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.