Why We Can't Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in "My Brother's Keeper"

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Why We Can't Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in "My Brother's Keeper"

June 17, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama,

We write to join the concerns expressed by the letter from 200 Black Men about My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and to share our hopes that together, we can re-align this important Initiative to reflect the values of inclusion, equal opportunity and shared fate that have propelled our historic struggle for racial justice forward.

While we applaud the efforts on the part of the White House, private philanthropy, social justice organizations and others to move beyond colorblind approaches to race-specific problems, we are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking. The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.

We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative. When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them. Not only is there no exceedingly persuasive reason not to include them, the price of such exclusion is too high and will hurt our communities and country for many generations to come.

Those who have justified the exclusive gender focus of MBK often remind us that male youth of color are like the miner’s canary: their plight warns us that something is wrong in the mine. Indeed, something is desperately wrong when so many of our youth are falling victim to the consequences of punitive discipline, underfunded schools, poor job prospects, declining investments in public space, decreasing access to higher education, and worsening prospects on the job market.

Clearly American society continues to be a toxic environment for many of our young people. Yet male-exclusive initiatives seem to lose sight of the implications of the canary’s distress: it is not a signal that only male canaries are suffering. It makes no sense to equip the canary with a mentor, a gas mask and or some other individual-level support while leaving the mine as it is and expecting the females to fend for themselves. If the air is toxic, it is toxic for everyone forced to breathe it.

The President is right that our youth need to be sent a message that they are valued, that their lives matter and that someone cares enough for them to invest time, resources and attention to confront the obstacles undermining their futures. Yet apparently, the “kids” who warrant such wide-scale investment do not include girls and young women of color. But, let this much be clear: today, many women and girls of color are under siege in the United States and the myth that they are not must be challenged.

Our daughters’ lives are disproportionately at risk, as data on violent victimization make clear. Native American girls are victims of rape or sexual assault at more than double the rate of other racial groups, while Black girls have the highest rates of interpersonal victimization from assault and are more likely to know their assailant than all other groups. Additionally, the homicide rate among Black girls and women ages 10-24 is higher than for any other group of females, and higher than white and Asian men as well.

Our daughters’ access to education is disproportionately compromised. Black girls are more than 3 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls, and are disproportionately funneled through the juvenile justice systems. This is the first step in a process that leads to the over incarceration of Black women, whom are 3x more likely to wind up behind bars than white women. Additionally, the four-year graduation rate for Latinas is the lowest among all girls. Dropping out of high school places all youth at risk, but the negative effects on their long term economic security is even greater for girls than it is for boys.

Our daughters’ economic futures are disproportionately undermined by wage and wealth inequality. Women of color face both gender and race barriers in the job market, and typically make less than both men of color and white women. The median wealth for Latinas is $120 and for Black women it is $100 dollars, This means that just about half of Black women and Latinas are forced to walk an economic high wire without any net whatsoever. Considering that the majority of all households depend on women’s wages and wealth, the economic future of female youth is vital to the community as a whole, including the sons and daughters that are dependent on their mothers’ well-being.

Our daughters are ignored and under-researched. Although the exclusion of girls has been justified as data-driven, the fact is that little data is gathered on them. This situation creates a vicious cycle in which the assumptions that girls are not in crisis leads to research and policy interventions that overlook them, thus reinforcing their exclusion from efforts like MBK to bring successful programs to scale. MBK is not only built on this foundation, but extends it further by failing to require the inter-agency task force to report data that address the wellbeing of girls of color as well as boys. This erasure simply adds to the crisis that girls of color face, forcing them to suffer in relative silence.

In short, women and girls of color are not doing fine, and until they are, men and boys will not be doing fine either.

Girls and young women must be included in all our efforts to lift up the life chances of youth of color. To those who would urge us to settle for some separate initiative, we need only recall that separate but equal has never worked in conditions of inequality, nor will it work for girls and women of color here.

To those who would urge us to take up our concerns with the White House Council on Women and Girls, we note that the Council, like many gender-focused initiatives on women, lacks an intersectional frame that would address the race-based challenges faced by young women of color in a racially-stratified society. We note as well that the scale and magnitude of the issues addressed within MBK are specific to the needs of communities of color. The White House Council on Women and Girls should of course, be encouraged and supported to do more; however, girls and women of color suffer, struggle and succeed with the men and boys in their lives. Only together will our collective well-being improve.

Moving forward, we are mindful that those who risked their lives to challenge racial injustice believed that we all deserved better lives: men as well as women, girls as well as boys. Holding up the reality of our shared fate, we call on all MBK partners--public as well as private--to expressly include women and girls of color in this historic effort. We stand ready to work together to realize the aspirations that we all share for our youth and for our community.

Flip through the eBook to see the full list of signees: 

Black Male Exceptionalism? The Problems and Potential of Black Male-Focused Interventions

See below for Paul Butler's article in last fall's Du Bois Review. "Black male exceptionalism" is the premise that African American men fare more poorly than any other group in the United States. The discourse of Black male exceptionalism presents African American men as an “endangered species.” Some government agencies, foundations, and activists have responded by creating “Black male achievement” programs. There are almost no corresponding “Black female achievement” programs. Yet empirical data does not support the claim that Black males are burdened more than Black females. Without attention to intersectionality, Black male achievement programs risk obscuring Black females and advancing patriarchal values. Black male achievement programs also risk reinforcing stereotypes that African American males are violent and dangerous. An intersectional approach would create space for Black male focused interventions, but require parity for Black female programs.

