SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy

Note: I had long ago decided to stop blogging here for a couple of reasons. For one, I could not devote enough time to posting as regularly as I had in the past, but I also found more and more outlets with wider audiences that would publish my pieces. With so much dialogue surrounding SlutWalk lately, I wanted to insert the voice of a woman of color to add critical pressure from the margins; however, I found it difficult to find an outlet that would publish me. I first queried The Guardian, which had already printed a couple of pieces authored by white women about the event, and never heard anything back (they have, subsequently, posted more pieces about SlutWalk, all authored by white women). I then attempted to add this post on HuffPo, where I have contributed in the past – although they were nice enough to at least respond to me, they rejected my post. Rather than waste another week trying to find an outlet, I’ve taken the advice of people I love and trust and have revived my once-retired blog to post a piece that (oddly enough) explains some of the ways in which white women have constructed a conversation that women of color can’t seem to participate in.

According to its website, SlutWalk was created by women who “are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by [their] sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result.” SlutWalk aims to “reclaim” the word “slut,” by taking to the streets and demanding people begin to think about the way women are damaged by stereotyping. What’s now grown into a Global North movement, SlutWalk has predictably captivated the media. One can read numerous blogs and articles, and examine diametrically opposed op-eds posted on both sides of the Atlantic – all authored by white women. With such a sensationalized event name, it makes sense that the event would gain attraction. What doesn’t make sense is the racist way in which SlutWalk has chosen to present itself – the result of the group’s white leadership, which has systematically silenced the voices of women of color. Women are left with little assurance that the word “slut” can even be reclaimed at all, and it would be absurd to imagine that SlutWalk’s dramatized events will do anything to stop any kind of violence against women.

SlutWalk was conceived after a cop reportedly told a group of Toronto students that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” during a campus event to address sexual assault, which he was invited to. I understand the need to denounce this type of speech, particularly when uttered by a law enforcement officer. But what struck me was the fact that a group of students gathered with law enforcement to begin with. As people of color, our communities are plagued with police brutality, and inviting them into our spaces in order to somehow feel safer rarely crosses our minds. I’ve attended several workshops and panels on sexual violence and would never imagine seeing law enforcement in attendance. Groups like INCITE! have done a tremendous amount of work to address the way that systemic violence is directed against women in communities of color through “police violence, war and colonialism,” as well as to address the type of interpersonal violence between individuals within a community, such as sexual assault and domestic violence. SlutWalk “want[s] Toronto Police Services to take serious steps to regain [their] trust;” our communities, meanwhile, never trusted the police to begin with. For a group of privileged students to stage such a massive event and dismiss the work that our communities have done to make sense out of the disproportionate accumulation of violence that we face is wholly unacceptable.

As Trymaine Lee has reported, black, poor and transgender women are being disproportionately and systematically branded as criminal “sex offenders” on an online database for engaging in “survival sex” in New Orleans. Under the cover of an obscure, slave-era legal term called “crimes against nature,” police officers target those who engage in oral or anal sex-for-money. Those targeted for a second time are charged as felons (vaginal sex-for-money, meanwhile, is considered misdemeanor prostitution). 40 percent of those who appear on the sexual predator database are there because they were accused of committing a “crime against nature;” more than 80 percent of those are black women.

If SlutWalk truly wanted to bring attention to the systematic ways in which women are harmed by regressive and misogynistic thinking, they could have done the heavy lifting of reaching out and supporting black, poor and transgender women in New Orleans, for whom the word “slut” carries a criminal sex offender record. Instead, they force us to keep bearing the multiple burdens that come with not only being a woman, but also being a working class woman of color. Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying. While I will not pretend to speak for women targeted in New Orleans, I doubt that the mere idea of naming themselves “sluts” would be welcomed. SlutWalk has proven itself to be a maddening distraction from the systematic and interpersonal violence that women of color face daily.

On my Facebook feed yesterday, a prominent Boston-based white feminist complained that, although the BBC had interviewed her for one of its internationally highest rated programs, she “was on for like two seconds in the second hour which doesn’t air in the US. Verrrrrrry [sic] frustrating.” This woman had already participated in a 40-minute episode on a Canadian television program with four other white women, where they debated each other about SlutWalk. She was also a featured speaker at SlutWalk Boston, and her speech was posted online with full transcripts (as far as I know, not one person of color spoke at the event in question). The tremendous amount of entitlement implicit in her post felt suffocating. When I responded that two seconds of airtime was considerably longer than women of color had on the topic, she wrote that she agreed “with the larger critique,” but felt compelled to correct me by adding that “there were a number of women of color on this program.”

Her entitlement was coupled with the kind of lip service intended to keep women of color quiet, as well as a dose of correction to prove her superior ability to still be right – all typical of liberal white women who have never truly listened to begin with. Regardless of the fact that a scarce amount of women of color got international airtime on the BBC for the first time since SlutWalk was conceived several months ago, its organizers never reached out to women of color as equals to begin with; instead of making sure our voices participated in its visioning, we have been painted into a colored corner inside their white room. SlutWalk’s next turn, I’m quite sure, will be our tokenization. I imagine that women of color will be coddled by white SlutWalk organizers, eager to save (white)face, into carrying their frontline banners and parroting their messages at a stage near you. I’m hoping my sisters won’t fall for it; I know that I, for one, will stay home. This is not liberation – if anything, Slutwalk is an effective exercise in white supremacy.

