Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hurricane Katrina is not Only a Reality for New Orleans

I just received an e-mail from a community activist in Seattle’s Central District (or what has historically been the hub for Black Seattle) announcing an upcoming community meeting on the future of the Central District. Unlike the countless other community meetings I have attended, with regard to the changing tapestry of the Central District, this meeting will be one of the few times that representatives from the City of Seattle will be present to solicit citizen feedback about the impact that city policies (such as, the neighborhood plans) have had on this community. What becomes of this feedback, or what these officials choose to or not to do with this feedback is another issue. However, after reading this e-mail, I immediately reflected on my recent trip back to post-Katrina New Orleans—a region of my childhood. Like so many urban spaces, post-Katrina New Orleans is undergoing rapid growth and “redevelopment”. But, the question remains, redevelopment for whom?

As most of the world prepares to commemorate the four-year anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I would caution us to not focus too much on what is happening along the U.S. Gulf Coast. As I maneuver through Seattle’s Central District, I cannot help but see the rising of “flood waters” in a community whose Black identity and historical legacy is in danger of being engulfed by an urban growth machine that speaks a language of uplift, new urbanism and revitalization.

For Seattle’s communities of color, queer communities, poor communities, youth, women of color, and grassroots activists, we need to be present for this meeting and bare witness to how “Our” Central District has been transformed by what some would consider “progress”. Unlike many of Our brothers and sisters of post-Katrina New Orleans – who have been scattered or internally displaced to the four winds and barred from returning to their legal homes – we are able to be present and we are more capable of holding those in power accountable to Our communities’ needs.

Here is the e-mail I received:

Subject: Central Area, Pike/Pine and Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan Status Report Meeting — How Is Your Neighborhood Doing?

Thursday, September 3, 6-8 PM at the Miller Community Center, 330 19th Ave. E.

Please join members of the Seattle Planning Commission and the Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee on Thursday, September 3 from 6 to 8 pm at the Miller Community Center for an important Central Area community meeting.These two citizen groups want to hear your thoughts. Come and tell us how the Central Area, Pike/Pine and Capitol Hill has changed since the creation of their Neighborhood Plans. Your comments and input at this meeting will help the City of Seattle complete a status report that will look at how well your neighborhood plan is achieving its goals and strategies.This meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about your neighborhood plan, the projects that have been implemented, and growth and changes that have occurred since your plan was written in the late 90's. We will explore issues such as growth, transportation, housing, economic development , basic utilities, neighborhood character, open space and parks, public services, public safety, and other issues.It would also be helpful to know your Neighborhood Plan and to bring it with you, so you can reference to them when needed.

So, here are the links to your Neighborhood Plans:
Central Area:


Capitol Hill:
You can review draft status reports on-line at:

The follow up series of meetings, tentatively scheduled for late October, will be an opportunity to review the final status report. To learn more information, please visit the Neighborhood Planning website at http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Neighborhood_Planning. With questions, please contact David Goldberg at (206) 615-1447 or davidw.goldberg@seattle.gov

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teach-in encourages participants: EDUCATE to LIBERATE!

This year's Nat Turner Teach-In for People of Color was a great success!  Thank you to everyone who turned out and participated in the interactive discussions and workshops.  We had over 30 participants, one-third of whom were male - the largest critical mass of men to participate in the teach-in's history!  

The half-day teach-in began by honoring our ancestors and calling upon their spirit as motivation for the day's work. Teach-in organizer Gigi Frazier led the thought-provoking discussion "Plot Your Own Rebellion" where participants were introduced to the history of Nat Turner.  By engaging hypothetical scenarios of a pregnant slave woman seeking freedom, participants had the opportunity to locate the many choices that we all encounter in liberation work, choices that are timeless for people of color, particularly women. 

Seattle University sociology professor Gary Perry led a dynamic workshop on Black pro-feminist men and the lessons that male allies can learn from their legacy.  Men, such as Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell, W.E.B. DuBois, Michael Eric Dyson, and Mark Anthony Neal.  The critical mass of male participants at this year's teach-in made for a lively discussion about the role of men in anti-violence work.  In addition, we called on men of color to center gender justice and an end to gender-based violence in their work. 

