White Supremacy & Gender-Based Violence: How They Feed Each Other and What We Can Do About It

Gender-based violence (or the process of controlling, coercing, or otherwise exerting power over someone because of their gender) is both a tool and a driver of white supremacy. Ending gender-based violence requires us to see and dismantle the same forces that support the existence of white supremacy. At the same time, this work calls us to envision and work toward equity and liberation. So what does this mean in practical terms for advocates working in the movement to end sexual and domestic violence who are white?

While the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other related groups may be the face of white supremacy, they are in fact merely overt expressions of more covert and normalized systems of power and control wielded over communities of color.

White supremacy is more than just individual attitudes of superiority over people of color and individual acts of violence and suppression. It is a system of exploitation and control that is meant to consolidate and maintain advantages, influence, and wealth for white people.

Many of us are shocked by the recent emboldened activity and hateful rhetoric expressed by white supremacists marching in the streets, however the real power of white supremacy operates in more covert ways, through our country’s institutional policies and practices. As Dr. Cornel West says, speaking about witnessing white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, “…that kind of hatred…is just theater.”

The mainstream movement to end gender-based violence has not historically been working in large-scale ways to disrupt white supremacy, despite the fact that many women of color and organizations of color (Beth Richie, Alissa Bierra, Mimi Kim, and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence just to name a few) have long been articulating the connections and sounding an alarm for the movement to awaken to and act on those connections. It’s not too late to listen.

How do white supremacy and gender-based violence connect?

We know that gender-based violence is both a tool and driver of white supremacy. Here are a few examples of how they operate to reinforce one another:

  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are reluctant to seek help or call the police for fear of mistreatment, deportation, or for example in Charleena Lyles’ case, even death.
  • Gender-based violence acts as a tool of white supremacy when sexual violence against communities of color is used as a weapon of suppression, as in the case of European colonization of the Americas.
  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are criminalized for defending themselves and their families against lethal violence in their homes.
How isms connect-visual

Violence against women in this context includes cis and trans women and non-binary people.

How can advocates — who are white and working in our movement — build racial justice and begin to disrupt white supremacy?

  • We can start by noticing systems of advantages and disadvantages based on skin color: how does white skin privilege play out in housing, media, criminal/legal, banking/loan, and educational systems? How do systemic disadvantages affect survivors of color who may or may not be seeking help from our organizations?
  • We can dive deeper by having open, compassionate, unflinching conversations with other potential allies about how we can and should be working to change those systems.
  • We can and should listen to and take leadership from communities of color, or those who are most directly impacted by racist systems.
  • We can and should show up others who are working on equity and liberation by supporting and amplifying their efforts. We are better together.

How is the Action Alliance working to build racial justice and undermine white supremacy?

The Action Alliance recognizes that racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence, hinder survivors from obtaining adequate safety and support, and impede accountability for people who commit harm. We have made a commitment to conduct anti-violence work through a racial justice lens, with a focus on equity and liberation. Here are a few examples of what we are currently working on and how it connects with our values:

  • We believe that communities of color should be supported in connecting with one another to build power and community. We are hosting a Town Hall by and for Black women in September to offer a venue for Black women to name their own experiences and brainstorm solutions to common challenges.
  • We believe in showing up for one another. We are co-sponsoring the National March for Black Women, September 30, in Washington, D.C., a march organized by Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color Projectand Black Youth Project 100.
  • We believe in keeping kids free. Through education, collaborative partnerships, and policy change, we are working to dismantle Virginia’s “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison-pipeline“)–which disproportionately affects children of color and children with disabilities–and build in its place compassionate and proportional responses to youth.
  • We know that racial justice is an essential framework for providing trauma-informed and survivor-centered advocacy, so we provide ongoing education about the connections between advocacy and racial justice through our Training Institute.
  • We know equity and liberation are built one relationship at a time and require honest and loving conversations, so in our August and September staff meetings we are talking about our racial justice work, and what else we can and should be doing to strengthen our efforts (see images below).

Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are personally working to build racial justice, along with other things we could/should be doing.


Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are  working to build racial justice as an organization, along with other ideas for things we could/should be doing.

