On this day in history (1863): the murder of Little Crow

(via Indigenous Peoples History & Resources)

Little Crow at Traverse des Sioux (1851)“On July 3rd, 1863 Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux Little Crow and his son Wowinapa were foraging for berries on their traditional lands in Minnesota, when they were spotted by Nathan Lamson and his son. Minnesota had recently enacted a law that paid a bounty of $25 for every Sioux scalp. Little Crow was killed while his son escaped; Little Crow’s scalp was put on public display in St. Paul, Minnesota while his body was transported back to Hutchinson where it was again mutilated by the citizens. His body was dragged down the town’s Main Street while firecrackers were placed in his ears and dogs picked at his head. After their celebration, the town disposed of the body in an alley, where ordinary garbage was regularly thrown.”

The Holocaust as a justification for the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza

The claim that Europeans colonized what is now known as “Israel” in response to the Holocaust is false, just like the historical myth that claims the English colonizers came to the U.S. seeking “religious freedom”. The Zionist ideology has been around since the late 1800s, and the first large waves of European Zionist settlers had already arrived in Palestine long before the Nazis came to power. The violence in Palestine is the result of racist European colonizers displacing and killing (with U.S./British military support) large numbers of (Arab) people who they think are subhuman, enslaving the survivors, and stealing their land and resources (much as the Europeans did in the Americas and Africa).

And even if the Israeli nationalist mythology were true, and Israel actually had been created because European Jews were fleeing Nazi persecution, that still doesn’t justify what they’ve done to the people of Palestine. If I’m experiencing violence in my own home, does that make it OK for me to go next door and kill all of my neighbors and take their house to “protect myself”? Of course not. … Did religious persecution in 16th/17th century England justify the colonizers coming over here and killing millions of Native Americans and stealing their land? Of course not. … Did the persecution of Jews (and Communists, disabled folks, homosexuals, Eastern Europeans) in Nazi Germany justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba or the current slaughter in Gaza? Of course not. … It’s horrible that so many people accept Nazi violence in the 1940s as a justification for the murder of hundreds of Palestinian children in 2014.

I think what is really causing most of the Israeli violence is not a fear of Nazis or homemade rockets; it is a toxic mix of racism, nationalism, religion and capitalism. The Israeli politicians, just like those in the U.S. are mostly corrupt puppets of the wealthy capitalist class. Their motivations are primarily to dispossess, enslave and kill off as many Palestinians as possible so their corporate cronies will get rich from the stolen land resources and slave labor. As far as the combat soldiers on the ground, though, I think that their motivations are a bit more varied (like the soldiers who are employed by the US capitalist/political class) — some are there because it’s a decent-paying job, some are there because they were conscripted, some are virulent racist religious zealots who think they’re doing God’s work by murdering “barbaric” Arabs …. The same goes for the Israeli people. Like the U.S., Israel is a thoroughly racist society, where it’s socially acceptable to express joy at the sight of dead Palestinian babies. In addition to the racism which is the norm in Israel, I think there are many other factors (economic, cultural, etc.) that lead the Israeli public to support the mass murder of Palestinians. Whatever their varied motives are for supporting the mass murder of Palestinians, I think that we all need to stop accepting their justifications and find ways to work together to end it.

Andrea Smith: Constitution as origin myth masks genocide/slavery/imperialism

In many radical critiques of America’s war on terror, the U.S. constitution serves as an origin story – it is the prior condition of “democracy” preceding our fall into “lawlessness.” The Constitution’s status as an origin story then masks the genocide of indigenous peoples that constitutes its foundation. Certainly, Native feminism should provide a critical intervention into this discourse because the U.S. could not exist without the genocide of Native peoples – genocide is not a mistake or aberration of U.S. democracy, it is foundational to it.

—Andrea Smith, “Against the Law: Indigenous Feminism and the Nation-State

On this day in history, November 29, 1864: The Sand Creek Massacre

On this day in history, November 29, 1864: 700 U.S. Army troops under the command of Colonel John Chivington rode into a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho in the southwestern Colorado Territory. They opened fire on the villagers killing 150+ people, the large majority of whom were elderly and children. They then proceeded to mutilate the corpses, and take souvenirs of body parts … after it was all over, more than half of Black Kettle’s band had been murdered. Chivington, a national “hero”, still has a town named after himself.

