Why Trayvon’s death matters to feminists.

man wearing hoodie with tear running down faceIn the ever prescient and poignant spirit of the Color Lines blog out of the Applied Research Center, Aura Bogado puts implicit bias on trial. She calls it casual racism and it’s a pretty good idea for feminist anti-violence activists to keep it in mind. All forms of oppression are intrinsically connected. That includes racism and sexual violence. Bogado reminds us that blatant, overt racism is no longer socially acceptable. While that may seem like a step in the right direction, hidden biases still have the power to drive our actions. In some cases those actions are violent.

In an interview last week Juror B37 discussed her belief that implicit bias would lead most people to kill a young Black man.  I certainly hope that’s not true. I also don’t know if we can blame George Zimmerman’s choices on implicit bias alone. He also had a notable history of physical and sexual violence against women and girls. Salamishah Tillet discussed this history and the fact that it was ruled inadmissible in court as a grave shortcoming in our social and justice systems. According to Tillet, this decision:

“reveal(s) a system of power that dismisses the experiences and voices of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as invisible and untrustworthy.”

Yikes! Are you telling me that identifying and intervening in this earlier, really scary behavior may have prevented future violent acts…including the shooting death of a child? Hmmmm. Maybe we’re on to something here! Oh right, that’s why all these feminists are so crazy about primary prevention and effective response to gender-based violence. What a good idea.

So here’s my what for. Some research suggests that people who endorse subtle victim blaming, misogyny, and heterosexism may also be at increased risk for perpetrating sexual violence.  These subtle biases, including casual racism, pollute the mind and pollute our world. They lead to endorsement of violent behavior. In some cases, they lead to decisions to perpetrate violent behavior.

We have got to pay attention to subtle bias. We have to identify it, name it and root it out of our world before it pollutes us all. At the same time, we have an obligation to identify, name and address all acts of violence that have already happened. As Tillet pointed out, that means we need to listen to, honor, and care for people surviving the violence. It also means we need to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions and provide access to the resources and treatment they need to root out both the implicit and explicit oppression that has poisoned their own lives and judgment.

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