Category Archives: Racism

Black Girls Under Fire: A Workshop and Discussion – June 1

We’ve reached capacity for this event. Thanks for your interest. We’ll post notes about the event here later.


Register HERE by May 20th only if you are CERTAIN that you will be able to attend. Space is LIMITED.

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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Events, Incarceration, LGBTQ, Racism, Violence


Reframing the Discourse on Teen Pregnancy: Resource List

Last September, we hosted (along with our allies) a two-day conference about violence in the lives of Chicago girls and young women.  As part of this event, Katy Groves & Chez Rumpf offered a workshop about our need to reframe the discourse on teen pregnancy.

Below is a description of their workshop:

Title: Baby College for All
Facilitators: Katy Groves (Youth Service Project) and Chez Rumpf (Center for Urban Research and Learning, Loyola University and Project NIA)

This workshop seeks to shift the framework around teen pregnancy and parenting. Pregnant and parenting teen girls often are pathologized as deviant young people who have become pregnant as a result of their personal deficiencies and problems. As such, services targeting these young women often attempt to “fix” or “reform” them through individual-level interventions. This workshop will engage participants in imagining ways to de-stigmatize teen pregnancy and parenting. Rather than frame teen pregnancy as a life-ending event that shoulders young women with insurmountable barriers, we will consider how to create structural supports for young mothers and how to cultivate a culture that places a high value on children.

Using a popular education approach, facilitators will lead participants through an activity to identify the current stigma and pathologizing discourse about teen pregnancy and to investigate the causes and consequences of this stigma. Through another activity, facilitators and participants will explore the historical evolution of this stigma. The workshop will close with a visioning exercise to develop concrete strategies to foster a sense of communal responsibility for children.

At the end of the workshop, participants will leave with:
• an understanding of the historical development of current discourses about teen pregnancy
• a critical assessment of these discourses
• ideas about how to create supportive environments for teen parents and their children

You can find an excellent resource list that they handed out to workshop participants here.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Public policy, Racism, Resources, Violence


March 20: The Invisibility of Police Violence Against Women & Girls of Color

Join us on March 20th from 6 to 8 p.m. as we partner with Project NIA to organize a discussion about the invisibility of police violence against women and girls of color. The event will take place at the Pop-Up Just Art Space, 729 West Maxwell Street. RSVP to

Discussions and considerations of police brutality often focus on men as the primary victims of this violence. We know however that women are also the targets of violence by law enforcement.

Witness the following disturbing scene of a young women being roughly handled by police officers as she protested the killing of Kimani Gray just this Wednesday night.

On March 21, 2012, Rekia Boyd, a young African American woman, was with her friends enjoying an unusually beautiful Chicago March day. The four friends decided to walk to the store up the street. In order to do so they had to cross through an alley. Dante Servin an off-duty detective with the Chicago Police Department had recently moved into this gentrifying neighborhood.

Detective Servin was reportedly upset with late night noise behind his home across from Douglas Park and from his car had told a group of four people to quiet down. There were words, an object raised, and the detective fired his gun repeatedly.

Antonio Cross was hit in the hand. The object he had raised was a cell phone. Boyd was hit in the head and pulled off life support the following day.

Antonio Cross was charged with assaulting a police officer and is presently awaiting trial. The State’s Attorney asked for a continuance this past January because they were “not ready,” the new trial date is set for March 13, 2013 at 9am at 3150 Flournoy. Update: Charges against Antonia Cross were dropped.

Detective Dante Servin has been placed on administrative duty and no charges have been filed against him.

Join several speakers including Mariame Kaba (Project NIA, Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women)Crista Noel (Women’s All Points Bulletin), and Shira Hassan who will discuss the invisibility of police violence particularly against women and girls of color.

This event is part of a series called Black & Blue that examines policing, violence and resistance.  For information about the other events, click here.

