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 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 Blueprint, Trans Sistas of Color Project, and 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).
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.