President Theodore Roosevelt said that the massacre was “as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier“. 

Sand Creek Massacre memorial site
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“I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces … With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors …”
—- John S. Smith, Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith, 1865

“Fingers and ears were cut off the bodies for the jewelry they carried. The body of White Antelope, lying solitarily in the creek bed, was a prime target. Besides scalping him the soldiers cut off his nose, ears, and testicles-the last for a tobacco pouch …”
—- Stan Hoig

A genocidal smörgåsbord for Thanksgiving Day

Family feasting on Thanksgiving, with the results of genocide beneath the floorThanksgiving to me represents a day of opportunity — the opportunity to expose a history of genocide and white-supremacist domination of Native American and African peoples. First, let’s take a look at the history of Thanksgiving:

‘[What is erroneously considered to be] the first feast was not called a “Thanksgiving” at the time; no further integrated dining occasions were scheduled; and the first, official all-Pilgrim “Thanksgiving” had to wait until 1637, when the whites of New England celebrated the massacre of the Wampanoag’s southern neighbors, the Pequots. […]

Having subdued, intimidated or made mercenaries of most of the tribes of Massachusetts, the English turned their growing force southward, toward the rich Connecticut valley, the Pequot’s sphere of influence. At the point where the Mystic River meets the sea, the combined force of English and allied Indians bypassed the Pequot fort to attack and set ablaze a town full of women, children and old people.

William Bradford, the former Governor of Plymouth and one of the chroniclers of the 1621 feast, was also on hand for the great massacre of 1637:

‘Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.’

The rest of the white folks thought so, too. ‘This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots,’ read Governor John Winthrop’s proclamation. The authentic Thanksgiving Day was born.’

Glen Ford, “The End of American Thanksgivings


That is, Thanksgiving is not only a holiday that hides or ignores the Native American holocaust, but was actually created to celebrate it. The fact that millions of people celebrate such a holiday each year is thoroughly disturbing:

‘In recent years I have refused to participate in Thanksgiving Day meals, even with friends and family who share this critical analysis and reject the national mythology around manifest destiny. In bowing out of those gatherings, I would often tell folks that I hated Thanksgiving. I realize now that “hate” is the wrong word to describe my emotional reaction to the holiday. I am afraid of Thanksgiving. More accurately, I am afraid of what Thanksgiving tells us about both the dominant culture and much of the alleged counterculture.

Here’s what I think it tells us: As a society, the United States is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt. This is a society in which even progressive people routinely allow national and family traditions to trump fundamental human decency. It’s a society in which, in the privileged sectors, getting along and not causing trouble are often valued above honesty and accountability. Though it’s painful to consider, it’s possible that such a society is beyond redemption. Such a consideration becomes frightening when we recognize that all this goes on in the most affluent and militarily powerful country in the history of the world, but a country that is falling apart — an empire in decline.Thanksgiving/Genocide -- Which crime are you thankful for? Rape? Colonization? Torture? Theft of Land?

Thanksgiving should teach us all to be afraid.

Although it’s well known to anyone who wants to know, let me summarize the argument against Thanksgiving: European invaders exterminated nearly the entire indigenous population to create the United States. Without that holocaust, the United States as we know it would not exist. The United States celebrates a Thanksgiving Day holiday dominated not by atonement for that horrendous crime against humanity but by a falsified account of the “encounter” between Europeans and American Indians. When confronted with this, most people in the United States (outside of indigenous communities) ignore the history or attack those who make the argument. This is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt.

In left/radical circles, even though that basic critique is widely accepted, a relatively small number of people argue that we should renounce the holiday and refuse to celebrate it in any fashion. Most leftists who celebrate Thanksgiving claim that they can individually redefine the holiday in a politically progressive fashion in private, which is an illusory dodge: We don’t define holidays individually or privately — the idea of a holiday is rooted in its collective, shared meaning. When the dominant culture defines a holiday in a certain fashion, one can’t pretend to redefine it in private. To pretend we can do that also is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt.

I press these points with no sense of moral superiority. For many years I didn’t give these questions a thought, and for some years after that I sat sullenly at Thanksgiving dinners, unwilling to raise my voice. For the past few years I’ve spent the day alone, which was less stressful for me personally (and, probably, less stressful for people around me) but had no political effect. This year I’ve avoided the issue by accepting a speaking invitation in Canada, taking myself out of the country on that day. But that feels like a cheap resolution, again with no political effect in the United States.

