The following letter was forwarded to me by a fellow student, and I then asked the author if I could share it on our blog. Thanks to Kendra Tappin, Stanford University, for asking others to join her in taking a stand to combat sexual violence against black women.The text of the letter:
On Wednesday, June 25 a 20-year-old black woman was raped and robbed in her apartment in Philadelphia. A man forced himself into her apartment and once he was inside he called up two of his friends. After four hours the three men left. The victim was left to walk a mile alone to the closest police station where she reported the crime. The woman’s next-door neighbor has said that she saw the initial intrusion and heard the screaming but that she went to bed and did nothing. Other neighbors reported that they also heard the woman’s screams but that they did nothing.
Twenty-four hours before this incident a 48 year-old woman was raped just a few blocks away. She was lying in her bed when an unknown man intruded into her home. He raped her and he stabbed her in her neck. Police say that they do not believe the two crimes are related or that any of the same men are involved.
I have been silent on this issue, but this morning I woke to a note from a friend who reminded me of the powerful ways in which our silence condemns us.
I am writing you this letter because I know we must do the telling even if we feel afraid, anxious or alone. I am writing this letter to urge you to take up this issue as though you or your family member were the victim, and because I am troubled.
I am troubled because there seems to be an epidemic of violence, sexual violence, against black women. I am troubled because this country’s history is replete with instances of violence against black women, denigration of black women, sexual violation of black women and then turning a blind eye those crimes. Presently I am reminded of:
• The acquittal of R. Kelley
• Megan Williams, a 20 year old black woman in West Virginia who was kidnapped and gang raped by 6 other people, three of whom were women, forced to eat animal feces and insulted with racial slurs.
• A 35 year old black woman in Miami, Florida living in the Dunbar Village Housing Projects who was gang raped by up to 10 men. For three hours the men beat and raped her. They also forced her to perform oral sex on her 12 year-old son whom they also beat and doused with household chemicals. Several months after the crime 4 teenagers, aged14-18, were arrested and charged in relation to the crime.
• The New Jersey 4, black lesbians ages 19, 20, 20 and 24 who were sentenced to prison terms ranging between 3 to 11 years because they defended themselves against a physical and sexual assault from a man who held them down, choked them, spat on them, pulled out their hair from their scalps all because these women are lesbians.
• A conversation with a friend who was distressed because she had heard signs of domestic violence in her neighbor’s apartment but did not know what to do. She was anxious about calling the a hotline because she didn’t think they would offer real alternatives, and she was anxious about calling the police because she thought they’re presence would exacerbate the situation.
• My interaction with a visibly pregnant woman in East Palo Alto with whom l sat and spoke on the street corner after seeing her walking and sobbing, hearing her engaged in a public shouting match with her boyfriend, and noticing black and blue bruises on her arms.
I am troubled by these cases because they reflect, I think, what seems to be an epidemic of violence against black women, little action on the part of our communities and the police/judicial system to protect them, and few strategies for how we might respond.
I am troubled because of the rate at which crimes of sexual and physical violence against black women seem to be occurring. Thinking about it I wonder:
• Why are these crimes happening?
• Is it that black women are being sexually assaulted with more frequency or is it that more cases are being reported?
• Why is it that crimes of sexual violence against black women, particularly as they are happening in such high instances, do not spark movements in our communities like the one to free the Jena 6? See for instance see the case of the New Jersey 4.
• Do these cases just serve as flash and puff for the media but nothing else?
• Is it that black women are quite simply expendable?
• What are we to do?
• For instance, I am for abolishing the prison industry, but how do we hold our communities and these men accountable in the interim when we do not as yet have the means set in place to do so?
I am deeply frustrated, traumatized and pained by the continued disregard for black women’s lives. But a sister-friend has reminded me that it is imperative that we transform our rage and frustration into a vision for action and that it is the power of all of us together that makes us brave.
I am asking you all to be courageous.
I am asking you to read Audre Lorde’s essay “Need,”* a trenchant call to end violence against black women, and her poem ”A Litany for Survival,” a reminder that our silence will not save us. I have attached both pieces. Audre Lorde wrote “Need” in 1979 when 12 black women in Boston were killed in the space of 4 months, but the police and the media ignored the killings claiming that these women were mostly prostitutes. Audre Lorde’s essay and poem are tools for our liberation and creation of a space for community action and healing to protect black women. Her powerful essay provides creative ways that we can respond to gendered violence.
Please read these pieces and share them with at least one other person.
Please sit and talk with people in your community to strategize and brainstorm ways that you could respond to sexual violence or any other kind of violence in our communities.
Please create ways to end gendered and sexual violence against women.
With love, love and more love,
Kendra Tappin, Stanford University
*I remember, as I struggle with the same issues, Lex recommended this piece to me as well. And I highly recommend it to you.