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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Events, Police, Racism, Violence


Tiawanda Moore is BRAVE…

Cross-posted at Prison Culture

I described my initial sighting of Tiawanda Moore back in June this way:

The first thing that strikes me when I see Tiawanda Moore is that she looks so very young. The second thing is that she reminds me of my cousin Fatime. She has the same fine features and beautiful dark skin. She is slight in build and is wearing glasses. Every black person in the U.S. has a sister, friend, cousin who looks just like Tiawanda Moore.

Yesterday when I saw and spoke with Tiawanda, I observed something more – her courage and dignity. For nearly two years, this young woman has endured so much. First she was sexually molested by a police officer and then when she sought out justice for this offense, she found herself in the clutches of the State’s Attorney charged with two class 1 felonies for eavesdropping facing up to 15 years in prison. Tiawanda Moore is brave.

Yet every single media story that I have read since she was acquitted of all charges yesterday either opens with the words “former stripper” or mentions this somewhere in the article. Radley Balko picks up on this in a blog post published yesterday. He writes:

One other thing. It’s a little odd that most media accounts of this case describe Moore as a “former stripper.” It’s actually the first three words in the Sun Times story. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s hard to envision the article starting that way if Moore were a former nanny. Or school teacher. Or bus driver. So what’s the point? Even if Moore’s sexual assault allegation was the only newsworthy part of this story, the implication is that her former job is relevant to her allegation. Is the implication that strippers probably act provocatively even when they aren’t working—-indeed, even when they aren’t strippers anymore—and thus should expect unwanted sexual advances from cops? Is it that strippers are inherently untrustworthy? That they’re more likely to make false allegations of sexual assault? (If anything, I would suspect that strippers have built up a fair amount of tolerance for unwanted advances.)

But that of course isn’t why this story is in the news. It’s in the news because Moore became frustrated in her attempt to file a complaint, and so recorded what she thought were Chicago police officers’ attempts to rebuff her, and was consequently facing a felony charge and up to 15 years in prison. The validity of the allegation that set all of that into motion isn’t really at issue. (Indeed, the resolution of Moore’s complaint is apparently “sealed.” Which is a problem in and of itself.) So even if you buy into the fairly offensive notion that Moore’s former occupation calls her harassment allegation into doubt, the “former stripper” label is completely irrelevant to whether or not she should have been arrested and charged for recording the cops.

I would submit that it is not “odd” that Ms. Moore’s employment as a stripper is always foregrounded in the media coverage. Young black women are often portrayed as sexually promiscuous. This has a longstanding history. If you recall the Duke Lacrosse case, the alleged victim was also frequently described in media accounts as a “stripper.” In the Dominique Strauss-Khan case, Nafissatou Diallo was alleged to have been a prostitute. There is an inglorious history in the press of women who bring charges of sexual assault often being painted as sexually “loose” in some way. So Mr. Balko is not wrong to assume that if Ms. Moore had been a former teacher or nanny that this would not have been the opening statement in an article covering this trial.

There is something more to the press’s fixation on the fact that Ms. Moore worked as a stripper. This description of her is offered as a kind of shorthand. As though it suggests something about her character and perhaps should lead us to question her credibility. It’s as if this is the main thing that we ought to know about who Tiawanda Moore is.

Chris Drew, who himself is facing eavesdropping charges, has been a supporter of Ms. Moore. He attended both days of the trial and was present when the jury read its verdict yesterday. He wrote the following about Tiawanda in an e-mail blast that he sent out to his supporters:

Ms. Moore is twenty years old and very much still trying to discover herself in this world. The Tribune calls her a former stripper but she is first a young woman struggling to survive in a depressed economy. She is too young to have established a career out of anything yet. She has every right to expect justice from our system and she is a brave fighter for women’s rights. She stood up to the intimidation of Chicago police to lodge her complaint of sexual abuse. Anyone who listened to the testimony Tuesday and Wednesday at her trial knows that took a very brave spirit. We should expect more from the newspaper of record in reporting behind the scenes. They should examine in depth the way Cook County State’s Attorneys Office shields police misconduct.

