Tomorrow, New York City will be host to its first SlutWalk, a protest march organized in response to the suggestion that women must mind what they wear in order to prevent sexual assault and harassment. The Toronto based movement, which has spread across the globe to places including Buenos Aires, South Africa, Sweden and Romania, has faced harsh criticism from a group of influential black feminists and their allies who feel that women of color have been marginalized in the naming and organization of the marches in “An Open Letter to SlutWalk Organizers from Black Women”.
As black women and girls we find no space in SlutWalk, no space for participation and to unequivocally denounce rape and sexual assault as we have experienced it. We are perplexed by the use of the term “Slore” and by any implication that this word, much like the word “Ho” or the “N” word should be re-appropriated. The way in which we are perceived and what happens to us before, during and after sexual assault crosses the boundaries of our mode of dress. Much of this is tied to our particular history. In the United States, where slavery constructed black female sexualities, Jim Crow kidnappings, rape and lynchings, gender misrepresentations, and more recently, where the black female immigrant struggle combine, “Slore” has different associations for black women. We do not recognize ourselves nor do we see our lived experiences reflected within SlutWalk and especially not in its brand and its label.
…As black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “Slore” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations…Every tactic to gain civil and human rights must not only consult and consider women of color, but it must equally center all our experiences and our communities in the construction, launching, delivery and sustainment of that movement…We ask that SlutWalk take critical steps to become cognizant of the histories of people of color and engage women of color in ways that respect culture, language and context…
While I, too, have my concerns about a seeming lack of direct engagement of black women in the development of SlutWalk (particularly the domestic ones), I feel that sisters should go out and march tomorrow and we should actively participate in the movement in order to guarantee inclusion from within. The alternative would be starting our own marches and quite frankly, I don’t find that to be necessary this time around. If SlutWalk claims to represent the needs of women across cultural and socio-economic lines, let’s be there to ensure that it does with our presence.
The Black women behind this letter are the proverbial ‘choir.’ They get it. They understand street harassment and sexual assault, but they fail to realize that an argument over semantics is not as pressing as the need to get African-American women engaged in the struggle for our basic human rights and dignity. Let’s have conversations with not only the organizers, but also the many black women who fail to acknowledge the need to eradicate the culture of rape and harassment that charges women with “protecting” themselves with what they wear, as opposed to holding men accountable for their crimes against women. Let’s stop shaming girls and women for enjoying low-cut dresses and flirting, and instead, educate boys and men on how to be respectful of them regardless of how ‘easy’ or ‘available’ they may look. Let’s stop treating rape victims like suspects who are lying until proven assaulted. Then, perhaps, we can quibble over the word “Slore.”