings of Black feminist writers, such as Angela Davis, who theorized the connection between gendered violence and state violence, is the irrelevance of theorizing a white supremacy without centering the bodies of Black women as primary. A theory of white supremacy that refuses to center the impact of intraracial gendered violence—regardless of a rigorous precursory analysis that illuminates the connection between slavery/the destruction of the Black family/and mass incarceration— perpetuates violence against Black women.
Continuing this analytic—this form of Black male protectionism—we insist, is deadening. It also must be named as the work of white supremacy, which is always already gendered even as it obscures the ways in which it is constitutive of gendered violence and gender constructions themselves. At its foundation, white supremacy validates racial supremacy at the expense of gendered violence’s visibility. Within Black communities—and within our Black radical traditions—a longstanding “race/community first” discourse reactive to white supremacy has also done its job to decentralize an intracultural, gender-critical analysis within our own Black intellectual work. It has blinded us from developing an embodied intersectionality—one that confronts ongoing Black liberation work within formal and informal learning spaces, as itself a space of violence and trauma for Black women. We demand to know what our freedom looks like within these spaces. As Toni Morrison first brilliantly stated in 1975 (and has continually reminded us since), the function of white supremacy is distraction. Simply, its aim is to nurture a Black politic that is merely reactive, rather than concerned with the work of Black liberation for all of us. We will no longer be distracted in our work of imagining Black freedoms beyond what has been imagined, theorized, or legitimated in the past. Naming gendered violence at the hands of those who harm us and centering accountability principles within our intellectual and organizing work, together, is good for our communities.
We know that rape culture is entrenched within our spaces of Black excellence. Community organizing, as well as academia, have their own structures of power that are exerted against Black women. Within our community organizations and academic spaces, Black women have been forced to compartmentalize their trauma or avoid these spaces in order to avoid the person who has harmed them or the peers who have defended the aggressor. We know that principles of accountability and transformative justice are necessary in our organizing and intellectual spaces. Making accountability integral to our organizing and intellectual work is directly related to how we imagine what our transformed communities could look like and feel like.
We are inspired by the student activism of Simamkele Dlakavu, the Tambourine Army, the Intersectional Black Panther project, and Charlene Carruthers’ leadership at BYP 100. Learning from Black women who teach us to speak when it hurts and because it hurts, continues to be our starting point. Mapping Black women’s histories of resistance and survival, and visualizing our path towards our freedom from gendered violence within our communities, is what brings us clarity.
We demand that Black women be believed when we open our mouths and tell our stories of violence and rape at home and within our communities. We want these stories to matter everywhere–in our community organizations, intellectual spaces, work places, broader community spaces, as well as our intimate spheres. We demand that our stories centrally matter wherever Black liberation work is being theorized and created. We demand that transformative justice be practiced in our Black organizing and intellectual spaces and theorized as Black freedom work. When we harm one another, we must not be allowed to use intellectual spaces as a space to retreat from accountability. As activist scholars, we will no longer allow violence and rape to be pushed away to the private sphere.
This call for transformative change in Black organizing and intellectual communities is supported by:
Julie Édeline Gallant
Karine Myrgianie Jean-François
Nene Myriam Konaté
Hawa Y. Mire
Jodie Ann Muckler
To add your name to our statement, please click here.
With love and solidarity,
The Third Eye Collective