There is no indication that SlutWalk will even strip the word “slut” from its hateful meaning. The n-word, for example, is still used to dehumanize black folks, regardless of how many black folks use it among themselves. Just moments before BART officer James Mehserle shot Oscar Grant to death in Oakland in 2009, video footage captured officers calling Grant a “bitch ass nigger.” It didn’t matter how many people claimed the n-word as theirs – it still marked the last hateful words Grant heard before a white officer violently killed him. Words are powerful – the connection between speech and thought is a strong one, and cannot be marched away to automatically give words new meaning.  If I can’t trust SlutWalk’s white leadership to even reach out to women of color, how am I to trust that “reclaiming” the word will somehow benefit women? The answer is, I can’t. In fact, “reclaiming” is defined as taking something back that was yours to begin with, and the word “slut” was never ours to begin with, so it would be impossible to reclaim it.

According to SlutWalk’s website, the event is slated to be reproduced in Argentina sometime this year. It’s the country I was born and raised in, among Spanish, Guaraní and Portuguese speakers – and I can assure you that the word “slut” is not used by anyone there. This is not what we need. I do not want white English-speaking Global North women telling Spanish-speaking Global South women to “reclaim” a word that is foreign to our own vocabulary. To do so would be hegemonic, and would illustrate the ways in which Global North “feminists” have become a tool of cultural imperialism. I will be going back home in about a month, and want to do so without feeling the power of white women bearing down on me from 6,000 miles away. We’ve got our own issues to deal with in South America; we do not need to become poster children to try to make you feel better about yours.

Whether white supremacist hegemony was SlutWalk’s intent or not is beyond my concern – because it has certainly been so in effect. This event will not stop the criminalization of black women in New Orleans, nor will it stop one woman from being potentially deported after she calls the police subsequent to being raped. SlutWalk completely ignores the way institutional violence is leveled against women of color. The event highlights its origins from a privileged position of relative power, replete with an entitlement of assumed safety that women of color would never even dream of. We do not come from communities in which it feels at all harmless to call ourselves “sluts.” Aside from that, our skin color, not our style of dress, often signifies slut-hood to the white gaze.

If SlutWalk has proven anything, it is that liberal white women are perfectly comfortable parading their privilege, absorbing every speck of airtime celebrating their audacity, and ignoring women of color. Despite decades of work from women of color on the margins to assert an equitable space, SlutWalk has grown into an international movement that has effectively silenced the voices of women of color and re-centered the conversation to consist of a topic by, of, and for white women only. More than 30 years ago, Gloria Anzaldúa wrote, “I write to record what others erase when I speak.” Unfortunately, SlutWalk’s leadership obliterated Anzaldúa’s voice, and the marvelous work she produced theorizing what it means to be a queer woman of color. They might do us all a favor now and stop erasing the rest of us for once.

Occupational Hazard

I’m in Chicago this week for the UNITY Journalists of Color Convention – the largest gathering of journalists in the United States. Highlights include a variety of panels, exclusive addresses from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama fresh back from Iraq and Europe (John McCain declined, thanks), industry gossip, open bar parties, and a massive career fair and media expo featuring representatives from independent to corporate media outlets. And although the big popularity buzz centers around Obama’s visit Sunday, the overarching thread of this conference (besides hangovers) is the fact that this industry is facing an utter crisis: out of the hundreds of people I’ve spoken with, I would estimate that about half of them are out of a job – many of them have just recently been fired, as newsrooms around the country continue to squeeze journalists left and right.

All week, I’ve witnessed journalists of all ages pacing the career fair halls and handing over resumes with quivering, manicured hands. I’ve also witnessed many of my colleagues exchange long conversations with this man:

Craig P (not his real name, I would guess) works the Central intelligence Agency booth at UNITY. As I cruised the halls the first day looking for old and new faces earlier this week, I was a bit puzzled to find that the CIA had a recruitment booth. At a journalism conference. It took me a couple of days to muster up the courage to approach Craig P – in the meantime, I filled me head with ideas of what the hell the CIA was actually up to attempting to recruit journalists of color. Perhaps extraordinary renditions and increasingly deviant forms of torture (which amount to nothing in terms of so-called national security) just don’t cut it anymore. I began wondering if the CIA wasn’t searching for a nicer, softer interrogator: the journalist of color. After all, we can do our research, ask questions, do more research and come back and ask even more questions…

“We don’t have journalist positions at the CIA,” Craig P tells me with a wide smile, “but we do hire people that have journalism backgrounds as analysts…. And what do analysts do at the CIA? Well, they read. A lot. They read everything we give them, and make sense of it.” He asks me where I’m from, and we exchange small talk about perceptions about the West Coast and East Coast. While we’re on the topic of perceptions, I mutter something about waterboarding, but Craig P either ignores me or the comment flies right over his head. He is still smiling.  He asks if I’m looking for a job – to which I also smile, and explain that I’m fine where I’m at (and I hold my tongue about the fact that I would never, in a million years, work for an agency whose work has resulted in the wrongful imprisonment, torture, rape and death of millions of people around the planet). He hands me some swag, including some CIA sticky notes which I plan to use to mess with my friends with next week. I walk away a little more confused than when I walked in.

