This Q&A page is meant for white audiences struggling to understand how issues of racism and sexual violence are connected, and why preventing sexual violence requires ending white supremacy culture. It also explains white people’s role in making these changes.
How is the sexual violence movement tied together with the movement to end racial injustice?
At its heart, doing the work of sexual violence prevention is:
- a refusal to accept abuses of power in the world,
- a commitment to stopping those same abuses from continuing, and
- providing space for victims to reclaim their power.
Violence is rooted in oppression. This includes racial violence and sexual violence. . Since all forms of violence share the same root, , we cannot just focus on one without looking at other forms of violence. If we focused on only one aspect, the problem would never be solved and the specific needs of all victims would never be met. All forms of prejudice against marginalized communities -- like racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and ableism -- feed into the inequity and abuse that underscore all forms of sexual violence. In order to prevent sexual violence, we must acknowledge and take steps to undo the systemic ways racism shows up in our communities and our work,.
What is meant by ‘performative allyship’?
Being performative is when we do things in a superficial way just to say we did them or to make ourselves feel better but no actual change takes place. Performativity is often done to increase social standing when a specific topic is ‘trending’ or ‘popular’. For example, if we only do the work of educating ourselves on Black history (one month a year), or on Juneteenth (one day a year), we begin to be performative in our commitment to social justice.Even though it's symbolically significant that Juneteenth is a national holiday, a white person taking the day off work doesn’t create real meaningful differences for people who are subjected to racism. We want to shift our mindsets away from thinking about celebrating any one day or doing one single action as a complete workload in ending racial injustice. We instead must incorporate action into the way we move through the world each day. People of color do not have the privilege to choose to take a break from institutional racism- it affects them everyday. Therefore, the work of allies must be done every day. Maintaining a focus on the injustices perpetrated against Black, Indigenous, and people of color is not work that is only done on one day of the year or a task to be checked off a list. It must be integrated into our work at all times. Celebrating Juneteenth AND Fighting the System All Year Long
Why is understanding racial injustice crucial to understanding sexual violence?
Sexual violence impacts everyone. People are impacted by sexual violence in different ways depending upon their identity, history, and privilege. The term intersectionality comes from a concept created by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and refers to the many different aspects of our identity that create various privileges or disadvantages throughout our life. Intersectionality does not just look at race but other identities as well such as ability, family wealth, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other forms of discrimination. A person identifies as all of their identities and cannot separate one from the others. People with different identities will experience the world and injustice differently. For example, someone born with a disability to a supportive family of wealth will have a very different experience moving through the world than someone born with a disability in a low-income community or in foster care. Even the nature of those disabilities will create different experiences for the people not just in its physical aspects or limitations, but in the ways others treat them and in how visible the disabilities are to others. These differences get more complex with each layer of a person.
Early on in the sexual violence movement, the focus on equality was exclusively on the needs of upper class white women and often left out the experiences and needs of transgender women, women of color and working class women. For example, while many feminist movements fought to give women the right to work, this overlooked the reality that most women of color, immigrant, and poor women had been overworking for centuries. This is what we refer to as 'white feminism,' and why equality movements must be intersectional and include the lived experiences of everyone. This is also why it is important to understand the trauma of sexual violence as intersectional. -We must consider how Black women and other people of color experience sexual trauma in unique ways due to larger systems of racism and discrimination.
That experience not only informs how victims might experience sexual violence but also what might happen afterward. For example, many victims of sexual assault do not feel comfortable going to police because of fears for their safety in that space as a Black person. Even in seeking medical or mental health, institutional racism is present and informs their interactions there. For example, Black women are 240% more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when seeking mental health support. This has to do with the thoughts, biases, and expectations in the mind of the doctor, which then have a very real outcome for the patient. This is why we cannot prevent sexual violence without also addressing the realities of racism in the world.
How are concepts of privilege and inequality linked?
Everyone is created equal, but the privilege each individual is awarded in the world is different. Using this concept is a great place to start understanding racism, in fact. Everyone is created equal, yet how do we explain the stark differences in statistics between such things as wealth, health measures, premature death and educational attainment in people of color? What is this invisible force causing certain groups of people across the country to chart lower on various aspects of life, since we all have the same potential as human beings? The answer is institutional racism and it’s not actually invisible. Some people may have never noticed it before because it hasn’t negatively affected them or they never learned about it. This type of learning isn’t a cut and dry exercise like we may have done in school. We must maintain an ever growing awareness of the ways in which these concepts are linked and present in our lives.
