The following blog was submitted by Farah Tanis CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT BLACK WOMEN’S BLUEPRINT:
“Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to preempt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light.”
– Elizabeth Alexander, Praise Song for the Day.
The White South African
Not too long ago I walked forward in the light generated by coming face to face with a warrior for peace. We sat together and talked together. She, being a co-conspirator to whom I decisively tipped the wide brim of my hat with the great pride felt in rare moments when one recognizes a true comrade.
At the beginning of 2016, I went to South Africa with a group of movement makers, all part of the Move to End Violence (MEV) initiative of the NoVo Foundation. To my pleasant surprise, I was chosen to accomplish one thing—prepare and give a gift to a pre-assigned icon in South Africa’s various justice and liberation movements past or present. Her name is Shirley Gunn. In true form, I lived in the moment until I reached South Africa, having neglected any required research on the South African woman who had been described to me as an amazing revolutionary. I was told bravery was her name. What else did I need to know?
Having only focused on what I would offer this amazing, phenomenal, brave woman who suffered and triumphed over apartheid, I traveled from Brooklyn, New York with two very personal, very precious items which were sacred to me. These items, I expected to bestow upon my South African liberation front, anti-apartheid, abolitionist sister who fought and triumphed despite the odds. Then the day came. It was time and I walked into a room with chairs arranged in a circle, gifts in hand. My eyes eagerly scanned the room searching for this South African feminist warrior, fierce anti-apartheid icon whose name was bravery, who stood for Black men and women at great risk to herself. Then, I found her.
Sitting slightly to the right of the circle, there she was, Shirley Gunn. She was White, and for a moment everything stopped. I was thrown into a tailspin and my mind raced with questions as I clutched the items in my hand which had been blessed and perfectly prepared for what I assumed would be a Black sister-warrior. The words I didn’t prepare, the words I anticipated would naturally come from this heart I trusted would know what to say to a fellow warrior for peace when the time came, wouldn’t materialize. They were drowned out by the common narratives about racial chasms, the pre-written scripts about what my relationship, our relationship as Black women should be with White women.
As I engaged in silent self-talk and wrapped my head around Shirley Gunn, Shirley Gunn also talked. She talked of the 64 days of torture she endured with beatings, humiliation and unspeakable abuses she experienced in prison. She talked of her one-year old baby boy who was held in a jail cell next to hers, tortured and almost starved to death despite her begging to have him brought to her. She talked about the man of color she loved. She talked of bravery, of uncompromising dedication, of putting it all on the line. She was accused of making bombs for the African National Congress which won victories. She talked of being a woman with her body in the hands of men, in the hands of white supremacists, in the hands of soldiers, in the hands of cruelty. She talked of her torturers, and I not only listened to her, my heart heard her. We became two beings truly seeing each other. We were old souls who once knew each other on a different battle field before this day and this time, before this moment and this meeting.
We began to speak with each other before my lips could utter a single word and when I finally sat next to her and took her hand in mine, I called her sister-warrior. When I sat next to her and bestowed the gifts upon her which I had blessed and brought for Shirley Gunn who was born in South Africa, we shared in the same rage against those who had come to South Africa to brutalize and annihilate the indigenous people of that land. When I looked in her eyes and acknowledged solidarity in its most profound form, we also shared profound peace.
When we spoke of solidarity, we spoke of a solidarity more ancient than that defined by patriarchal or white supremacist vernacular. We spoke of a solidarity born in a time when all women fought against domination, all peoples were gender non-conforming and gender fluidity was not novelty or anomaly. It just was. We spoke of a solidarity which transcends recent history and reaches back to a time and place where we yearned not only for the liberation of our sons and male husbands, but for the honoring of women; when we expressed love for those women who found peace sacred. We revered those women who spoke light and those women—necessary warriors, and the peacemakers who could conjure life into existence. In those times, we hadn’t yet forgotten how to expand our spirits to all the pathways and possibilities for unifying, or the power of way-making.