The next step for me is to seek creative ways to use the tension around this holiday for political purposes, to highlight the white-supremacist and predatory nature of the dominant culture, then and now. Is it possible to find a way to bring people together in public to contest the values of the dominant culture? How can those of us who want to reject that dominant culture meet our intellectual, political, and moral obligations? How can we act righteously without slipping into self-righteousness? What strategies create the most expansive space possible for honest engagement with others?

Along with allies in Austin, I’ve struggled with the question of how to create an alternative public event that could contribute to a more honest accounting of the American holocausts in the past (not only the indigenous genocide, but African slavery) and present (the murderous U.S. assault on the developing world, especially in the past six decades, in places such as Vietnam and Iraq).

Some have suggested an educational event, bringing in speakers to talk about those holocausts. Others have suggested a gathering focused on atonement. Should the event be more political or more spiritual? Perhaps some combination of methods and goals is possible.

However we decide to proceed, we can’t ignore the ugly ideological realities of the holiday. My fear of those realities is appropriate but facing reality need not leave us paralyzed by fear; instead it can help us understand the contours of the multiple crises — economic and ecological, political and cultural — that we face. The challenge is to channel our fear into action. I hope that next year I will find a way to take another step toward a more meaningful honoring of our intellectual, political, and moral obligations.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, I’m eager to hear about the successful strategies of others. For such advice, I would be thankful.’

Robert Jensen, “How I Stopped Hating Thanksgiving and Learned to Be Afraid

Thanksgiving Day is not a day for celebration or rejoicing. Find another day for that. Thanksgiving is a fundamentally racist and genocidal holiday that we should utilize as a chance to inform people about white supremacy and the history of the colonization of the Americas.

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

U.S. soldiers posing over the mass grave at the Wounded Knee Massacre
U.S. soldiers posing over the mass grave at the Wounded Knee Massacre

American Holocaust: When It’s All Over I’ll Still Be Indian (2000)

“The powerful and hard-hitting documentary, American Holocaust, is quite possibly the only film that reveals the link between the Nazi holocaust, which claimed at least 6 million Jews, and the American Holocaust which claimed, according to conservative estimates, 19 million Indigenous People.

It is seldom noted anywhere in fact, be it in textbooks or on the internet, that Hitler studied America’s “Indian policy”, and used it as a model for what he termed “the final solution.”

He wasn’t the only one either. It’s not explicitly mentioned in the film, but it’s well known that members of the National Party government in South Africa studied “the American approach” before they introduced the system of racial apartheid, which lasted from 1948 to 1994. Other fascist regimes, for instance, in South and Central America, studied the same policy.

Noted even less frequently, Canada’s “Aboriginal policy” was also closely examined for its psychological properties. America always took the more ‘wide-open’ approach, for example, by decimating the Buffalo to get rid of a primary food source, by introducing pox blankets, and by giving $1 rewards to settlers in return for scalps of Indigenous Men, women, and children, among many, many other horrendous acts. Canada, on the other hand, was more bureaucratic about it. They used what I like to call “the gentleman’s touch”, because instead of extinguishment, Canada sought to “remove the Indian from the Man” and the Women and the Child, through a long-term, and very specific program of internal breakdown and replacement – call it “assimilation”. America had it’s own assimilation program, but Canada was far more technical about it.

Perhaps these points would have been more closely examined in American Holocaust if the film had been completed. The film’s director, Joanelle Romero, says she’s been turned down from all sources of funding since she began putting it together in 1995.

Perhaps it’s just not “good business” to invest in something that tells so much truth? In any event, Romero produced a shortened, 29-minute version of the film in 2001, with the hope of encouraging new funders so she could complete American Holocaust. Eight years on, Romero is still looking for funds.

American Holocaust may never become the 90-minute documentary Romero hoped to create, to help expose the most substantial act of genocide that the world has ever seen… one that continues even as you read these words. ”

John Trudell, Thanksgiving address (1980): “They deal in violence and repression, we are power”

“I’d like to thank all of you for coming here tonight and sharing this evening with us. And tonight I’d like to talk in honor of the water and the earth and our brother Leonard Peltier.

