An Open Letter from Black Women’s Blueprint to the Black Women Survivors Who Were Sexually Assaulted by Daniel Holtzclaw
This letter was drafted by and submitted by Movement Maker Farah Tanis and her colleagues at Black Women’s Blueprint.
To the 13 sister-survivors who were sexually brutalized by Daniel Holtzclaw, and the countless others who stood in the face of injustice uttering what for many are unspeakable truths both inside and outside of that Oklahoma City courtroom, we at Black Women’s Blueprint write you in solidarity, in support, and in sisterhood.
Black Women’s Blueprint is a civil and human rights organization of women and men. Our purpose is to take action to secure social, political and economic equality in American society now. We work to develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race and other disparities are erased. We work tirelessly to ensure that sexualized racism and racialized sexism are eradicated, and that Black women and girls have rights to viable and holistic futures.
Many of us are survivors and come from families of survivors all over the Black Diaspora including the U.S., the Caribbean and the African continent. We represent multiple generations of Black women weaving the pieces of their lives and families back together in the aftermath of violence. We continue to demand justice for harm inflicted by law officials—police, prison guards, border patrols and other agents of the State. We are on constant journeys toward healing, toward rewriting our personal narratives and reclaiming our bodies and ourselves. We know all too well what you’re going through. For that reason, we write you this open and public letter.
This letter is to the the sisters assaulted by officers during traffic stops, on highways and byways, in transport from jail cells to the nation’s courtrooms, the backseats of police cars, station bathrooms and on prison floors. It is to the incarcerated and arrested Black women routinely assaulted on hospital beds, and for the women left alone with guards and violated in holding cells at precincts and stations all over our cities and towns.
Over the past few days we have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on your stories and our own. We want you to know that every woman and every girl in the Black Women’s Blueprint has been profoundly impacted by your stories. We have been reinvigorated for action. Today we think back to the times in our collective history when women banded together to fight sexual violence and deployed their collective voices. They lifted their voices through their pens and their letters, through their testimonies and sometimes through their marches. Ida B. Wells-Barnett traveled throughout the U.S. and even to Europe to tell of the racial and sexual horrors of the American nation-state. Rosa Parks, although known for igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, began her grassroots organizing work by investigating the rapes and torture of Black women in the South. Sisters, she investigated and advocated to end Jim Crow rapes—which were part of the systemic and wholesale attacks on African-American communities who wanted nothing but full recognition as citizens and equal human beings. Today, in 2015, we still fight. We fight for the full protection of our rights as Black women because silence prevails and the invisibility is almost complete within Black communities and in greater society: about Black women’s lives; about the level of sexual violation; the continued systematic exclusion of our specific gendered experiences in the broader agenda for civil and human rights.
Sisters, in a world which discounts Black women, you have brought us one step closer to ending the long-standing neglect and devaluation of Black women as survivors of rape and sexual assault.
For this, we stand with you.
We know the all-white jury and their conviction of Daniel Holtzclaw–on some of his crimes–in an unjust system is a rare occurrence. However, we know that a potential cumulative 263 years behind bars does not even begin to atone for his crimes against you and the other sisters who were unable and not allowed to come forward.
Know that your unwavering stance whether in the courtroom, at home or in your heart is part of a long legacy of resistance by Black women survivors, warriors, healers and freedom fighters like Harriet Jacobs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Recy Taylor and Joan Little.
Our prayers are that you know and understand you did nothing to cause this violence against you. Know that no matter what our state, what we wear, what we said, what or how we drive, you did nothing to cause sexual violence against you. Despite all the rhetoric, we remain clear that you, that none of us deserve to be raped, ever. You and all of us should have the right to do as we please and still be safe, still exist and still thrive in environments that considers yours and our inherent value and where those bent on inflicting harm are stopped in their tracks. You, as the human being that you are, should always be honored. You bear no responsibility for any sexual violence against you and therefore, no matter what the public says or does not say, the burden is not yours.
