Slutwalk Critique

Posted by – September 28, 2011

An Open Letter from Black Women to the SlutWalk, it’s titled, but it should be called how to dismantle white privilege in feminist movements, or something similar.

Black women in the U.S. have worked tirelessly since the 19th century colored women’s clubs to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular of slut, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent. Although we vehemently support a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants anytime, anywhere, within the context of a “SlutWalk” we don’t have the privilege to walk through the streets of New York City, Detroit, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, L.A. etc., either half-naked or fully clothed self-identifying as “sluts” and think that this will make women safer in our communities an hour later, a month later, or a year later. Moreover, we are careful not to set a precedent for our young girls by giving them the message that we can self-identify as “sluts” when we’re still working to annihilate the word “ho”, which deriving from the word “hooker” or “whore”, as in “Jezebel whore” was meant to dehumanize. Lastly, we do not want to encourage our young men, our Black fathers, sons and brothers to reinforce Black women’s identities as “sluts” by normalizing the term on t-shirts, buttons, flyers and pamphlets.

The personal is political. For us, the problem of trivialized rape and the absence of justice are intertwined with race, gender, sexuality, poverty, immigration and community. As Black women in America, we are careful not to forget this or we may compromise more than we are able to recover. Even if only in name, we cannot afford to label ourselves, to claim identity, to chant dehumanizing rhetoric against ourselves in any movement. We can learn from successful movements like the Civil Rights movement, from Women’s Suffrage, the Black Nationalist and Black Feminist movements that we can make change without resorting to the taking-back of words that were never ours to begin with, but in fact heaved upon us in a process of dehumanization and devaluation.

Great stuff. Go ahead & read the whole thing, especially if you’re a white feminist who is excited about SlutWalk. It won’t ruin it for you – it’ll just give you some context and maybe a little humility.

2 Comments on Slutwalk Critique

  1. natasha_ says:

    What a beautifully written piece. Thanks for linking to it, Helen.

    I am reminded of the use of “tranny” by some members of the trans community. When challenged on their use of the word, the usual defence is “we’re trying to reclaim it”.

    I’d never really thought hard about those who were doing this, but on reflection the people who seem to be most enthusiastic about using the word generally are coming from a place of significant privilege; white middle-class middle aged crossdressers.

    I doubt they were the ones against whom the word was used as an epithet when they were growing up.

    Similarly with descriptors like “she-male” etc., which are words forced upon us by the porn industry. Never mind the whole sexualising of trans women thing, these words were never ours to begin with, so “reclaiming” them is nonsensical.

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