She fought against a culture of intimidation other women of any background might face when they try to lodge a complaint against the Chicago Police for sexual misconduct. She won putting the Cook County State’s Attorney on notice that they should not be shielding police who violate citizen’s rights with malicious prosecutions of this type. Her win is a win for all women and all citizens who expect justice from Cook County. Her attorney argued that she was being intimidated out of her right to file a complaint by police who were breaking their own rules in doing so.

I teared up when I read this mainly because it is so TRUE. But also because I felt a sense of hope to read these words coming from a man who is so very different from Tiawanda Moore. Chris Drew is an older white man, an artist. He is someone who has already lived many years and it seems that in this case it has brought him wisdom. Tiawanda Moore is young, black, and very different in many other ways from Chris. Yet he can see through those differences to simply embrace Tiawanda’s humanity. It means that we have hope for transformation. While the media continues its relentless assault on the images of young black women in the U.S., on an individual level many (including Chris Drew) resist these portrayals.

Chris offers something else in his words about Tiawanda Moore. He provides a context within which a young black woman with limited opportunities finds a way to survive. Young women do what they have to do to survive. Chris forces his reader to consider stripping as a rational form of employment and dares us to judge Ms. Moore without having lived in her shoes. He is basically saying to us: she was a stripper, so what? He also frames her as a “fighter for women’s rights.” To me, that is the proper context within which to view Tiawanda Moore. What she did in standing up to the police and the state tells us more about her resilience and character than does her employment. Most of us are not primarily defined by where we work. We define ourselves mostly in relation to who we love. Perhaps we see ourselves first as mothers, sisters, spouses or friends. We define ourselves by the struggles that we join as organizers, citizens, activists. We define ourselves differently depending on the day or the context. These things are complicated rather than being straightforward. The media shies away from the complicated preferring black and white descriptions. So I offer them an easy description of Tiawanda Moore: Ms. Moore is BRAVE. Thanks Chris for giving voice to this!

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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Organizing, Police, Racism, Sexual assault


Three Little Girls

Just wanted to share this great, powerful video by Jasiri X (together with 10 year old Hadiyah Yates), Three Little Girls.  Here’s the reasoning behind it:

For Woman’s History Month we wanted to shed light on how violent this society is especially towards woman and girls. “Three Little Girls” tells the stories of the senseless murders of Christina Taylor Green who was killed during the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Brisenia Flores who was gunned down by anti-immigrant militia intent on starting a race war, and Aiyana Jones who shot to death while asleep in her home, by the Detroit Police Department, while they were filming a reality TV show.

I realize these are sad stories, but how can we not be moved to action by the cold-blooded killings of innocent little girls? We have to begin to take an unflinching look at a culture that continues to glorify guns, bombs, and war and sees violence and aggression as the only solutions to its problems.

And here’s the video:


Girls of Color Embracing the Word Bitch: Transgressive or Oppressive?

Over the years, I have listened to some of the girls that I work with contend that they are not bothered by the fact that many singers and performers call women “bitches” and “hos” in their music and on film. Their oft-heard refrain is “if you’re not a bitch or a ho, why are you going to get mad? They’re not talking about you.”

Other girls mention that they wear these insults as badges of honor — they call themselves “gangsta bitches.” They say that they are reclaiming the word to mean strong and capable, having a take no prisoner attitude. In a March 7, 2004 New York Times article, Nina Bernstein wrote about the emergence of a new culture of restraint among teenagers which she suggested might help to explain the fall in teen pregnancy rates during that period. The main subjects of her story were Alberto and Jasmine, both 16 years old. She writes of Jasmine:

“She also believes in girl power. Her mother, 53, a school-crossing guard, once tried to throw away [her] favorite belt, the silver one inscribed BITCH. Jasmine insists it is actually a defiant acronym for Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Caring and Honest — something that her pop-star idol, Christina Aguilera, might wear.”