What is the role of uncomfortable conversations in the movement to end all forms of violence?
Individuals in privileged groups often confuse the discomfort they may feel in realizing how history and society has been built aligned to their needs (at the expense of others) as harm being done to them. The reality is that our own personal journeys with realizing our own privilege will be jarring experiences because it requires us to engage with very harmful realities in the world that we have perhaps been shielded from or unaware of. In order for society to be accountable to the harms it has caused in the past and present, those harms must be understood to the full extent of their impact. No single individual is to blame for racism in the world; however, every person has a duty to understand their own role in reproducing it or how they’ve benefited from it. Given that white, heterosexual, non-disabled males have historically benefitted from these systems, there is an even greater emphasis on their allyship in changing it.
Reminding white people of the privilege they have isn’t meant to shame them or make them feel bad about themselves — it’s meant to motivate them to enact change and use that privilege to help advance more equitable conditions in the world for others. In order to make meaningful change, we must first become aware of our own privileges and be open, non-resistant, and teachable when we are educated or confronted by it. The first step is becoming comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. If someone is uncomfortable examining their own privilege, they may overreact or project judgment when they are asked by another to see their privilege. It is unfair to push unwanted emotions onto someone or shift blame to avoid our own feelings. The goal should always be to create more equitable solutions- thus, when the conversations get derailed by resistance because the conversations are uncomfortable, it again centers the conversation away from the true victims. If you start to feel emotions coming up when being confronted with the realities of racial injustice, remind yourself that these uncomfortable moments in no way compare to the centuries of discomfort, harm, and crimes against humanity which have been perpetrated against victims of white supremacy. This can help you gain perspective.
What is the relationship between privilege and poverty?
It’s important not to confuse privilege with the absence of difficulty. Privileged doesn’t necessarily mean ‘rich.’ Having privilege doesn’t mean your life has always been easy- it means that your life hasn’t been made harder because of your race, sexuality, ability, or other identity. For example, you are privileged if you regularly walk through stores without being followed because profiling demographics don’t target you. You are privileged if the Supreme Court has never had to vote whether you can be allowed to marry your spouse or not, or on your right to reproductive health. You are privileged if you never had to wonder if you didn’t get a job because of wearing your hair naturally, or if you can freely access any building you wish to without worrying if there might be a mobility barrier for you. Some people may have never noticed it before because it hasn’t negatively affected them or they never learned about it. Historically, privileged groups have been non-disabled, white, heterosexual males of the middle to upper classes.
How is racism institutionalized into our society?
Many people actually are not aware of what racism is and might mistakenly believe it to be biased opinions or bigoted views. Racism is a system that benefits one racial group over another. It goes beyond biased views and is embedded into how whole systems work and have worked for many centuries. The pervasive institutional aspect of racism is different from how we have normally been raised to think about it (or privileged enough to never have to experience it), but this aspect is very important to understand. Institutions are what create our life and society in the modern world- they make up our jobs, health, education, criminal justice system and so much more. We rely on institutions to work, get food, to be safe on the road, to have medical care, to have a bank account- almost everything. Racist practices against Black people and other non-white communities have created barriers in every one of these institutional aspects. We see evidence for it not just in the stories they tell but in the statistics that support the presence of institutional racism. We can clearly see institutional racism taking place when we look back on history as well. Its harms exist whether we choose to believe in them or not. This is why it’s much bigger than any one comment or any one person.
What can allies do to make an impact against racial injustice?
Racism is bigger than any one person, but every single person can make big impacts against it. If every single person began to challenge the norms of our society which are built on white supremacy, a new norm would begin to form. At present, our nation is still uncomfortable even having these conversations, so we have a long way to go. Nonetheless, there is opportunity for resistance at every level. For example, practicing bystander intervention when we hear someone make a racially motivated joke begins to set a new norm that racist comments are unwelcome in the public sphere. You don’t have to have any special set of skills to be a bystander. Even saying out loud “I’m not comfortable with this” or asking someone else for help is a meaningful effort. Resources are available to help find strategies that work for everyone.
The more this happens, the more we start having critical conversations about why and the harms they cause. But again, we can’t just stop at having conversations. It’s also vital that we don’t create solutions on behalf of other people without consulting them. In many instances in the past, ideas and solutions Black people created on behalf of themselves were ignored or others took credit for them. Without lived experience, we cannot fully understand the problem and therefore are equipped to develop appropriate solutions.