The Black men in our collective stand with you as well. They write:
As cisgender and transgender Black men, we stand in support of Black women survivors; in fact, we believe Black women, because racial-sexual violence is a facet of white supremacy that must be dismantled, and we cannot achieve Black liberation without securing and fighting for the whole livelihoods of Black women and girls. Sisters, you are not to blame. Sisters, you are not alone. What you choose to do for yourself from this moment on should be the focus and priority. As Black men, we denounce rape, patriarchy, sexism and misogyny, and stand with you as you seek healing, wholeness, and justice. We also commit to fighting as hard for you as you always fight for us. As Assata Shakur reminds us, “It is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
As Black women, we want you to know that the road ahead and the road to healing is complex. Please do not be convinced of or confused by the colorful and what will be rather persuasive arguments that will be heaped upon you. For this, we enclose you in a circle of Sister love.
The determination by those who will try to deter you will be fierce and unlike anything you may have ever experienced. Despite many of our denials, we all know we live in a deeply misogynistic world where the hate for women pervades every aspect of our culture and every system and industry imaginable. This misogyny is so pervasive that everyone including sister-friends may at some point and time say something accusatory, ignorant, and simply painful. Know that this is a manifestation of their internalized sexism and at times is a reflection of their own self-hate.
Through it all, be clear about this: you have a right to protect and defend your body, your self and you have a right to speak against sexual violence even if the harm-doer is an agent of the state.
Our work here at Black Women’s Blueprint has been to act and speak against the sexual violence that too many of us have endured at the hands of those who swore an oath to serve and protect us. We’re constantly writing, and engaging in conversation on behalf of Black women and girls who are survivors of rape. We are continuously defending our right to dignity and to safety. Today, we are demanding harm-doers be held responsible, repositioning the blame on the rightful parties—actual harm-doers, ill-defined masculinity, power and privilege and rape culture. The work is ongoing and relentless. We’re committed to doing this work for all of us; you are included in that number. We’re committed to repeating the call for justice, to repeating the demand for police officers to be held accountable for the actions, to repeating the demand that each person act to end rape and rape culture beyond the twenty-one times scientists say it takes for a message to be internalized by a learner, by members of our communities, campuses, and by families where we should be safe.
It is unfortunate that we live in a society where police officers in this country still rely on the conquest of Black women to affirm and reaffirm their value, power, masculinity, and existence. Within this context, rape is an abuse of power. Black women’s bodies have consistently been violated without national outcry because of harmful stereotypes about them that have been internalized for decades. Black women and girls have been beaten, raped, and killed by police and their names are quickly forgotten simply because they were Black and female. This reality is disheartening and is a symptom of a much more grotesque disorder in our society that needs to be addressed. However, that is the history of America. It is the template from which we all live and exist because of systems set up to ensure it is so. Clearly, the work has not been done. The verdict for Daniel Holtzclaw is in but the work is not complete. There are 5 victims whose accounts were not reflected in his convictions and many more who chose not to come forward. The work is not finished.
For this reason, we offer you the armor of Black feminist sisterhood whether or not it has come from anywhere else. For this reason, we will mobilize on your behalf and on behalf of the millions at your side. Sisters, you have embarked on what may be one of the toughest battles of your lives. You will need to summon the souls and spirits of your ancestors and cloak yourself in the warrior ethics of our foremothers.
We respectfully speak your names, Sisters. You are brave, worthy, and have sisters in the movement to end sexual violence against women and others who are targeted with frequent regularity.
There will be days when you don’t feel like fighting and that’s ok. You have a multitude of people worldwide behind you, at your left and at your right, in front of you and for sure under your feet as you stand on the shoulders of the fiercest warriors whom across centuries have fought to end sexual violence.
We FIGHT for you and for us, until there is peace.
With militant and abiding love,
Black Women’s Blueprint
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