Kimberlynn Acevedo’s Response to the Racist, Offensive Sign at SlutWalk NYC

One of our march’s participants last Saturday held up and promulgated a racist, offensive sign. She was asked to take it down by one of our organizers as soon as it came to our attention. This sign symbolizes many of the critiques about SlutWalk not being a safe space for people of color, in particular Black women. We are taking it seriously and we absolutely condemn it and are horrified by it. This sign opposes the mission of SlutWalk NYC and its message is in direct conflict with the beliefs of its organizers.

We are sorry that it ever even made it to Union Square. Our collective has been discussing our individual reactions to it over our listserv as soon as we found out about the sign. Most of us feel that we are culpable for not creating a safe space and now working to solidify our goals as a coalition. Our security point person took it as a personal failing on her part. In one of the many listserv threads that address the sign, one organizer claimed, “At one time I would have found nothing wrong with such a statement either, but its through working with a group like this that I’ve become more and more aware of my own preconceived notions and I’ve found greater empathy and understanding for how others are and have been treated.”

Like the awareness that we have been working to cultivate amongst our organizers, I think we can definitely use this sign and the reaction to it as an opportunity to educate some folks and to work towards creating a larger safe space. However, we must note that no space is truly safe, especially as we strive to be as inclusive as possible. The more identities that are present, the more opportunities there are to seriously offend someone. But that’s what we want. We want to know where we can become better. Where we can build understanding. And often, this relies on some very serious mistakes. It’s how we address them that is key. And we are addressing them and will continue to address them.

Take a comment that one of our organizers made about ableist language during our meeting last week, for example. I am guilty of using the word “lame” in my everyday speech. While it made me uncomfortable to hear that the words I use can be hurtful to someone, I would have gone making the same mistake over and over…hurting someone in our group or in this world, over and over. While I am not perfect and this word has come out of my mouth since last Thursday, I have not done so without thinking twice about the impact of my words. This would not have been possible had she not stepped forward and said something.

THIS is what I love about our group and about this space that we are currently cultivating. It is a space where mistakes can be made and addressed…not just ignored, vilified, or scoffed at. This does not mean that we are catching and addressing mistakes every single time. Yes, there are certain discussions that fall to the wayside and yes, the burden of representation falls heavy on organizers whose identities belong to historically marginalized populations, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that this is the point. This is our work. With my identities at the forefront of my consciousness during our meetings, I can still say that I feel supported and not resentful…and I can’t stress how healing and powerful that has been for me. I can’t say that about very many spaces I have participated in.

No space is ever safe but that cannot stop us from imagining what it would look like and it certainly should not stop us from working to create it. That’s the point…we are working. We are all engaging in this tough ass work for the greater goal of creating a cultural shift and it begins with the development of our own critical consciousness and heightened respect and sensitivity to other identities. While we do not bear the responsibility of changing every single person’s mind, we do have a great responsibility to attempt to educate the people who align themselves with our political message (our attendees in this particular case). This person made a grave mistake and I, along with all the other individuals in our organizing, am deeply hurt and enraged by her mistake. We are sorry that it happened. Yes, it stung. Yes, it’s triggering and disappointing and upsetting. But it is also an opportunity to show her, as well as other people who may be in a position to commit the same mistake one day, that this is simply unacceptable.

We are meeting with many of the groups which have critiqued SlutWalk NYC directly. We are meeting with Black Women’s Blueprint. We are attending an open meeting with Sister Song. We are holding a completely open meeting on October 13th at Walker Stage from 6-8 p.m. in order to discuss how to build a fighting movement. Further, we encourage everyone to take a look at the transcripts and videos of the speeches we have posted on our website and facebook. We know we need to grow. We have been working on growth from the beginning. There were powerful, diverse, and engaging speeches at the rally, many of which directly hit upon critiques of SlutWalk. THESE are the seeds of growth in our organization. We want to start a movement that passionately wants include the voices of all people, of all survivors, of all individuals who see merit in what it is that we are choosing to combat.

