In my last blog (July 6, 2017), I explored how gender equality is a core goal for our work of engaging men and boys in preventing gender based violence. I touched a bit on intersectionality in that blog. In this week’s blog, I focus specifically on the ways racial in-equality is also a root case for gender based violence, and as such, how racial equality is also a core goal for our work to engage men and boys.
For many people, the connection between gender oppression and gender-based violence seems self-evident, whereas the connect between racial oppression and gender-based violence is a bit more unclear — as are the racist dimensions of gender-based violence, and the gendered dimensions of racist violence.
(This is not to say that it is always easy to see the gender-oppression connections to gender-based violence. There are plenty of folks who discount this analysis and work very hard to argue that gender based violence (most notably domestic violence and stalking, but in many ways, rape and sexual harassment as well) is not, in fact, gender-based and that these forms of violence are “gender neutral.”)
In order to perpetrate violence, most people must be able to strip the person they are violating of their humanity. The person they target gets defined as an “other” and as an “other” is defined as deserving of the violence and abuse that is done to them. For forms of bias-based violence, this “othering” is reinforced at multiple layers of the social ecology. In other words, people are systemically stripped of layers of their humanity through public policy, media depictions, community norms and values, organizational culture and dynamics, and family and peer relations.
It is significantly easier, in our own minds and hearts, to strip the humanity away from someone who has already, systemically, been othered.
By the time an individual chooses to perpetrate the violence or abuse, the “othering” has been so effectively normalized that the individual behavior is not seen as necessarily problematic. Or if it is seen as problematic, the “problem” is located with the individual’s behavior, not the environmental forces that support or allow the individual to act in those ways.
As I discussed in my last blog (and again, this framework is the foundation of the efforts of RusFunk Consulting) targeting prevention efforts at this social environment with the goal of creating environments of equity, respect and valuing has a much greater impact towards preventing violence than those strategies focusing on individual behavior change or peer-group initiatives. In addition, at the systemic or structural levels, it seems much easier to identify the intersections of oppression, dominance and violence. And thus the intersections of our solutions.
Racism and racial oppression are also a part of the social environment that encourages and allows men to choose to perpetrate violence and abuse against women, girls, and some men. Like sexism, racism in the US is reinforced and perpetrated across the social ecology. Recognizing the different expressions of racism as they exist, and how they support gender-based violence gives us greater opportunities to prevent violence and dismantle racism.
First, some basic background…
Black and brown women are at greater risk for more kinds of violence and more severe forms of violence than are white women. This is at least in some part due to the fact that black and brown women are at significantly increased risk for inter-racial assaults than are white women. Although the historic myth is that white women (and white womanhood) is at risk from black and brown men. The fact is the vast majority of inter-racial rapes and assaults are perpetrated by white men against black and brown women.
Simultaneously, a lot of other forms of violence (bullying, street violence, gang violence, police violence “random” violence) have both racial/racist and gendered/sexist aspects to them. In general, men are most likely to be victimized in public (or public spaces), be victimized using a gun or a knife, and to experience physical injuries. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be victimized in private (thus less likely to have witnesses), more likely to have no weapons used or have weapons that are more common (and less often defined as a weapon); and the violence tends to be sexualized. Women are often also less likely to experience physical injuries as a result of the violence.
So, for example, there is a lot of deserved attention to the plight of black and brown men at the hands of the police. The police brutality that women (disproportionately black and brown women) experience is rarely in public (fewer witnesses, fewer opportunities to capture the assaults on our phone-cameras), may not be perpetrated with the use of weapons (no injuries, less evidence), and is much more often sexualized (addling a layer of shame and humiliation that makes is that much harder for women to come forward).
As devalued as black (and brown) men’s lives are, black and brown women’s lives are even more devalued. So the violence that is perpetrated against them is less often defined as “violent”, and the resources and supports are less available once they’ve been victimized. (See, for example Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, by Andrea Ritchie, 2017). As a result, more men feel more empowered to perpetrate all forms of gender based violence against black, brown, Asian and native women.
Black and brown men face a significantly higher rate of arrest, prosecution and conviction; and tend to serve longer sentences when convicted than do white men for the same charges (here speaking specifically of rape/sexual assault, domestic violence, and harassment).Â This discrepancy is only magnified in situations in which black or brown men may assault white women.
As a man with white skin, my efforts to counter gender-based violence must be grounded in this reality! To be effective, I need to be working in ways that not only prevent gender based violence that against white women, but preventing gender-based violence against all women, and some men. This means my work must include connecting the dots. Joining efforts to counter police brutality, for example, while also raising awareness and attention to the ways that police brutality is perpetrated against Black and brown women, and the ways these forms of police brutality are routinely ignored by the media and policy advocates.
This means my work must include efforts to use my visibility to make sure that black and brown men who are leaders in this work are also seen, and their efforts are identified and recognized.
This means that my work must include strategies and practices that ensure I find ways to be and maintain accountability to black, Latina, Asian and Native women leaders. They may well not be in formal roles of leadership in Indiana, Kentucky or Louisville (where I base my life and work), but they are here and it is my obligation to seek them out, create a relationship with them and act in an accountable way.
This means that when I offer a policy analysis for an organization or community, that I pay conscious attention to how the policy may (and likely will) impact differently on people who don’t look like me. And at the very least, offer some commentary with my proposals the include how to address those differences in impact with the protocol and implementation of the policy I propose.
This means that I need to recognize and holler out loud the ways that liberation and justice are in fact linked. Â My anti-rape work is anti-racist.
© 2017 Rus Ervin Funk