We’re faced with a very serious situation in this generation. There are insane people who wish to rule the world. They wish to continue to rule the world on violence and repression, and we are all the victims of that violence and repression. We as the indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been resisting this oppression for 500 years. We know that the black people have been resisting it for at least that long. And we know that the white people have had to endure it thousands of years. And now it’s come full swing to this generation that we live in: the nuclearization of the world.

You see, this cannot be. We cannot allow this to go on. We cannot do it. We cannot expect that the pro-nuclear oppressor, that other side, we cannot expect that they’re going to change for us. They are going to become more brutal. They are going to become more repressive because it’s a matter of dollars and their illusionary concepts of power.

We have to re-establish our identity. We have to understand who we are and where we fit in the natural order of the world, because our oppressor deals in illusions. They tell us that it is power, but it is not power. They may have all the guns, and they may have all the racist laws and judges, and they may control all the money, but that is not power. These are only imitations of power, and they are only power because in our minds we allow it to be power. But it’s all an imitation. Racism and violence, racism and guns, economics- the brutality of the American Corporate State way of life is nothing more than violence and oppression and it doesn’t have anything to do with power. It is brutality. It’s a lack of a sane balance. The people who have created this system, and who perpetuate this system, they are out of balance. They have made us out of balance. They have come into our minds and they have come into our hearts and they’ve programmed us. Because we live in this society, and it has put us out of balance. And because we are out of balance we no longer have the power to deal with them. They have conquered us as a natural power.

See, we are power. They deal in violence and repression, we are power. We are a part of the natural world. All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth. We are power. But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless. We look at the oppressor and we look at the enemy because they have the most guns and the most lies and the most money. People start to feel powerless.

We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people we’re forgetting what the purpose is. The purpose is to honor the earth, the purpose is to protect the earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the earth, the earth is our mother. And we will never free ourselves as human people, we will never free ourselves as sexual people, we will never free ourselves until we address the issue of how we live in balance with the earth. Because all our resistance and all of our struggle is hollow, it’s false, it’s another one of the oppressor’s hypocrisies. If we do not look out for the welfare of the Earth first, because I don’t care who it is, any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion. The Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth.

They pollute- this oppressor, this machine that has gone mad and run amok, it is beserk. They keep telling us, “progress.” They keep telling us “face reality.” Well, let’s deal with reality. Reality is the Earth can no longer take this attack. We can no longer allow this Thing to continue when it’s polluting the air, it’s polluting the water, polluting our food. They pollute the air, they pollute the water, they pollute our food, they pollute our minds. They put us out of balance.

They have made us be insecure with ourselves. They have put us into a situation where we have to play many roles. You know, we gotta be chauvinist, or we’ve got to be on some kind of a class trip, or some kind of illusionary power trip. We’ve gotta play a role, see? We’ve gotta play a role to communicate with other people. We’ve got to go through this charade because they have attacked our self confidence. They have attacked our self confidence and they have made us to listen to *them.* They have made us to believe that they are power. But they are not- they are violent and they are brutal, but they are not power.

We are a natural part of the earth. As a natural part of the Earth, we have the energy and the power that IS the Earth. The Earth will take care of us if we will remember the Earth- in more than just our words. If we will remember the Earth in our way of life; we are all here to play a role. And all of the animals, and all of the life on the earth is playing it’s proper role except the human people. Somehow we are betraying, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion that we live in. They tell us, they want us to believe, that we are powerless.

We are a natural part of the earth, we are an extension of that natural energy. The natural energy which is Spirit, and which is power. Power. A blizzard is power. An earthquake is power. A tornado is power. These are all things of power that no oppressor, no machine age, can put these things of power in a prison. No machine age can make these things of power submit to the machine age. That is natural power. And just as it takes millions and billions of elements to make a blizzard to happen, or to make the earthquake, to make the earth to move, then it’s going to take millions and billions of us. We are power. We have that power. We have the potential for that power.

I remember in the 60s and 70s I heard all these things about “power to the people” and I never really understood because everyone was saying “power to the people” when they were talking about demonstrating, they were talking about votes, they were talking about dealing on the terms of the oppressor. Our power will come back to us, our sense of balance will come back to us, when we go back to the natural way of protecting and honoring the earth. If we have forgotten how to do it, or we think that it looks overwhelming, or think that we can never accomplish it, all we have to do, each one of us, an individual, is to go and find one spot on the Earth that we can relate to. Feel that energy, feel that power. That’s where our safety will come.

