The Toronto activists who created SlutWalk have officially weighed in on what critics of the nascent movement have described as a crippling lack of racial and cultural diversity, historical knowledge, and sensitivity to structural differences in power and privilege.
While SlutWalk Toronto's earlier responses to what I'm calling The Problem ranged from defensive in tone to process-focused, this latest statement--percipatated by the disastourous "Woman is the nigger of the world" signage at last month's SlutWalk in New York City--reflects a turning point. The five organizers of SlutWalk Toronto may have envisioned their first march back in April as a gonzo response to the police officer who told a group of college women that they could avoid rape by "not dressing like sluts," but it seems that they're finally realizing why they have to provide thought leadership.
"We've been listening, reading, reflecting, discussing and working," SlutWalk Toronto co-founder Heather Jarvis wrote on the Facebook page of BlackWomen's Blueprint, the Brooklyn-based human rights organization that authored a mammoth open letter about The Problem in the runup to SlutWalk New York. "We need to be doing better and we're working to do that. Thank you for your willingness to dialogue with us, BlackWomen's Blueprint."
You can--and should--read the entire statement titled "Racism and Anti-Racism: Why they matter to SlutWalks...And If You Don't Care, Why You Need to Start Caring," here.
Below I've excerpted the parts that stood out for me, both as a writer and an African-American woman who will always choose "Piss on me and tell me it's raining" over "You may believe that I am foolish enough to accept what you have said at face value, but you have underestimated my perceptiveness and your own transparency."
To break down the laypeople-unfriendly concept of "intersectionality," SlutWalk Toronto smartly cites what's going on in Canada:
It is reported that indigenous women and women with disabilities experience sexual violence at 2-3 times the rate of other women in Canada. Some reasons why these experiences differ are:
• A history of (and nation built on) colonization • Discrimination based on race and ability • White privilege • Able-bodied privilege
As many women of colour have said, they wake up women AND black (or brown, or Asian, or aboriginal, etc.) everyday and one does not override the other. There is no 'choice' to overlook and 'get over' racism because it is a built-in reality many people have to face as an inseparable part of their existence. This existence determines how the world, and all of these interlocking systems of oppression, including gender-based violence, treats them. Racism is everyone's problem. People of colour are not solely responsible for fighting racism or educating about racism.
To debunk the supposed parallel between "slut" and "nigger," they write:
Some people have suggested that the 'N' word and 'slut' are similar because they are both insults thrown at people and both have been used in re-appropriated ways by various groups of people with various intents. However, these words are not the same [...] They may both be examples of harmful language that is used to degrade, oppress, damage and justify violence but this still does not make them the same.
• Sexism and gender-based violence are not racism. These things may be connected and overlap but they must be acknowledged as different for each to be addressed and taken to task.
• 'Slut' is a word that is predominantly used against girls and women, and many different women have experienced it in many different ways. The use of 'slut' is indeed contentious, but there are many different stakeholders. A racial slur and determination of its use belongs to the people that it has been used against exclusively. [...] If it's not an epithet used against you, it's not yours. For anyone else outside that group of people to use that kind of language is perpetuating the systems of oppression that slur created and entrenched in the first place.
Finally, SlutWalk Toronto shares next steps under the delightful heading, "This is all nice and well, but what are you going to do about it?" In short, they acknowledge that "what happens under the SlutWalk label or idea connects us all, and we absolutely feel it is our responsibility to speak up more when racism and other forms of discrimination, whether intentional or not, are occurring." They're going to produce "toolkits, modifications to messaging, and helpful resources for organizers and supporters." And they're asking for in-person feedback in their own city:
Our first (but not only) step in these efforts is to engage directly with our community in Toronto to get feedback on what changes Toronto would like to see happen at SlutWalk Toronto. We are having a community open forum in Toronto on Sunday November 20th at The 519 and plan to work together to deconstruct what has happened, and work together towards making SlutWalk Toronto more aware, inclusive and safer. Grassroots organizing means that we need to start in our own backyard and work from the ground up.
Y'all know "Kumbaya" isn't my thing. But I applaud SlutWalk Toronto for stepping up the plate--and BlackWomen's Blueprint for having the patience to help them get there.