I tipped my hat to this South African liberation front, anti-apartheid, abolitionist sister who fought and triumphed despite the odds, who had defied the racist status-quo, who lived love beyond the marital, filial or national, and embodied the kind of love that casts a widening pool of light and we saw each other. We have both defied a culture bent on making of us violent beings who dehumanize and are ourselves dehumanized. Standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, we acknowledged the need to affirm that humanity.
Now Trump Ascends to the White House
Trump happens when our alliances fall apart. As it was for segregated South Africa, now in the United States—as electors have cast their ballots for Trump, sealing his ascension to the White House—solidarity demands that we call forth the alliances both ancient and recent. In the urgency of now, we must call forth the alliances first forged in the fires of the movement to abolish slavery, to end Jim Crow, to bring about civil rights, to bring intersectionality to the feminist movement, to stand with those who put their bodies on the line in the middle of the night, those willing to lock-arms together with the most oppressed in times of great human crisis, to rail against the current regime, to bring the day into this night. They are our comrades. Look for them. They are everywhere. They are all around us.
It’s time for the day bringers to bring about the day when a presidential candidate is not judged by the intonation of her voice, or internalized beliefs about the female archetypes of old crone or seductress, dutiful wife and martyr, shrill bullhead, somehow more deceitful than men and a liar, or overly politically ambitious, the one who doesn’t know her place. When roughly fifty-three percent of White women voted for Trump, collective misogyny almost won out. The rhetorical message to women to not vote for the “impersonable” woman who reflects perceived aspects of herself seduced many into complicity. Damage was done to the nascent efforts to create new alliances among women across a variety of complex identities.
However, we cannot allow the derailment of our efforts to create radical shifts in the ways we address the spectrum of violence against women, closing the wage gap, access to healthcare, reproductive justice, educational opportunity and other human rights, international affairs, the school to prison pipeline, police accountability, rape culture, widespread poverty and war.
Yes, the alliances forged in the fires of yesterday failed to hold true on November 8th and in the stunned aftermath, we as Black women have had our say. Our message to the fifty-three percent: we stood by you, but you dropped the ball. Moreover, Black communities, LGBTQ and immigrant communities, women, we were all thrown under the bus by those with misguided principles who cast their votes to the wind, with “protest votes”.
Just as Trump supporters chanted “lock her up!”, what this election did, is it tried to lock every woman up; lock her up in powerlessness, in an inability to create the change she envisioned. It’s time however, for the day bringers, the liberation front, anti-apartheid, abolitionists, antiracist sister-warriors—engineers of new paradigms, new strategies to end white supremacy, rail against misogynist, anti-LGBTQ and xenophobic ways of being.
Now more than ever, we must make it right. All of us. Make it right. W.E.B Dubois once said “there is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.” We need to be the creators of culture, not just its blind followers. In this fearsome time when each of our lives is under threat, where it is almost certain that we will not survive without each other as women, as people, we must rise. We must relearn how to live by love thy sisters in all their diversity, and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We can relearn to live by “first do no harm” and “take no more than you need”. We must acknowledge the whole truth of histories we know to be incomplete. There must be a return to the belief that we ourselves are not the center of the universe, but simply the custodians of future generations to come. For them, in the urgency of now, we have to stand in solidarity.
1 in 3 women across the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. Every February, we rise – in hundreds of countries across the world – to show our local communities and the world what one billion looks like and shine a light on the rampant impunity and injustice that survivors most often face. We rise through dance to express joy and community and celebrate the fact that we have not been defeated by this violence. We rise to show we are determined to create a new kind of consciousness – one where violence will be resisted until it is unthinkable.
This year we are Rising In Solidarity Against the Exploitation of Women. We are initiating a new series, “RISING SOLIDARITY” where we will be sharing stories of extraordinary activists from around the world about their experiences with true solidarity, harnessing a deeper understanding of why it is critical in the fight against systems of oppression and exploitation. Providing both regional and global context for what it means to stand in solidarity with each other.