The Earth will take care of us. We have to understand that the American Corporate State will not take care of us. They do not care about us. Maximize their profit, that is where their whole life’s balance is placed upon- maximizing the profit. They will turn us against each other to maximize the profit, because they have done it in the past.

Nuclear energy. It’s the final assault. Nuclear energy should tell each and every one of us that they have gone beyond the reasons of sanity. That they are no longer sane. That they no longer deal with the real, natural world. Because they want to create a radioactivity that is going to make it impossible for the mother earth to take care of our life. We will not destroy the world. We are arrogant and we are stupid and we are foolish if we believe that we will destroy the world. Man has the ability to destroy all of the people’s ability to live on the Earth, but we do not have the power to destroy the earth. The earth will heal itself. The earth will purify itself of us. If it takes a billion years to get rid of the radiation the Earth will do it, because the Earth has that kind of time. We do not.

Our obligations and our loyalty have to be to the earth, and they have to be to our sense of community and to our people and our relations. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that will not take care of our needs. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that has proven time and time again that it is the enemy of the people unless the people are rich in dollars. That has been the consistent history of Western civilization and the American Corporate State Government- that’s reality. They are not our friends, they do not care about us. We have to face the reality that we have an enemy.

We all want to talk about nuclear war, everyone’s afraid of nuclear war, and it’s going to come between the Americans and the Russians or the Chinese or whoever. But are they not waging nuclear war on us now when the miners die from cancer from mining that Uranium? Are they not waging nuclear war with Three Mile Island? When they release that stuff into the air? Are they not waging nuclear war when they build these nuclear reactors and it’s not safe? Are they not waging nuclear war when they attack the Indian people on their land, militarily attack the Indian people, racistly attack the Indian people, so they can get at the natural resources to feed their radioactive machines? That is war, and they are waging it against us. They bribe congress, they bribe your elected officials, they terrorize and intimidate your elected officials by getting the FBI to blackmail them. Those are acts of war. We have to come to a time in our lifetime, and it will come in our lifetime, where we are going to have to deal with the fact that the enemy has taken over your government. The government is not your ally. The government will use you, chew you up and spit you out.

You think that we are wrong? You think that we are talking unrealistically? Then go look at your elders and see what has happened to your elders in your machine age society. See what kind of respect that they get. See what kind of a voice they are allowed into your society, what kind of input they have. See what their final reward of happiness is after working for this slave state for 30 or 40 years and allowing someone to exploit their labors.

What is racism? Racism is an act of war. What is sexism? Sexism is an act of war. It’s a war against our human dignity and our rights to self respect. This is the war that they wage there. War! They are war-like. And we have to understand that the American Corporate State got to where it’s at through the act of war. The next war… you wanna worry, you wanna think about a war? The next war that you better be concerned about is the one that they’re gonna fight here. Here in the continental United States. They have fought many wars here. They fought us all along, see, because we said ‘it’s ours and you haven’t got a right to it.’ They fought us. Now you all are claiming that it’s yours under this illusionary concept of private ownership of property and they’re gonna fight you. But they’re going to call it “national security” and “national energy crisis.” They’re going to call it “constitutional rights” and they’re gonna call it “judicial proceedings.” They’re going to nationalize… you know, your military coupe is going to come there. They’re going to nationalize the police departments, there’s your military coupe. In the name of “violence.” “Rising crime.” But all we must do is look in the corporate office and see the rising crime that is taking place there and nobody’s going to jail for it. So we’ve got to understand that they are arming themselves to wage a war against us and it’s going to be called the war of “law and order.” Because they’re twisting it around.

For 500 years my people have resisted. For 500 years we will resist again if it becomes necessary. We want to be able to relate and communicate with all of the people who are living on this land, but we want to be able to relate and communicate from a position of truth. You all gotta face the truth. We have had to face it through 500 years of genocide, we have had to face the truth, we have had to live the truth. We have had to die the truth. Before we’re gonna ever see our evolutionary liberation, the people that call themselves Americans are gonna have to face the truth also.

They tell us to “be realistic,” that “progress” means that all these things have to happen. They tell us that we can’t go back to the old way. They tell us “be realistic.” But there is no old way, no new way, there is a way of life. We must live in balance with the earth. We MUST do it. We have no choice. If we allow ourselves to be apathetic, or we allow ourselves to be lied to, or tolerate their lies about what they’re doing to the earth, then we are betraying our intention. We are betraying our purpose here. We cannot protect that 7th generation if we do not protect the earth. We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.