None of us will do this perfectly. Working to build racial justice, equity, and liberation requires us to hold many conflicting truths at once. This work is joyful, it is messy, it is painful, it is energizing, it is draining, and it is loving. Most of all, it is necessary, and all of it requires that we do our best to hold ourselves and our comrades accountable and lifted up in honest and loving ways. Join us.

Featured image: Reuters/Ted Soqui 

Thank you to Jonathan Yglesias and Amanda Pohl for their editing help and feedback on this piece.

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia. 



On False Equivalencies and Surviving Domination

Written by The NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse, Seattle, WA. We are grateful to NW Network for creating and sharing this work, and for granting us permission to reprint it.

For many years, the NW Network has talked with our communities about “survivor’s use of violence.” As an organization by and for survivors, we knew this was a crucial silence to break and information our communities desperately needed.

People are often confused when survivors use violence. They want to dismiss survivors who use physical force to survive as “mutual” actors in abuse. This idea asks less of people than recognizing the dynamics of abuse. It asks less than inviting survivors to come out of the shadows and stand in our full humanity–not as objectified victims, but as full, complex humans who want to survive and whose sparks of self-determination, of human will, still smolder despite even the most egregious attempts to extinguish us.

As survivors of battering, rape, bias harassment and violence, police harassment and violence, and all manner of violations by the state, the advocates of the NW Network are all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse. We see the devastating impact of this erasure within our private lives and in the public square.

We know that survival under conditions of domination is as gritty as it is grace-filled.

[We are] all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse.

Daily, we talk with survivors who were calculatedly pushed to the breaking point and are now being buried under such false equivalencies. Abusive partners tell survivors, “Look, you’re just the same as me, no one will help you.” The state tells survivors, “The fact that you survived means you couldn’t have been in danger,” or “If you were really afraid, why were you even there in the first place?”

Such false equivalencies are another in a long list of insults to our humanity, of the willful refusal to understand the dynamics of domination and to stand with people fighting against organized attempts to dehumanize and annihilate them.

Of course, sometimes abuse can be subtle, and it can be legitimately hard for friends and family to discern what is happening.  And then sometimes it is the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists and skin heads and Nazis calling for your annihilation, and the lines are pretty clear cut.

Violent Clashes Erupt at "Unite The Right" Rally In Charlottesville

Getty Images

This week, while neglecting to name Heather Heyer, the social justice activist who was slain by a white nationalist, President Trump stood before our nation and rationalized and asserted tenets of KKK, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi propaganda. You are trying to change history, he said.  You are trying to change culture.

President Trump praised people who took up torches and marched through the streets of Charlottesville chanting violence against Black, Jewish and queer and trans people, calling them “very fine people.” He purposefully and repeatedly insisted that explicitly racist, anti-Jewish, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic actions taken to intimidate and violate communities were the same as actions taken to defend those communities.

The NW Network will continue to stand with survivors in their full humanity. We will not turn away when survivors defend themselves against domination with force.

We take courage from, lift up and stand with the work of Survived and Punished—a group that organizes to free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence whose survival actions have been criminalized.  Some are still in prison, some are confined to their homes, some are languishing in immigration detention, and some live with the threat of incarceration or deportation at any moment.  Some did not make it out of prison alive.”

Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer’s parents, family and comrades and to the Black, Jewish, queer and trans and activist communities of Charlottesville.

And for every survivor who was told “there is blame on all sides,” we see you. We see the lie for what it is, and we are here for you.

Call us if you need us.

The Northwest Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy.  We work within a broad liberation movement dedicated to racial, social & economic justice, equality and respect for all people and the creation of loving, inclusive and accountable communities.  nwnetwork.org 

Feature image: David Brown of Plymouth, Mass., sends a message during a protest Sunday, held in response to a white nationalist rally that spiraled into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., the day before. Credit: Steven Senne/AP. Source: NPR. 

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #falseequivalencies

Charlottesville: Acknowledging the Trauma and Getting Our Normal Back

Minutes before James Fields slammed his Dodge Charger into the crowd, we had been marching jubilantly down Water Street.

