“When we construct universal notions of women or masculine notions of Blackness [or race] …when we claim only some forms of violence as central to our struggles, we are claiming or remembering particular histories. Central to constructing more radical political struggles is the reclamation and reconstruction of fuller, more complex histories.” — Dr. Elsa Barkley Brown (University of Maryland)
Due to the harsh legacy of slavery, public disregard from black and non-black communities, and white-centered constructions of femininity that were never meant to protect black womanhood, sexual violence against African American women continues as an issue with historic roots and ongoing consequences. The U.S. Department of Justice has recently concluded that black women experience intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than their white counterparts and 2.5 times the rate of men and other women of color. Yet, for every black woman that reports a rape, at least 15 others who are victimized do not.
Furthermore, approximately 40% of black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18. Nationwide, 83% of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced a form of sexual harassment in public schools and the African American community is no exception. Indeed, today’s sexual violence against Black women mirrors the historic disregard for Black womanhood. A social intervention is clearly needed, but how can we respond? To answer this question, Dr. Elsa Barkley Brown’s statement rings true: the key is to reconstruct and reclaim the stories of our past. We reconstruct our stories by recalling their complexities, thus replacing the old, stereotypical narratives of others. We reclaim our stories by assuming authority on how they are told, thus using our voice as a weapon of resistance. Within the Black Women Truth and Reconciliation Commission, black women who have experienced sexual violence are encouraged to speak out, and actively use their voice as a measure of truth and justice.
Black Women’s Blueprint, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to social justice, has launched the Black Women Truth and Reconciliation Commission to respond to sexual violence against Black women and provide support. Its goals are to investigate and bring to light the past violence and to prove the existing inter-generational consequences these rapes of Black women still have today. BWTRC aims to engage all levels of society — including the international human rights community in reporting and in processes of deliberation that provide adequate space for Black women’s voices. Finally, the initiative seeks to develop strategies that can lead to social and political reconciliation with Black/African American communities which have practiced the silencing of victims. BWTRC will seek social and political reconciliation through human rights approaches, community collaboration, and public demand for structural change and/or sanctions.
Black Women’s Blueprint is now seeking women who are self-identified survivors of sexual assault or the children and grand-children of survivors to serve as Truth Campaign Commissioners for BWTRC. Commissioners must:
-Advocate for victims’ rights to justice, healing, and the truth.
-Engage in hands-on work related to ethics, research, oral history, public deliberations, other relevant activities and on-going planning.
-Work as highly visible grassroots activists and be able to commit time and effort needed to complete the mission.
-Be vocal in representing the seriousness of the issue of sexual assault.
For black women who have experienced sexual violence, speaking about their experiences can be difficult, and requires a network of love, acceptance, and support. Despite the difficulty of speaking out against sexual violence, the words of Audre Lorde offer the type of encouragement BWTRC seeks to promote: "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak."
Join BWTRC as a Truth Commissioner to demand both public and private support for primary prevention strategies that will stop violence against women and girls before it occurs. Work on a mass education campaign to eradicate stereotypes regarding black women’s sexuality and other destructive ideologies that perpetuate the notion that Black women are willing participants in their own victimization. Engage in re-shaping culture and collectively organizing for adequate intervention at the community level. To join BWTRC, contact the organization via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 347-533-9102, and visit their website.