[sixties-l] Angela Davis -The Color of Violence Against Women

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 09/17/00

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    The Color of Violence Against Women
    by Angela Davis
    Colorlines, Fall 2000
    Angela Davis gave the keynote address and spoke with participants at the 
    Color of Violence Conference in Santa Cruz.
    I feel extremely honored to have been invited to deliver this keynote 
    address. This conference deserves to be called "historic" on many accounts. 
    It is the first of its kind, and this is precisely the right intellectual 
    season for such a gathering. The breadth and complexity of its concerns 
    show the contradictions and possibilities of this historical moment. And 
    just such a gathering can help us to imagine ways of attending to the 
    ubiquitous violence in the lives of women of color that also radically 
    subvert the institutions and discourses within which we are compelled by 
    necessity to think and work.
    I predict that this conference will be remembered as a milestone for 
    feminist scholars and activists, marking a new moment in the history of 
    anti-violence scholarship and organizing.
    Many years ago when I was a student in San Diego, I was driving down the 
    freeway with a friend when we encountered a black woman wandering along the 
    shoulder. Her story was extremely disturbing. Despite her uncontrollable 
    weeping, we were able to surmise that she had been raped and dumped along 
    the side of the road. After a while, she was able to wave down a police 
    car, thinking that they would help her.  However, when the white policeman 
    picked her up, he did not comfort her, but rather seized upon the 
    opportunity to rape her once more.
    I relate this story not for its sensational value, but for its metaphorical 
    Given the racist and patriarchal patterns of the state, it is difficult to 
    envision the state as the holder of solutions to the problem of violence 
    against women of color. However, as the anti-violence movement has been 
    institutionalized and professionalized, the state plays an increasingly 
    dominant role in how we conceptualize and create strategies to minimize 
    violence against women. One of the major tasks of this conference, and of 
    the anti-violence movement as a whole, is to address this contradiction, 
    especially as it presents itself to poor communities of color.
               The Advent of "Domestic Violence"
    Violence is one of those words that is a powerful ideological conductor, 
    one whose meaning constantly mutates. Before we do anything else, we need 
    to pay tribute to the activists and scholars whose ideological critiques 
    made it possible to apply the category of domestic violence to those 
    concealed layers of aggression systematically directed at women. These acts 
    were for so long relegated to secrecy or, worse, considered normal.
    Many of us now take for granted that misogynist violence is a legitimate 
    political issue, but let us remember that a little more than two decades 
    ago, most people considered "domestic violence" to be a private concern and 
    thus not a proper subject of public discourse or political intervention. 
    Only one generation separates us from that era of silence. The first 
    speak-out against rape occurred in the early 1970s, and the first national 
    organization against domestic violence was founded toward the end of that 
    We have since come to recognize the epidemic proportions of violence within 
    intimate relationships and the pervasiveness of date and acquaintance rape, 
    as well as violence within and against same-sex intimacy. But we must also 
    learn how to oppose the racist fixation on people of color as the primary 
    perpetrators of violence, including domestic and sexual violence, and at 
    the same time to fiercely challenge the real violence that men of color 
    inflict on women. These are precisely the men who are already reviled as 
    the major purveyors of violence in our society: the gang members, the 
    drug-dealers, the drive-by shooters, the burglars, and assailants. In 
    short, the criminal is figured as a black or Latino man who must be locked 
    into prison.
    One of the major questions facing this conference is how to develop an 
    analysis that furthers neither the conservative project of sequestering 
    millions of men of color in accordance with the contemporary dictates of 
    globalized capital and its prison industrial complex, nor the equally 
    conservative project of abandoning poor women of color to a continuum of 
    violence that extends from the sweatshops through the prisons, to shelters, 
    and into bedrooms at home.
    How do we develop analyses and organizing strategies against violence 
    against women that acknowledge the race of gender and the gender of race?
               Women of Color on the Frontlines
    Women of color have been active in the anti-violence movement since its 
    beginnings.  The first national organization addressing domestic violence 
    was founded in 1978 when the United States Civil Rights Commission 
    Consultation on Battered Women led to the founding of the National 
    Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 1980, the Washington, D.C. Rape 
    Crisis Center sponsored the First National Conference on Third World Women 
    and Violence. The following year a Women of Color Task Force was created 
    within the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  To make some 
    historical connections, it is significant that the U.S. Third World Women's 
    Caucus formed that same year within the National Women Studies Association, 
    and the groundbreaking book This Bridge Called My Back was first published.