With just two more days to go, I gotta say that I appreciate UNITY. I’ve re-connected with some great folks in the industry, and have met some new ones. In speaking to people all week, I have been reminded of the fact that increased media consolidation has created overwhelming instability – I would have to admit that for some people, the situation is bordering on desperate. That said, I am shocked that an agency which has played an important role in suppressing freedom of the press in the United States and abroad is here to recruit us.

Bratton Scraps Plan for Muslim Thought Police


Local Muslims can sleep tonight knowing that the Los Angeles Police Department will not be mapping them. LAPD Chief William Bratton announced that he scrapped a plan to create and use a database of Muslims in the city – although he has yet to put his verbal pledge on paper. After a two hour meeting between the LAPD and representatives from southern California’s Muslim Community and ACLU, Bratton addressed reporters at a press conference and acknowledged that the mapping component of what he calls the LAPD’s Community Engagement Initiative “will not be going forward”. A coalition of inter-faith, civil rights and social justice groups quickly organized to condemn the plan, then met with the LAPD and were successful in halting the ill-conceived proposal. Deputy Chief Michael Downing first authored the plan, and news of it spread after Downing testified before Congress that law enforcement around the nation face what he called “a vicious, amorphous and unfamiliar adversary on our land.”

Downing’s words and actions are eerily reminiscent of the way Japanese-Americans were scapegoated during World War II, when more than 100,000 of them were placed in concentration camps. In his book “Strangers from a Different Shore”, historian Ronald Takaki writes that “Representing a small, rather than numerically significant racial minority, the Japanese were more vulnerable to xenophobic attacks.” Takaki could easily be writing about Muslims today, and with an eternal so-called War on Terror, I wonder long Muslims will remain susceptible to programs like these. When asked to clarify the origin of the plan, Downing said that he traveled to West Yorkshire, England, where a community mapping program is already in place. Why tax money is being spent to travel across the Atlantic to observe big-brother programs in the UK is baffling enough – but the fact that such a program has already taken hold there is stunning.

Back at home in Los Angeles, Downing reached out to USC’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (which got a $12 million cornerstone and continues to be funded by the Department of Homeland Security) to track and turn over maps of Muslims in the city. When I spoke to Shakeel Syed from The Southern California Shura Council about the relationship between USC and the LAPD he pointed out that it’s “a convergence of academia and law enforcement in creating laws that are pre-crime laws… becoming a thought police”, and it’s quite true. This amalgam of the international scope of the so-called War on Terror, federal enforcement programs, academia and local initiatives is a simply terrifying experiment that has resulted in religious and racial profiling.

We’ll see how the LAPD moves forward from this issue after so much damage has already been done. It’s never clear to me what the LAPD is thinking or doing, and why (while South Asian and Muslim communities continue to struggle against hate crimes, discrimination, negative media portrayals, and general misunderstanding) the Department would create such a proposal. Chief Bratton has already said that the intent was to get to know these communities, and went on to acknowledge that these groups are already under siege. Maybe in the future Bratton can create a round-table of inter-faith representatives to avoid these types of scenarios in the future. Wait! He already did, it’s called The Forum of Religious Advisors, and Shakeel Syed is a already a member… yet he was never informed about the proposal. Let’s hope even more surprises from the LAPD for minority communities are not in store.

Boyle Heights Residents Oppose Pollution


Some 300 people marched through Boyle Heights and held a protest in the parking lot at 1700 South Soto Street this evening, demonstrating against the massive Industrial Service Oil Company Incorporated (ISOCI), which is seeking to process a broader range of hazardous and toxic materials. For the past 20 years, the ISOCI has already managed an oil and anti-freeze recycling facility, and is now trying to bypass community and city input and is instead directly petitioning a permit from the State of California Department of Toxic Substances. Among the hundreds of protestors in attendance was Ana Rosa Franco:


Ana Rosa attends Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, where Monsignor John Moretta makes beautifully strong moral arguments during Mass about social justice issues. Resurrection also houses a school – and the youth I spoke with told me that attending the march counted towards their community service hours! And these were not empty hours: every person I spoke with, young and old, knew the ins and outs of ISOCI and the issues – but simply put, as Roberto Cabrales from Communities for a Better Environment put it, “[ISOCI] has been a shady company for a long time… and it’s time for them to cut the pollution. The community doesn’t need anymore pollution!”

This is what the sidewalk on 1700 South Soto Street looks like, littered with broken-down equipment:


The expansion of a facility that doesn’t even respect public space on the sidewalk says a lot. And this time, the community is saying even more.