On the path to progress, there are indeed bumps in the road. There are current events and interpersonal relations that seemingly knock the momentum out of one’s propellers so-to-speak. I’ve decided to write about a couple of situations that are knocking the steam out of me, and making me feel powerless. I do this in order to remain transparent in my quest as an activist, a writer, a feminist, and a philosopher. I do this also to allow those who are feeling low, and unmotivated to know you are not alone.
One (not so) current event comes from the State in which I live. There are students and the Dean of Students from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who are filing a complaint on their own behalf and the behalf of 64 other sexual assault survivors because University Officials pressured the Dean of Students to underreport cases of sexual assault, which violated an entire host of legislation. What is most disconcerting to me is the fact that UNC’s Office of Student Conduct is singling out one of the assault victims and even bringing them up on charges that break the honor code for, “Intimidating [the] Rapist,” by speaking to the press about her experience of sexual assault (even though she did not in fact out her offender). Now, it is difficult for me not to respond in a visceral way to this, so I will try and use the article to explain this, because this case NEEDS to be made VISIBLE. I will share with you all an excerpt from this article that comes from the student in question about her traumatic experience with administration when discussing her sexual assault:
“It’s incredibly clear that those people had no idea what sexual assault is, what consent is,” said Landen Gambill, a sophomore whose assault case was processed by interim procedures.
“They were not only offensive and inappropriate, but they were so victim-blaming. They made it seem like my assault was completely my fault.”
As a freshman, Gambill was continually abused – sexually and verbally – by her long-term boyfriend.
When the relationship ended, she said she was met with months of stalking, threats and harassment.
Those actions lead her to press charges with the Honor Court. In her trial, Gambill said she was forced to answer irrelevant and inappropriate questions.
“The woman student said to me, ‘Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would’ve broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn’t?’” she said.
Gambill said the court used her history of clinical depression and her suicide attempt – which she said was a result of her abusive relationship – against her.
“They implied that I was emotionally unstable and couldn’t be telling the truth because I had attempted suicide,” she said.”
One would think that even in this regressive society, we would have learned to stop BLAMING the victim for being one. It seems like because there aren’t harsher punishments for these atrocious acts of discrimination and overt unprofessionalism, we remain doomed to repeat these errors of the past. They were using the amount of time that she stayed in the abusive relationship against her, as well as her depression and suicide attempt against her in the honor court hearing. Again. She didn’t (and still hasn’t) outed her offender, although she was raped repeatedly and verbally abused, yet SHE is potentially being punished. Does any of this ring a bell as far as the Anita Hill v. Clarence Thomas hearings? Why would they ask such demeaning leading questions of Hill? What is with the Rhetoric of Rape and Sexual Assault? All of this, “How not to be a victim,” jargon? I mean, we know at least a couple of things at this point:
1. One is more likely to be raped by someone they know & trust (friend, acquaintance, family).
2. One is more likely to be raped in a private residence.
-This, and more can be found here.
WHY is the Rhetoric all about locking your doors, carrying pepper spray with you, walking in pairs, protecting your cocktail at bars and what not?! I’m not saying that Rape & Sexual assault do not happen publicly by strangers, but the facts are the facts. The only way to ‘not be a victim,’ is to never leave your house, don’t talk or know anyone, and to lock your doors, windows, etc., and even with all of that, your not protected from random acts of rape, sexual assault, and violence. The Rhetoric needs to CHANGE in order to actually PROTECT the victim, instead of the offender. There needs to be stricter punishments that are VISIBLE to the public for sexual offenses. I’m tired. This situation is older than I am. Why have we not DONE anything!?! There is a petition out that I think is something. If you find anything else that we can do as far as changing the Rhetoric, please comment and let it be known. Here is the article I pull from. Here is the petition.
Another (not so) current event is about a 16 year old white model being coated in bronzer in order to do a spread entitled, “African Queen.” No, I’m not joking. There is a caption that read, “Why hire a black model when you can just paint a white one?” Even if that is satirical in nature, that is not funny in the least, since, you know, it is REALLY HAPPENING. Here’s the article.
This has been happening in the past, EVEN THOUGH these modeling companies indeed HAVE black/women of color models who are fully capable of doing a spread. In light of Black History Month coming to a close this year, I wanted to bring this up. It is scary that agencies do these things. This is a DIRECT example of discrimination based on Race, made more ridiculous because of the fact that in this case, they were doing a spread about a specific demographic, while avoiding actually USING people who identify with said group. How do we grow past and progress when we have crap like this happening. This begged the question of Black History Month in general. What is its purpose now? Is it really doing what it intends? Apparently not, yet people are pushing to do away with it. The reasons being; there is not a white history month, and pushing the ideal to incorporate black history into all levels of society and education. I do not think that we’ve gotten to a point where we can foreseeably integrate black history into all levels of our system of education and of our society. Although that is a wonderful ideal, it is simply that, an IDEAL. Black History Month was started as a concession to blacks, to give a distinction and respect to black history, and I think it was also a way to empower the perpetuation of visibility and equality of blacks within our society. If we have things happening like this so brazenly, what kind of stuff is happening behind closed doors? At independent businesses? I think there needs to be a push back to things like this, in order to make change. As I’ve said before, I think Black history month is something that used to be heavily celebrated and acknowledged, but in my short life span, I have seen it become less and less important and visible throughout our society at large. No, it’s not because we have arrived to equality and social justice, it’s because somehow the social/political/economical ‘concessions’ we have taken, has begun to render us complacent. This complacency is beginning to perpetuate complicity to this flawed and divisive system within which we live. It is very easy to become depressed and even to feel powerless when reading and discussing these issues. However, as a colleague of mine recently wrote, “Black Rage is a resource, don’t let this world take that away from you.”
[UPDATE]: Apparently a representative of the magazine the spread was in responded to the backlash they received from the spread with an apology. To me, it seemed they were blaming the people who took it offensively to begin with, and didn’t even understand how the viewer didn’t see the cultural diversity that the photographer was going for. There was also an apology from the photographer, which seemed a little more sincere. A good thing from this is that those people heard the outcry and backlash. They did respond, though it was not everything I’d hoped for. I was especially intrigued by the fact that no one could/would explain WHY they went with, “AFRICAN QUEEN,” as the title of the spread, other than the fact that they were unaware of the title of the spread. They apologized for people taking offense, but did not apologize for their thoughtless/careless actions in the first place.
The final thing that has been grinding my gears comes from my personal experience as a graduate student so far. I am fed up with the lack of safe spaces for trans and queer identifying people. I am sick of the sheep mentality that is school. I am tired that in order to make any change, it seems that you have to succumb to the commodification of these towers. I am doing what I can to start a student & community collaborative activism group here and will be setting up a meeting to discuss the curriculum that I am having trouble understanding the point of in hopes to potentiate positive progress.
The reason behind this blog post is to let those of you burdened by these feelings of angst, outrage, depression, and distress know that you are not alone. I also want you all to know that there are definitely things that you can do in order to challenge the structures, and queer the boundaries that are keeping you down. I want to share the things I am currently working on in order to hopefully spark a little hope and motivation to act. As I always say, there is power in your voice, words, and actions. Don’t be afraid to use them in constructive ways in order to produce progressive potential to create positive change. Do not let this society silence you. You are valuable. You are important. Let yourself be heard.