This quote illustrates the tug of war over the word “Bitch” as the mother sees it as negative and the daughter has transformed it into a positive appellation. Cole and Guy-Sheftall (2003) are just two of the many authors who have tried to make sense of the ready acceptance of the label “bitch or ho” particularly by some girls of color. They write:

“The way in which some Black women actually embrace the use of the terms bitches and hos creates controversy within Black communities similar to the one surrounding the use of the term nigga. Some women consider their embrace of the term ho as a transgressive gesture because they are encroaching on male territory and reclaiming a derogatory term as something affirming their sexuality. This defiance is also seen as exposing a double standard, whereby men’s expression of their sexuality is celebrated, while women’s naming of their sexual desires generates shock and moral indictment. The latter was the intent of the female gangsta rappers “Bytches With Problems” (BWP), who said they embraced the term because they were angry with the way women were portrayed and wanted to make fun of double standards. The question we raise is whether BWP is really being transgressive by embracing a word that has no positive connotations. (204-205)”

The question that they pose about whether it is possible to be “transgressive by embracing a word that has no positive connotations” has real resonance for those of us who are working with girls of color. An important part of growing up is deciding which labels you will embrace and which you will reject. Labeling ourselves is an important aspect of our identity development. No one wants to curtail that ability — so where does that leave us when thinking about the use of “bitch” or “ho?”

Joan Morgan (1996) offers her take on this issue:

“The idea for fly-girls came to me a few years ago while waiting on 157th for the downtown Broadway local, eavesdropping on a conversation between two teenagers. No more than 16, they were arguing over the lyrics from Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Mostly they were arguing over the lyrical use of the ‘B-word.’ The dreadlocked cutie in his saggin’ Girbauds argued that Cube was just talkin’ reality. ‘There really are girls like that, especially from the projects. They get pregnant just to trap you and take your money.’ Miss Thang — with neck, eyes and dookie earrings rolling — let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t care. ‘That’s still no reason to call all girls bitches,’ she said punctuating each syllable with a snap of her long, freshly manicured acrylic tips. ‘I ain’t nobody’s bitch!’ As I continued to watch this all-too-rare discussion of gender in the black community, I was amazed, once again, how far-reaching the power of hip hop can be. Here was an audience, one that contemporary feminist discourse has sorely failed to reach, kickin’ it on the subway platform. That hip-hop could be a way to help heal a community in desperate need of healthy, loving relationships — some good ol’ black-on-black love – had my nose wide open. Truth be told, they both had a point.”

It has to be said that the young man’s contention that girls “especially in the projects” are predators is not in any way challenged by Morgan. The inherent classism and sexism present in his characterization of black girls is not critically analyzed or acknowledged. Morgan’s anecdote plays to all of the stereotypes that exist about urban black girls — they are take no nonsense, finger snapping, wise cracking caricatures. This image might be a true one for a minority of black girls but surely this isn’t their only or even primary character.

What about the vulnerable, scared young woman who is wondering how she is going to improve her lot in life? And the young woman who is introverted and observant rather than loud and boisterous? Where does she fit into this image of the take-no-prisoners urban black female? Morgan does have a point that contemporary feminist discourse has no relevance to the lives of the girls that I work with. It doesn’t speak to the complexities of their lives. That, I think, will be the struggle for fourth wave feminism. How do we acknowledge that yes, some girls do indeed throw themselves at the feet of powerful male entertainers but that it is equally important to understand what leads them there? Morgan points out later on in her article that “sex has long been the bartering chip that women use to gain protection, money, and the vicarious benefits of power. In the black community, where women are given less access to all of the above, “trickin’” becomes a means of leveling the playing field (p.33).” She is right that sexual relations between black men and women are often extremely complicated and fraught with misunderstanding and conflict. But the reasons for this are innumerable and young women’s need for economic security plays only a small role.

A few years ago, a study by MEE productions found that:

“Black females are dissed by almost everyone. Young African American females hold little status within their communities, reflected in the name-calling and devaluing of young girls. Not only do males not trust females, but overwhelmingly, girls reported that they do not even trust each other.”

Surely, we can all agree that this is an alarming finding. As we take the measure of all of the sources of violence impinging on young black women, it seems important to raise questions about derogatory words as one more form of violence that they encounter. The question remains: “How should we foster more discussion about this issue?”