    Many of these activists have helped to develop a more complex understanding 
    about the overlapping, cross-cutting, and often contradictory relationships 
    among race, class, gender, and sexuality that militate against a simplistic 
    theory of privatized violence in women's lives. Clearly, the powerful 
    slogan first initiated by the feminist movement"the personal is 
    political"is far more complicated than it initially appeared to be.
    The early feminist argument that violence against women is not inherently a 
    private matter, but has been privatized by the sexist structures of the 
    state, the economy, and the family has had a powerful impact on public 
    Yet, the effort to incorporate an analysis that does not reify gender has 
    not been so successful. The argument that sexual and domestic violence is 
    the structural foundation of male dominance sometimes leads to a 
    hierarchical notion that genital mutilation in Africa and sati, or 
    wife-burning, in India are the most dreadful and extreme forms of the same 
    violence against women which can be discovered in less appalling 
    manifestations in Western cultures.
    Other analyses emphasize a greater incidence of misogynist violence in poor 
    communities and communities of color, without necessarily acknowledging the 
    greater extent of police surveillance in these communities, directly and 
    through social service agencies. In other words, precisely because the 
    primary strategies for addressing violence against women rely on the state 
    and on constructing gendered assaults on women as "crimes," the 
    criminalization process further bolsters the racism of the courts and 
    prisons. Those institutions, in turn, further contribute to violence 
    against women.
    On the one hand, we should applaud the courageous efforts of the many 
    activists who are responsible for a new popular consciousness of violence 
    against women, for a range of legal remedies, and for a network of 
    shelters, crisis centers, and other sites where survivors are able to find 
    support. But on the other hand, uncritical reliance on the government has 
    resulted in serious problems. I suggest that we focus our thinking on this 
    contradiction: Can a state that is thoroughly infused with racism, male 
    dominance, class-bias, and homophobia and that constructs itself in and 
    through violence act to minimize violence in the lives of women?  Should we 
    rely on the state as the answer to the problem of violence against women?
    The soon-to-be-released video by Nicole Cusino (assisted by Ruth Gilmore) 
    on California prison expansion and its economic impact on rural and urban 
    communities includes a poignant scene in which Vanessa Gomez describes how 
    the deployment of police and court anti-violence strategies put her husband 
    away under the Three Strikes law. She describes a verbal altercation 
    between herself and her husband, who was angry with her for not cutting up 
    liver for their dog's meal, since, she said, it was her turn to cut the liver.
    According to her account, she insisted that she would prepare the dog's 
    food, but he said no, he was already doing it. She says that she grabbed 
    him and, in trying to take the knife away from him, seriously cut her 
    fingers. In the hospital, the incident was reported to the police.  Despite 
    the fact that Ms. Gomez contested the prosecutor's version of the events, 
    her husband was convicted of assault. Because of two previous convictions 
    as a juvenile, he received a sentence under California's Three Strikes law 
    of 25 years to life, which he is currently serving.
    I relate this incident because it so plainly shows the facility with which 
    the state can assimilate our opposition to gender domination into projects 
    of racial, which also means gender domination.
               Militarized Violence
    Gina Dent has observed that one of the most important accomplishments of 
    this conference is to foreground Native American women within the category 
    "women of color." As Kimberle Crenshaw's germinal study on violence against 
    women suggests, the situation of Native American women shows that we must 
    also include within our analytical framework the persisting colonial 
    domination of indigenous nations and national formations within and outside 
    the presumed territorial boundaries of the U.S. The U.S. colonial state's 
    racist, sexist, and homophobic brutality in dealing with Native Americans 
    once again shows the futility of relying upon the juridical or legislative 
    processes of the state to resolve these problems.
    How then can one expect the state to solve the problem of violence against 
    women, when it constantly recapitulates its own history of colonialism, 
    racism, and war? How can we ask the state to intervene when, in fact, its 
    armed forces have always practiced rape and battery against "enemy" women? 
    In fact, sexual and intimate violence against women has been a central 
    military tactic of war and domination.
    Yet the approach of the neoliberal state is to incorporate women into these 
    agencies of violence, to integrate the armed forces and the police.