Nada Elia, Antioch University liberal studies professor and founder of Radical Arab Women's Activist Network, called upon participants to connect with the global movement to proclaim the Israeli occupation as apartheid.  Through an interactive activity, she outlined the history of the Palestinian/Israeli geopolitical conflict (which is relatively short, contrary to popular belief!).  She called on participants to connect the atrocities in Palestine to the history of South African apartheid, as international leaders have proclaimed such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter.  We need to adopt the same strategies of boycotting Israel as we did with South Africa, through economic sanctions, failure to consume Israeli goods, and remaining vocal about the situation of the Palestinian people.  "If we believe apartheid is wrong" Elia proclaimed, "we do it again for Palestine!"

For information on how you can get involved with the campaign to end apartheid in Palestine, check out:
Stay informed with CARA events by following us online at:

Friday, August 21, 2009

CARA's Annual Nat Turner Teach-In THIS SATURDAY!

The Nat Turner Teach-In for People of Color is CARA's annual event to honor liberation struggles and to discuss contemporary resistance and coalition strategies for individuals and organizations. This half-day teach-in is an opportunity for people of color to connect over food and ideas, celebrate our victories, assess challenges to doing resistance work, and share strategies for successful social change.  This year's workshops include: 
  • "Plot Your Own Rebellion" 
  • "From Douglass to Dyson: The Legacy of Black Pro-Feminist Men" 
  • "Palestine, South Africa, the Americas: Global Struggles for Liberation"
Big shout-out to Sylva Jones and Gigi Frazier for organizing this year's event!  To register, email cara.intern@gmail.com.  

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Interested in CARA's Analysis of Community Accountability?

Read CARA's chapter, "Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies," in Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology (South End Press, 2006).  Support INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence by purchasing the book directly from the publisher here.

New study finds that marriage and childbirth are declining for high-achieving Black women

MSNBC reports on a new study by Yale researchers Natalie Nitsche and Hannah Brueckner show that high-achieving Black women are less likely to marry and have children compared to their white female counterparts.  Key findings in the study are:

  • Among black women with postgraduate educations born between 1956 and 1960, the median age at which they gave birth for the first time was 34 years old. This was about the same as it was for white women in the same demographic. 
  • Once white women reached their 30s, many more of them did give birth, often more than once. Many black women did not. 
  • The rate of childlessness among this group of black women rose from 30 percent for those born between 1950 and 1955, to 45 percent for those born between 1956 and 1960.
  • For highly educated black women born between 1961 and 1970, 38 percent have remained childless.
These are significant findings because, as the researchers note, “in terms of American society, this is one additional obstacle” to the broadening of the black middle class. "Fewer highly educated black people having children means that they cannot pass on those advantages and knowledge.”

In another study that used interviews with Black women, sociologist Averil Clarke found that there is greater Black cultural pressure for Black women to marry within their race than there is for Black men.  “A greater negative reaction falls on them,” Clarke said. “Some women in my sample told stories of African-American men on college campuses getting upset if they dated outside the race. There seems to be a sense of some policing of women’s sexuality. I think women are more controlled by these community and family pressures around who they should date. Men have greater freedom.”  High-achieving Black men tend to “outmarry” (marry outside race, religion or ethnicity) at a higher rate than black women, researchers say (hmm, let's see, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, actors Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones, musician Quincy Jones, rapper Ice-T - all married white women!).

Don't sleep on Black female interracial marriage and dating; think of Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Halle Berry, Alfre Woodard, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon. The crux of these findings suggest that the historical policing of Black women's sexuality has not waned, and the pressures within our communities to contain our ability to partner with men and women outside of our race still persist.