Two marching groups of anti-racists/anti-fascists had merged near the Charlottesville Downtown Mall and as we converged, so did our chants. The crowd was celebrating the fact that large groups of white supremacists and nazis had been driven from downtown: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Our group paused at 4th and Water. Several members were calling for a mic check, but their calls were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. We were standing in the middle of the intersection. The crowd looked as though it was about to turn up 4th Street toward the Mall, only one block away. My partner turned to me and shouted in my ear, “Let’s move to the side. I don’t like this. We shouldn’t be in the middle of this crowd.” She had noticed a few white supremacists infiltrating the group.

As she said this, the screams and quick series of sickening loud thuds happened almost simultaneously. My first thought was that a bomb or grenade had gone off, and more were on the way. What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact. In the panic, we tried to run for shelter, but not before my foot snagged on a banner that had been dropped behind me. We both hit the pavement.

What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact.

We crouched under a tree on the corner sidewalk and checked each other for damage. My body felt numb and sharply aching at the same time. Horrified, my partner said, “I swear to god I saw legs flying up in the air. I think those were legs. I swear they were legs.” She said the words over and over, as though repeating it would help it make more sense. We looked back at the scene. A burgundy minivan that had earlier been hidden in the crush of the crowd had lurched several yards into the intersection upon impact (trigger warning: drone video). It now rested a few feet from where we had been standing.

There were so many people hurt. So many people screaming. I called 911. I counted the time the line rang on the other end. 15 rings, no response.

36569860635_b0c2768e17_k flowers in road-Bob Mical

Getty Images

If you were part of or an observer in the counter protest in Charlottesville this weekend, you were likely either a target of violence or you bore witness to violence. Both can be traumatic experiences. Watching the scenes unfold on television can be traumatic too.

If you are a person of color, you have likely lived through being a target of traumatic racist oppression, and experienced the psychological and physical toll that racism exacts on people of color on a daily basis.

As advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, many of us are familiar with the host of reactions that follow trauma. While everyone’s particular reactions to trauma are unique, the range of types of experiences is common. Here are four types of normal reactions to trauma that you may be experiencing after living through what Jelani Cobb has now called, “The Battle of Charlottesville“, along with some tips for helping yourself or a friend move through it over the next few days or weeks.

  1. A nervous system on high alert

What it looks like: Hyper-vigilance is a heightened state of awareness, which is part of our instinctual fight/flight response. It feels like being constantly on guard. Your brain is trying to protect you by constantly scanning your environment for danger (“That guy walking toward me with the short hair and khaki pants: is he a nazi?” “Do those tattoos/slogans on a shirt/bumper sticker tell me whether that person is a white supremacist?” “Am I close to an exit in case I need to run?”). An exaggerated startle reflex may mean you nearly jump out of your skin at the sound of a loud noise or startling sight. As a heightened state of anxiety and physiological tension, hyper-vigilance can be exhausting for both your body and mind.

What to do: Remember that this is your brain’s way of practicing risk assessment by gauging people, situations, and potential harm. Breathe; mindful breathing is a calming technique always available to us. If you need to, disengage with the stressor. As with any kind of healing, sleep is crucial. Reduce caffeine and/or alcohol consumption to promote better sleep and reduce jumpiness. Go for a walk or try any other physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s sports, dancing, gardening, etc. Get some fresh air. Play outside.

2. Re-experiencing the trauma

What it looks like: This can often take the shape of intrusive thoughts: an unbidden replaying of the trauma-inducing scene(s) over and over again, often especially when falling asleep. Flashbacks may make you feel as though you are back in the situation, reliving the memory. Traumatic memories are heavily sensory-related; intrusive thoughts and/or flashbacks will often replay or are triggered by sights, sounds, and/or smells.

What to do: Mindfulness, breathing, and other grounding sensory strategies can help. Consciously slow down and deepen your breathing. Feel the weight of your body sitting in a chair, or your feet holding you to the ground. Rather than fighting the encroaching thought, notice that it is simply a thought, a way of your brain healing itself by trying to make sense of the event; there is no need to react to it. Do yoga. Turn off your screen and stretch before bed to help prepare your body for deep sleep.

  1. Problems concentrating

What it looks like: Inability to focus, or feeling mentally foggy. You may pause a task to start another and then wonder, “What was I supposed to be doing?” You may also notice impaired short-term memory and/or “checking out”.  You may constantly want to check news reports or other accounts of the incident (or avoid the topic altogether): the wealth of commentary and perspectives about the events and impact of what happened in Charlottesville seems limitless. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of news stories, videos, eyewitness accounts, analyses, and troll comments, especially when the incident has captured national attention.