We hope you will join us.

—Kimberlynn Acevedo, SlutWalk NYC Organizer. SlutWalk NYC will be meeting tonight at 295 Lafayette Street from 7:00-9:00 p.m. to discuss this officially as a collective.

“An Open Letter to SlutWalk NYC and its Critiques, from One of Your Own,” by Anoushka Ratnarajah

This is an individual response.

*When I refer to women I am referring to all self-identified women.

Dear Community:

An Open Letter to SlutWalk NYC and its Critiques, from One of Your Own.

First, let me situate myself. When I say I am one of your own, here is what I mean: I am one of the organizers who brought about SlutWalk NYC, the march and the rally and the events that preceded them. I am also someone who has been critical of SlutWalk, both from without and within the organizing body.

I am a woman of colour, who is also bi-racial, who is also queer, who is also a femme—- and who is also cis, ablebodied, middle-class and post-secondary educated. Like most people, I experience a complex variety of privileges and marginalization every day. And I bring my positions of privilege and marginalization into every space I occupy—they are in every sentence I write and utter.

When I decided to take part in the organizing of the SlutWalk march and rally in New York City, I was already very much aware of the critiques of the action. But I am a feminist, and an anti-violence activist, and I wanted to see for myself what this organizing would look like, because I have a stake in it. And because I personally don’t want any feminist movement to be exclusively by and for privileged bodies and identities. Because I believe in the importance of allied work and as committed to it as I am to the very real need for marginalized folks to have our own exclusive spaces to share rage and love.

I don’t personally identify as a slut. I know a lot of folks who do though. I also get that the reclamation of that word on an individual basis carries with it a great deal of privilege. It is because I am a woman of colour and because I am queer that I personally cannot and will not re-claim this word. It has been used to sexualize me and shame me, and sexualize and shame my ancestors, and my sisters in struggle. It carries in it a deep pain that you cannot know unless you also carry that history of colonization and slavery and rape. I carry this history with me, though it is not the same history that many of the folks who have critiqued SlutWalk carry with them. I am not African american, I am not black, I can only hope and work towards being the best ally to those folks as possible.

My mother is white, my father is Tamil. My father’s people have had genocide committed against them—they are still dying. They are living in poverty. They are child soldiers, they are being raped, living in refugee camps, displaced in their own nation and across the globe. When they flee to find safety they are deemed terrorists and are held in detention centres. And my mother’s people are the people that colonized and raped the globe. So that’s where I am from; a complicated position of being westernized and also racialized, of being racially oppressed; being stereotyped as part of a “model minority” in order to pit me and my people against black folks; being taught to reach for desirable whiteness; being colonized and decolonizing myself.

There were over fifty people in that first meeting. The critiques of previous SlutWalks were in the room and on everyone’s tongue.

To Our Community

To our community:

We are responding to the outcry in regards to an incredibly racist sign carried by one of the participants in our rally on October 1st.

The sign read “Woman is the N—— of the World.” It was in reference to a song penned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The sign was carried by a young white woman and it is clear that she was carrying it openly for some time before someone asked her to take it down. The woman who asked for the sign to be removed is a former co-organizer of SWNYC, and was at the march in solidarity. She is also a black woman.

We regret that the woman who was carrying this sign felt it was appropriate for our space. We regret that it took so long for someone to tell her how wrong it was; and that this woman was a Black woman, a woman of colour, as we know that anti-racism is not the sole work of people of colour. We sincerely apologize for the emotional trauma this sign has evoked in everyone who has been affected by it. We apologize for not making it clearer to everyone who attended on October 1st that racist, or indeed any oppressive language or behaviour, is unacceptable. We apologize that this space was not safer for Black women, Black people, and their allies.

