Women Stand Up, Fight Back

Against the Current, No. 133, March/April 2008

Chloe Tribich

Color of Violence
The INCITE! Anthology
Edited by INCITE!
Women of Color Against Violence
Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006,
336 pages. $20 paperback.

WHAT WOULD IT mean to truly end gender-and-race-based violence? How can radicals acknowledge the totalizing violence of white supremacy while also accounting for the very diverse, and sometimes conflicting, experiences and survival strategies of Arab, Asian, Native, Latina and Black women?

How can women addressing violence in their own communities maintain an anti-racist analysis while confronting men of color who are both victims and perpetrators of violence?

These are just three of the important questions that Color of Violence takes on. This anthology, edited by the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collective, is a deeply thoughtful contribution to radical anti-violence activism. Arguing that any meaningful anti-violence effort must fully account for the scope of oppressions affecting women of color — including white supremacy, heterosexism and imperialism —  Color of Violence engages a complex and diverse dialogue about forms of violence, resistance, and movement building.

The INCITE! website (www.incite-national.org) advertises Color of Violence as continuing the tradition of the seminal 1980s work This Bridge Called My Back, and in most ways it lives up to this gutsy claim. One of the great strengths of both works is their incorporation of voices that speak to the concrete challenges of on-the-ground activism, to the theoretical questions about identity and power, and to bigger visions of a world free from oppression and violence.

This anthology is organized into three sections: re-conceptualizing violence, forms of violence, and activism and movement building. The first section seeks to broaden and complicate conventional understandings of violence. For example, “Disability and the New World Order” discusses how the World Bank invented the concept of the “Disability Adjusted Life Year” (DALY) to justify apportioning medical care to only those third world people who will become productive workers as a result of treatment. Thus this piece advocates for an understanding of violence that includes economic imperialism and denial of medical needs.

Color of Violence is notable for foregrounding voices of Palestinian and Arab women. Five of thirty pieces in this collection directly address U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and/or the Israeli occupation of Palestine. One, “Four Generations in Resistance,” is written in second person and invites the reader to imagine herself as a Palestinian woman confronting the daily indignities of life under occupation — home demolition, checkpoints, and economic survival in the face of spousal death.

Another very short piece, “Don’t Liberate Me,” expresses a U.S.-based Iraqi activist’s frustration with feminists who challenge her hijab and insist that she speak more vocally against patriarchy in Iraqi society. Both these pieces are situated in the anthology’s second section that explores specific forms of violence.

Diversity and Conflict

These first-person and practically focused pieces play an important complementary role to the more academic articles. For example, Andrea Smith’s concept of the “three pillars of white supremacy” (slavery/ capitalism, genocide/capitalism, and orientalism/war) proposes a theoretical framework to account for the diverse and sometimes conflicting experiences of women of color while maintaining a central critique of white supremacy and capitalism.

Several other articles provide concrete examples of how this framework is useful. “Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies,” outlines how Communities Against Rape and Abuse confronts gender-based violence apart from the state legal system, while Sarah Deer’s “Federal Indian Law and Violent Crime” discusses how the U.S. government has eroded tribal justice systems, further damaging the lives of Native women.

Both articles make the case for looking within communities of color for liberatory solutions to violence, but one is about creating entirely new structures while the other is about reconstituting tradition. Thus while the articles’ writers come from the perspectives of different “pillars,” to use Smith’s terminology, they propose similar approaches.

Another article of note, Aishah Simmons’ “The War against Black Women and the Making of No!” discusses the obstacles to making her documentary about Black women and rape. Obstacles included progressive funders, who complained that the film focused “only” on the rape of Black women and that Simmons’ perspective as a lesbian muddled the issue of sexual violence. Finally, Simmons confronted a general reluctance of progressive people of different races to focus on Black men as abusers of Black women rather than as — or in addition to — victims of police/state violence.

A Hungry Reception

Simmons’ film won a hungry reception among African, Arab and other women in Europe — where it was volunteer-translated into French and Italian — and also in the United States, where hundreds of young Black people packed the Schomberg Center in Harlem for a viewing. The film ultimately revealed the enormous need for action and discussion on this topic.

Color of Violence does a good job of addressing gender violence in the context of militarization of national borders.

“‘National Security’ and the Violation of Women” shows how rape of Mexican women by U.S. border patrol is part of a system of policing, not an aberration. “The Complexities of ‘Feminicide’ on the Border” discusses how the rash of murders of poor dark-skinned women in Juarez occurred at the intersection of capitalism (particularly the introduction NAFTA), increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, and “traditional” patriarchy and racism.

Still other pieces discuss feminist resistance to ICE (formerly INS) anti-immigrant raids and the challenges facing immigrant women and women of color in the mainstream domestic violence shelter system.

Unfortunately, for purely technical reasons, the editors were not able to include a full length chapter on Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest and most blatant incidences of racist state violence in this generation. (The chapter can be found in What Lies Beneath, the South End Press anthology on Katrina.) Further, the anthology’s treatment of transgender people’s resistance is thin — the only piece addressing this explicitly is a three-page statement by Trans Action for Social and Economic Justice.

It would have also been useful to hear more about reproductive justice — the activism of indigenous women in the fight against the South Dakota abortion ban, and the experimentation of new birth control technologies on third world women and U.S. women of color, would have been two valuable topics. But in a limited amount of space, Color of Violence does a skilled job of instigating a thoughtful and complex discussion on a topic that has not received adequate attention even among radicals.

ATC 133, March-April 2008