What to do: Consciously carve out a set time for no news consumption. Give yourself a time limit and then put down your phone. If possible, choose work and home tasks this week that don’t require a lot of mental focus. If you must focus to accomplish a series of tasks, keep a running list to help you remember. Get fresh air. Rest. Know that this will pass.

 4. Emotional responses

What it looks like: Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, numbness, feeling overwhelmed. Avoidance of things that remind of you of the trauma. Perhaps thinking the world is more dangerous than you did before. Guilt in the form of criticizing yourself for how you handled the trauma. Survivor’s guilt: feeling guilty for surviving the trauma when others were killed/seriously harmed. Isolation/traumatic bonding: feeling as though only the people who were there can truly understand how it felt. Isolating yourself from people who didn’t share the traumatic experience with you because words are insufficient for conveying the experience to others.

What to do: Activate your support system; find a friend to talk to and share your experience. Journal and/or make artwork about what you experienced and how you feel now. Make plans to expand your actions to build racial justice, and find a community who is working on the same thing. Seek physical comfort by cuddling with a loved one (person or animal). Cook (or order) a delicious and nourishing meal. Tap into your community (whether that community is family, faith, political, academic, athletic, etc). Make time to do activities that normally bring you joy.

Most of us will at some point in our lives encounter and be affected by trauma. Whether you are experiencing a few or many of these symptoms, often understanding that they are all related to the same source will help the symptoms feel more manageable. Most people will discover that the symptoms subside over a period of days to months. If you find yourself struggling to get back on track, seek a survivor advocate or other professional trained in responding to trauma reactions. It will get better.

Healing is happening right now; help it take root. There is much work to be done to confront and dismantle overt and covert racism and oppression; we need you here for the long haul…strong, resilient, feisty, and compassionate…to help build the world that serves and nourishes all of us. We need you here to help build collective liberation.


Helpful resources:

4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible (Self-care for people of color after trauma)

21 Common Reactions to Trauma: It helps to know what to expect after a terrifying event

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Healing from Trauma and Moving On

Simple Self-Care Practices for When It Feels Like the World is Falling Apart

Featured image: Tasos Katopodis/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #DefendCville

Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia.


In the Wake of Charlottesville: A Message to our Members

As our work week begins, here at the Action Alliance we are pausing to reflect on the violence that was perpetrated by predominantly male, white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend. Our hearts go out to our members, friends and colleagues who live and work in Charlottesville, and those who chose to travel from elsewhere in the state to join the counter-protest. You have our love and our compassion as you process and recover from the experience of being the targets of/witnessing hate-filled, identity-based violence. Those of you who work at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and the Sexual Assault Resource Agency are most especially in our hearts as you hold both the trauma of the racial and ethnic violence in your community with the violence that you confront in your work every day.

The images over the weekend of white supremacists shouting angry words, pumping their fists and raising weapons into the air looked far too familiar. In our work to end sexual and domestic violence we know that intimidation and violence are tools used by those who feel entitled to have power over others—especially when that entitlement feels threatened. We also know that there is no more dangerous time than the hours that follow a challenge to that controlling and violent behavior. We all witnessed this phenomenon as we watched one of the white men who had come to perpetrate racial violence intentionally drive a car into a crowd of anti-racists, taking a life and damaging countless more.

Twitter-Sofia Armen

Twitter/Sofia Armen

The lessons tens of thousands of us across the country have learned as we have taken on the work of trying to end sexual and domestic violence provide a filter through which we viewed the events of the weekend. We know that gender-based violence is rooted in oppression—and inseparable in both cause and effect from other forms of identity-based violence, most especially racism. Survivors have taught us that hateful language can sometimes leave deeper scars than physical violence. Perpetrators have taught us that it is not the behavior of their target that leads them to violence, but rather their own deeply held beliefs in their right to use violence to get what they want. Attempting to coordinate a community response has taught us that there is tremendous value in learning from our mistakes—taking the time to do a careful review of system responses when a life is lost to determine how those systems might have acted differently to prevent that loss of life and then making changes in the response.