    How do we deal with the police killing of Amadou Diallo, whose wallet was 
    putatively misapprehended as a gun, or Tanya Haggerty in Chicago, whose 
    cell phone was the potential weapon that allowed police to justify her 
    killing?  By hiring more women as police officers? Does the argument that 
    women are victimized by violence render them inefficient agents of 
    violence? Does giving women greater access to official violence help to 
    minimize informal violence? Even if this were the case, would we want to 
    embrace this as a solution? Are women essentially immune from the forms of 
    adaptation to violence that are so foundational to police and military 
    Carol Burke, a civilian teaching in the U.S.  Naval Academy, argues that 
    "sadomasochistic cadence calls have increased since women entered the 
    brigade of midshipmen in 1976." She quotes military songs that are so 
    cruelly pornographic that I would feel uncomfortable quoting them in 
    public, but let me give one comparatively less offensive example:
    The ugliest girl I ever did see Was beatin' her face against a tree I 
    picked her up; I punched her twice.  She said, "Oh Middy, you're much too nice.
    If we concede that something about the training structures and the 
    operations they are expected to carry out makes the men (and perhaps also 
    women) in these institutions more likely to engage in violence within their 
    intimate relationships, why then is it so difficult to develop an analysis 
    of violence against women that takes the violence of the state into account?
    The major strategy relied on by the women's anti-violence movement of 
    criminalizing violence against women will not put an end to violence 
    against women, just as imprisonment has not put an end to "crime" in general.
    I should say that this is one of the most vexing issues confronting 
    feminists today. On the one hand, it is necessary to create legal remedies 
    for women who are survivors of violence. But on the other hand, when the 
    remedies rely on punishment within institutions that further promote 
    violence against women and men, how do we work with this contradiction?
    How do we avoid the assumption that previously "private" modes of violence 
    can only be rendered public within the context of the state's apparatus of 
    The Crime Bill
    It is significant that the 1994 Violence Against Women Act was passed by 
    Congress as Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act 
    of 1994--the Crime Bill. This bill attempted to address violence against 
    women within domestic contexts, but at the same time it facilitated the 
    incarceration of more women through Three Strikes and other provisions. The 
    growth of police forces provided for by the Crime Bill will certainly 
    increase the numbers of people subject to the brutality of police violence.
    Prisons are violent institutions. Like the military, they render women 
    vulnerable in an even more systematic way to the forms of violence they may 
    have experienced in their homes and in their communities. Women's prison 
    experiences point to a continuum of violence at the intersection of racism, 
    patriarchy, and state power.
    A Human Rights Watch report entitled "All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of 
    Women in U.S.  Prisons" says: "Our findings indicate that being a woman 
    prisoner in U.S. state prisons can be a terrifying experience. If you are 
    sexually abused, you cannot escape from your abuser.  Grievance or 
    investigatory procedures, where they exist, are often ineffectual, and 
    correctional employees continue to engage in abuse because they believe 
    they will rarely be held accountable, administratively or criminally. Few 
    people outside the prison walls know what is going on or care if they do 
    know. Fewer still do anything to address the problem."
    Recently, 31 women filed a class action law suit against the Michigan 
    Department of Corrections, charging that the department failed to prevent 
    sexual violence and abuse by guards and civilian staff. These women have 
    been subjected to serious retaliations, including being raped again!
    At Valley State Prison in California, the chief medical officer told Ted 
    Koppel on national television that he and his staff routinely subjected 
    women to pelvic examinations, even if they just had colds. He explained 
    that these women have been imprisoned for a long time and have no male 
    contact, and so they actually enjoy these pelvic examinations. Koppel sent 
    the tape of this interview to the prison and he was eventually dismissed. 
    According to the Department of Corrections, he will never be allowed to 
    have contact with patients again. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. 
    The fact that he felt able to say this on national television gives you a 
    sense of the horrendous conditions in women's prisons.
    There are no easy solutions to all the issues I have raised and that so 
    many of you are working on. But what is clear is that we need to come 
    together to work toward a far more nuanced framework and strategy than the 
    anti-violence movement has ever yet been able to elaborate.
    We want to continue to contest the neglect of domestic violence against 
    women, the tendency to dismiss it as a private matter. We need to develop 
    an approach that relies on political mobilization rather than legal 
    remedies or social service delivery. We need to fight for temporary and 
    long-term solutions to violence and simultaneously think about and link 
    global capitalism, global colonialism, racism, and patriarchy, all the 
    forces that shape violence against women of color. Can we, for example, 
    link a strong demand for remedies for women of color who are targets of 
    rape and domestic violence with a strategy that calls for the abolition of 
    the prison system?
    I conclude by asking you to support the new organization initiated by 
    Andrea Smith, the organizer of this conference. Such an organization 
    contesting violence against women of color is especially needed to connect, 
    advance, and organize our analytic and organizing efforts. Hopefully this 
    organization will act as a catalyst to keep us thinking and moving together 
    in the future.

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