Image from JustJared.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In loving memory: Recent incidents of Black women in Seattle slain at the hands of their partners

Check out these articles on recent attacks against women

Bob Herbert, "Women at Risk," NY Times, Aug. 7, 2009

Gendered Nature of Recent Violence Goes Undetected

In a moment where our nation is celebrating a historic triumph for women of color - the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina Supreme Court justice - I am disheartened by all the incidents of interpersonal and community violence targeting women on the national media front.  There are so few critical analyses connecting the dots between isolated cases of aggressive, fatal attacks against women and a culture of gender-based violence that continues to go unrecognized. 

On Aug. 4, a Pennsylvania man fired 36 bullets into a dance-aerobics class at a local gym, killing 3 women, wounding 9 and taking his own life.  The gunman, George Sodini, left an online trail of misogynist rants on his personal website and video posted to YouTube, documenting his hatred for and desire to kill women as a result of years of sexual rejection.  On Aug. 5, an LA Superior Court judge postponed the sentencing of pop singer Chris Brown for the brutal assault of singer Rihanna.  There are two stories that have not received much national media attention.  The first is the July 22 shooting death of Sharlona White of Tacoma at the Fort Lewis Post Exchange by her former boyfriend, who then turned the gun on himself.  The second is the July 30 shooting death of a 30-year old African-American woman in Trenton, NJ.  Following an argument, she was gunned down by her boyfriend in the presence of her three children.

The pervasiveness of crime reporting has desensitized our nation to gender-based assaults.  Feminist blogger Jennifer L. Pozner (http://twitterurl.net//X4409) called the PA shooting a gender-based hate crime, referencing other mass killings that targeted women and girls, including the Montreal Massacre of 1989, the 1998 Jonesboro massacre, the 2006 Amish school and Platte Canyon high school shootings, and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.  It’s only the killings that are characterized as a ‘massacre’, a public act of aggression, or celebrity violence that get mainstream attention.  While public displays of violence against women cannot go unnamed for what they are - a product of a culture of misogyny - it is the prevalence of private, often unreported displays of gender-based microaggressions that allow us to continually name misogyny as embedded within the fabric of our society.

Decades of research confirm that most incidents of violence against women go unreported and many governments fail to document these crimes.  The United Nations reports that at least one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some way, most often by someone she knows.  The World Health Organization studied women’s health and domestic violence among 10 nations and found that: between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner; about 5,000 women are murdered by family members in the name of honor each year; and worldwide, up to 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men report experiencing sexual abuse as children, who are more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.  The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report on intimate partner violence in the US show that 30% of homicides of females were committed by intimate partners, compared to 5% for males.

Are these recent news stories connected?  Absolutely.  Our increasing culture of violence, escalated during wartime, perpetuates an incessant desire to discuss, dissect, and be aware of violence and to live in a heightened state of fear.  We’re reminded of the ‘other’ as the enemy, often characterized along nationalist, racist, xenophobic, and class lines.  Mainstream media fail to acknowledge the gendered nature of these crimes, and report on them as if they are random acts of violence.

It’s no coincidence that many violent crimes routinely committed against women are at the hands of their male partners.  Crimes against women are connected in cultural patterns of misogyny and power. More systemic responses to violence must come from community, education, media, legal and criminal justice systems.  We must demand that these systems work together to connect the dots.

Mako Fitts, Ph.D., is assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology & Social Work at Seattle University.  She is on the CARA board.

Welcome to the CARA blog!

It's a new day at CARA!  We've been holding it down in Seattle's Central District representing social justice, anti-violence activism and community accountability for 10 years and we're just getting started.  Welcome to the new CARA blog, designed to transmit a Black feminist point of view that is sorely lacking in today's public discourse.  This is a space to engender critical dialogue on hot button issues and to present the stories that impact women and communities of color that mainstream media outlets fail to cover.

In a climate of anti-feminist, conservative backlash against progressive politics, it is critical that CARA's Black feminist analysis of intersecting race, gender, sex, class, nation, ableism and ageism is part of the public sphere.  We look forward to sharing our perspectives and we hope to spark engaging conversations to promote grassroots methods for change that start from the local and impact global systems.