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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Racism, Violence, Youth voices


No Love For Missing Black Girls…

Some years ago I read a poem by Toi Derricotte called “On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses.” I could not get the imagery from the poem out of my head for days. I was moved, angered, distressed and ultimately inspired to action by Derricotte’s words. The poem begins with these stanzas:

Mowing his three acres with a tractor,
a man notices something ahead – a mannequin –
he thinks someone threw it from a car. Closer
he sees it is the body of a black woman.

The medics come and turn her with pitchforks.
Her gaze shoots past him to nothing. Nothing
is explained. How many black women
have been turned up to stare at us blankly.

I am reminded of the poem again today as I have been following the coverage of the disappearance of 17 year old Phylicia Barnes. Ms. Barnes went missing during the Christmas holidays in Baltimore. Phylicia is a beautiful, smart, honors student.  By all accounts, she brought joy to her friends and family.

As her mother pleaded for help in finding her child, her voice was silenced by a lack of media attention to the story. A few local media outlets carried the story but a Baltimore police officer suggested that if Phylicia had been white then perhaps her disappearance would have garnered even more media attention and helped in the identification of a suspect:

“I think the question has to be asked. It’s not my position, I don’t know what goes into these decisions, but this is Baltimore’s Natalee Holloway case,” said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. Holloway, then 18, disappeared in 2005 while on a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Her remains have never been found.

Guglielmi said he and “the commander of the homicide unit had been prepared to go on CNN’s Nancy Grace but got bumped for an hour-long report on a missing Texas cheerleader,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

“Day two, day three, when we were putting information out about Phylicia’s disappearance, we were talking about birds falling out of the sky in Arkansas,” Guglielmi said in an interview with CNN, The Charlotte Observer reported. “And this girl’s in danger. And she needs help. And it was very frustrating for my office to see an anemic response from our national media partners.”

Here again poet Toi Derricotte’s words are instructive:

in weedy fields, off highways,
pushed out in plastic bags,
shot, knifed, unclothed partially, raped,
their wounds sealed with a powdery crust.

Last week on TV, a gruesome face, eyes bloated shut.
No one will say, “She looks like she’s sleeping,” ropes
of blue-black slashes at the mouth. Does anybody
know this woman? Will anyone come forth? Silence

like a backwave rushes into that field
where, just the week before, four other black girls
had been found. The gritty image hangs in the air
just a few seconds, but it strikes me,

a black woman, there is a question being asked
about my life. How can I
protect myself? Even if I lock my doors,
walk only in the light, someone wants me dead.

Am I wrong to think
if five white women had been stripped,
broken, the sirens would wail until
someone was named?

Is it any wonder I walk over these bodies
pretending they are not mine, that I do not know
the killer, that I am just like any woman –
if not wanted, at least tolerated.

Part of me wants to disappear, to pull
the earth on top of me. Then there is this part
that digs me up with this pen
and turns my sad black face to the light.

So the question remains whether we value the lives of young women of color in our society. Michel Martin examines the issue in a piece she did at NPR titled “Missing Girls Shouldn’t Be Missing From the Media:”

So why isn’t her disappearance a bigger deal? She’s pretty. That shouldn’t matter but apparently it does when it comes to media coverage of missing persons. And she’s African-American. And that shouldn’t matter but apparently it does too. CNN’s Don Lemon covered this story and wrote about it on the CNN blog. He said he had heard about Felicia Barnes’s appearance on social media when he was on Christmas vacation and friends and others started asking why the authorities are not getting more help from the news media and spreading the word.

The Baltimore police, interestingly enough, are among those raising the question of whether Felicia’s race has something to do with the lack of urgency with which her disappearance has been treated by the media.

African-Americans make up about 13 percent of the population, but estimates from different organizations and the Justice Department suggest that black children account for 34 to 42 percent of all missing people under the age of 18. What is happening to those children?

Violence is constant in the lives of young people across the U.S. However young people of color are disproportionately impacted by violence in all areas of their lives. They deserve our attention and also our advocacy.

For those who are interested in learning more about the Phylicia Barnes case, NBC Nightly News did this story a couple of weeks ago:


Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Media, Racism, Violence