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I'm Rising Up for Justice Today

Executive Director Kimberle Crenshaw is rising up for incarcerated women today at Century Regional Detention! Here are Crenshaw's prepared remarks:

I am rising today because in the words of the great Civil Rights Hero, Fannie Lou Hammer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”


I’m sick and tired that, according to UN reports, 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—this amounts to over 1 billion worldwide!


Last year over 1 billion people in over 200 countries rose up to end violence against women and girls. This year we are escalating our efforts and focusing on what justice looks like in communities all over the world.


The ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE campaign recognizes that we cannot end violence against women without ending all intersecting forms of oppression and injustice: poverty, racism, homophobia, war, the plunder of the environment, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy.

Standing here, in front of this facility that holds nearly 2,400 women, I’m sick and tired of the fact that there are more than 200,000 women and girls under confinement today, and that the US has the highest rate of incarcerating women in the entire world! The US has only 5% of the world’s population but a staggering 25% of the world’s prisoners.


I’m sick and tired of the fact that most of the incarcerated women are far more likely to be survivors rather than perpetrators of violence, are more likely to have experienced gender-based traumas as precursors to their offenses, are more likely to be here because of an issue related to substance abuse, and are less likely to have access to adequate treatment facilities, or any other support systems to facilitate their re-entry into society upon release from prison.


I’m sick and tired of these issues being ignored, of moneys that should have been saved from re-alignment being reinvested in more prisons rather than bettering the lives of these women.


I’m sick and tired that pretty much everything and everybody is considered “endangered” except the women and girls most at risk of losing their health, livelihood and lives to violence, both physical, mental and economic.

I’m sick and tired of the trickle down justice that we hear from just about everybody, from the President on down, who tell us to wait in line before we prioritize the lives of women and girls.


I’m sick and tired of being told that it is ONLY our boys who are in crisis, when it is young girls who are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system; when it is Black girls 12 and older who have the highest rates of violent victimization when compared to their white and Latina counterparts.


I’m sick and tired of the fact right here in California, Black women are 7.1 percent of the female population, but nearly 70 percent of the girls in detention; and that 85-90 percent of all incarcerated women have reported a history of sexual abuse.


I’m sick and tired that our young black girls are disproportionately arrested for prostitution in Los Angeles—constituting nearly 92% of all arrests in LA in 2010.


I’m sick and tired of the fact that according to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations, Jails, Prisons and detention facilities often put women at greater risk of more physical and mental abuse, exacerbating the very traumas—physical, emotional and economic—that have entrapped women and girls in the first place.


I am sick and tired of the fact that Native Women have the absolute highest rates of intimate partner abuse (nearly 2 times the average) and yet extending the protections of the VAWA to include them proved to be a controversial proposition.


I’m sick and tired of the fact that trans women of color are routinely housed in male prisons rather than female prisons and, as a result, are raped and abused by guards and inmates at rates higher than cis-men and cis-women.


I’m sick and tired of the fact that even though women of color are more likely to experience intimate partner violence, more likely to suffer from untreated trauma, more likely to be homeless, more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be murdered, that we are often shamed into silence by our very own communities, fearful of airing dirty laundry.


I’m sick and tired of the fact that some of our feminist sisters who raise up our mutual vulnerability as women, downplay our differences, ignoring the fact that more police, more prisons, and more punishment are not the universal answers to the problem.


I’m just sick and tired of showing up for others who don’t show up for us.


But . . . standing here, as part of the rising of 1 Billion people all over the world, showing up for each other, my sick and tired is transformed into being fierce and energized.


I am lifted up by the fact that ALL OVER THE WORLD—in over 200 countries and 10,000 risings, other women, children, and the men who love them are casting off any doubt that nothing can change.


We are reaching out, in the spirit of hope, knowing that justice can only come when our global energy shines light into the shadows that breed oppression. And Yes, I’m going to DANCE because we’re sick and tired and the act of dancing is NO Contradiction.


If Rosa Parks could sit down to Stand Up for Justice, then we can certainly dance to the tune of a NEW DAY in which Violence in all its forms is a memory of a world long ago.

So let’s dance . . . and carry that energy, that joy that determination into every space, every place, where justice must be made OUR OWN.

Rise Up for Justice this Valentine's Day!

NEW YORK CITY--AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw will be rising up for female justice this Friday! Crenshaw, who is also a board member of V-Day, will be joining the Lynwood Prison Rising, one of thousands of risings around the world where women, men, and children will rise up and dance. Learn more about One Billion Rising for Justice 2014!

Find a rising near you!

Learn why members of the recent Los Angeles "State of Female Justice" participants are rising!

Learn why Executive Director Crenshaw is rising!

Read Crenshaw's "Justice Rising" (Huffington Post)