Most of all we have learned that real power does not come from social status, from access to resources, from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling. Truth telling about the history of our country, including our great Commonwealth. Truth telling about the origins and the impact of privilege, hate and violence. Truth telling from each of us about the harm that we have experienced—and the harm that we have caused.

…Real power does not come from status…access to resources…or from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling…equity…and love.

Chip Somodeville-Getty Images

Chip Somodeville/Getty Images

Real power comes with equity. Equity is valuing all beings and all living things—letting go of our hierarchical notions that place some at the top of pyramids while others bear all of weight at the bottom. Equity is leveling the playing field for everyone—and celebrating all who choose to play. Equity is making reparations for harm caused by historical violence, including racism and ethnocentrism. Equity is seeing current injustice and making the changes it demands.

Real power comes from love. Love is compassion for ourselves and others. Love is forgiveness for ourselves and others. Love is naming violence and setting boundaries around behaviors—while holding open the possibility of rejoining the circle. Love is working together to build communities where children and adults can be curious, resilient, joyful, loving human beings able to respect and care for each other.

On behalf of all of us at the Action Alliance, take good care of yourselves and those in your close circle this week. Know that you are loved and the work that you do every day is making a difference. The Action Alliance will continue to work every day to end violence. Today we recommit to building racial justice; among our many efforts, we are partnering with Black Women’s Blueprint, Trans Sistas of Color Project, Black Youth Project (BYP100) and many other statewide groups to sponsor the March for Black Women September 30 in Washington, DC. We will soon be sending out a call for volunteers and support and we hope that you will join us.

In Peace,

The Leadership Team of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

Featured image source: Democracy Now

#Charlottesville #DefendCville #whitesupremacy #racialjustice

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 


Mass Incarceration and Children’s Toxic Stress

About 2.7 million children in America have at least one parent who is incarcerated. That’s about 1 of every 28 children today as compared with approximately 1 in 125 children 25 years ago. Across America, 11.4% of Black children, 3.5% of Hispanic children, and 1.8% of white children are included in the 2.7 million children living with at least one incarcerated parent.

Incarceration affects many more people than just those incarcerated. From families to communities, cycles of incarceration affect our entire society. Children and families are impacted in a major way, especially when a parent becomes incarcerated.

Families of incarcerated individuals are often disadvantaged financially long term. Parents  lose out on wages and paid work while they are physically incarcerated, and economic impacts after release can  follow them for the rest of their lives. There is a stigma around having an arrest, even without a charge or conviction, that often prevents formerly incarcerated people  from consistent employment, public assistance, and even housing opportunities.

In addition to the financial strain on families, mass incarceration also takes an emotional toll on children with incarcerated parents. Cycles of jail create uncertainty for children as they don’t know when their parent will return. The stress of having an incarcerated parent may show up in school children as lack of focus, inattention, or other problematic behaviors that may be misinterpreted as “acting out”.

Many of the impacts of incarceration on a family and community can be seen in the story of William Black. I came across the autobiographical piece about William Tank Black, father and husband. Black was the owner of Professional Management Inc., a sports management company that was worth more than $125 million, until one day his whole life changed when he was arrested and incarcerated. He tells the story of how being incarcerated impacted not only himself, but his family and the people he loved.

From financial instability, separation, loss of assets, and divorce, to fear, anger, loss of control, hopelessness, and desperation, Black was flooded with emotion when he realized just how much his mistake affected every single person in his life. I found myself empathizing with Black and his family as they endured his incarceration. This is the cycle of emotion and uncertainty that millions of children in our country are constantly going through. In an instant, this could even be my family.

Many organizations have ignited movements to end mass incarceration and/or to support children dealing with the stress of an incarcerated parent.

Sesame Street introduced a campaign, Little Children, Big Challengesto help children work through many difficult situations, including having an incarcerated loved one.

#Cut50 is working on making communities safer while reducing the number of people in our prisons and jails.

Has incarceration affected you? Are you already a part of the movement to end mass incarceration? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.


 This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young trauma survivors and young people experiencing high levels of toxic stress by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma.
Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “being disrespectful”, or “acting out”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.






Featured image source: https://www.ebpsociety.org/2016-q3/221-family-relationships-and-the-incarcerated-individual