SWNYC understands that the language of this sign erases Black women’s identities by creating a monochromatic identity for women and a monolithic identity for Black folks. We understand that no oppression is a metaphor for another. Our organizers represent a multiplicity of identities and voices, as did the participants and our speakers. The marginalized folks in our movement are also the leaders of our movement; we are grassroots, and we chose our speakers because they are leaders in grassroots movements.

This sign is in direct conflict with our mission statement. We believe that no matter who you are, no matter where you work, no matter how you identify, no matter how you flirt, no matter what you wear, no matter whom you choose to love, no matter what you said before: NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent. No survivor or ally should be excluded from the table based on any other aspect of their identity.

We recognize that SlutWalks around the world have been critiqued from anti-racist standpoints since the first Walk. We agree with many of these critiques, and have attempted to engage with them in our organizing. We recognize that under the banner of SlutWalk, we put logistics over politics in many cases, and that this was a failing. But now as we are moving forward, we realize that we cannot cultivate an identity as a coalition without upholding all of the intersecting identities of our organizers and participants.

It is unfortunate that this young white woman’s voice has been amplified through media and all over the internet, and the voices of our intelligent, passionate speakers and MC’s, many of whom occupy marginalized identities, or are allies, continue to be ignored. In an effort to break this silence, listed at the end of this letter are the names of all our speakers, with links provided where available.

We find it saddening that three of our speakers who are trans women of colour, two of whom are Black women, are being erased from public dialogue around SWNYC. This speaks to a deeply rooted cissexism, which we are committed to interrogating. We thank all of our speakers for their passion, for challenging and empowering us.

We also stand by our MC’s, who were elected for their sincerity, intelligence, and personality. We find the personal attacks on any of our MC’s both highly unproductive and deeply hurtful. If we are all fighting for social justice and a world without rape, we must foster a movement that is both critical and respectful. We are committed to productive dialogue.

We realize that privilege within our movement must continue to be decentered. We are currently searching for strategies to resist replicating oppressive patterns within our organizing. We are willing to do this work for the rest of our lives, because we recognize that anti-oppression is life-long work. We recognize that we cannot do this on our own. We need to look to radical communities whose knowledge and experiences are as diverse as we wish to be.

Our weekly organizing meetings are open and democratic, and are currently held on Thursdays from 7-9pm at the Puck Building, 295 Lafayette St at Houston, at the BDFM Broadway-Lafayette stop. Among other things, we are looking for a new name for our coalition, a discussion of our organizational structure, defining our political character and opportunities for mobilization. Furthermore, we are having an open dialogue session on October 13th, from 6-9pm at Walker Stage (53 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church, at the Canal N and R stop). We invite anyone to attend, bringing your critiques and your ideas for how we can move forward as a more representative and supportive community and movement.

In Solidarity,

The Organizers of SWNYC


Folks who spoke at our rally:

Stephanie Lane Sutton, Eboni Hogan, and Emily Kahan Trenchard (poets)

Kenyon Farrow (Queers for Economic Justice)

Amber Stewart (Radical Women)

Audacia Ray (Red Umbrella)

Sarah Patterson (Sex Worker’s Outreach Project)

Lourdes Hunter (Community Activist)

Mariah Lopez (STARR)

Chloe Angyal (Feministing)

Nancy Schwartzmann (The Line Campaign)

Ceyenne Doroshow (Trans Community Activist)

Jen Roesch (ISO)

Suzy Exposito, Kimberlynn Acevedo, Jaime Barak, Anoushka Ratnarajah (SWNYC MC’s)

SlutWalk NYC

No matter who you are
No matter where you work
No matter how you identify
No matter how you flirt
No matter what you wear
No matter whom you choose to love
No matter what you said before:

NO ONE has the right to touch you without your consent. SlutWalk NYC is part of a worldwide grassroots movement challenging rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and working to end sexual and domestic violence.

We are back after a long, introspective hiatus! Help us rebuild the coalition with a new name and most definitely improved identity. Join us at “Push Back Against Anti-Choice Assaults On Our Reproductive Freedom” on January 19, 2012.