They want to break our spirit. They will do everything and anything to break our spirit, our will to live. We must learn to resist, we much learn to see, we must learn to look. We must learn to step out of this reactionary-ism. All of our lives they’ve had control of us through their schools, their tv, their electronic media.  They’ve had control of us all of our lives. They have programmed us, they have made us become reactionary. We don’t think, we react to what they do. We don’t think, we react. To everything that they do- we react to it. They’re setting us up in the 80’s because they know consistently throughout the past the people have always reacted to their manipulations of circumstance. They know that the people always react. They’re counting on it in the 80’s.

See, and they outnumber us with guns, They outnumber us with money. They outnumber us with votes. They control all the machines that count the votes. They’ve got it all stacked in their favor. Except there’s a key. The key is we must start thinking, and stop reacting. The oppressor has no thinkers, they have no philosophers, it’s all scientific, it’s all economic, it’s all manipulative. They have no thinkers. You go look and you deal with the enemy and what the enemy does is: the enemy will send somebody out on the street to hit you in the head and the guy says “I’m only taking my orders.” And if you can come from a position of strength to this guy whose hitting you in the head and say “Hey, you’ve got to stop hitting me in the head, we want to talk.” then he says “Well I have to go to my superior to see.” They have no thinkers, either.

If we will start to think we will learn to see, to see what reality really is, and we will outnumber them through the thinking process. We will take our minds away from them. Because through their manipulation of our minds they control our spirit, and they know this is true. They tell us, see, they want us to believe that we are powerless. They want us to believe that we are becoming overwhelmed, that they can overwhelm us. You see, but they are paranoid. They are more paranoid than any of us are, no matter what happens to us. You see, because they have to put people in here to come and listen to what we’re saying, so they can go back and tell.

See, so they’re afraid! They’re afraid because they know we’re talking about reality! Now why are they afraid? They are afraid because they know they are dealing with the illusions of power which are based on the realities of violence and brutality. They’re afraid! See, they don’t want people to think, they don’t want people to be talking, and they don’t want people to think about what they talk about.

Because they know. They’ve known it all along, that they built their whole Thing on illusions. And because they have drawn us in to giving this illusionary world all this power, they have taken our power away from us. Because we believe in the illusions.”

Dangerous Intersections

(via INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence)

Women of color live in the dangerous intersections of sexism, racism and other oppressions.

Within the mainstream anti-violence movement in the U.S., women of color who survive sexual or domestic abuse are often told that they must pit themselves against their communities, often portrayed stereotypically as violent, to begin the healing process. Communities of color, meanwhile, often advocate that women keep silent about the sexual and domestic violence in order to maintain a united front against racism.Therefore we must adopt anti-violence strategies that are mindful of the larger structures of violence that shape the world we live in. That is, strategies designed to combat violence within communities (sexual/domestic violence) must be linked to strategies that combat violence directed against communities (i.e. police brutality, prisons, racism, economic exploitation, etc). In addition, as will be discussed later in this report, the remedies for addressing sexual and domestic violence have proven to be inadequate for addressing the problems of gender violence in general, but particularly for addressing violence against women of color. The problem is not simply an issue of providing multicultural services to survivors of violence. Rather, the analysis and strategies around addressing gender violence have failed to address the manner in which gender violence is not simply a tool of patriarchal control, but also serves as a tool of racism and colonialism. That is, colonial relationships are themselves gendered and sexualized.

Within the context of colonization and racism, sexual violence does not affect men and women of color in the same way. However, when a woman of color suffers abuse, this abuse is not just attack on her identity as a woman, but on her identity as a person of color. The issues of colonial, race, and gender oppression cannot be separated. Women of color do not just face quantitatively more issues when they suffer violence (i.e. less media attention, language barriers, lack of support in the judicial system, etc.) but their experience is qualitatively different from that of white women. Hence, the strategies employed to address violence against women of color must take into account their particular histories of violence.

Historical context

Colonizers have long tried to crush the spirit of the peoples they colonize and blunt their will to resist colonization. One of the most devastating weapons of conquest has been sexual violence. In the eyes of colonizers, the bodies of people of color are considered inherently “dirty.” For instance, as European settlers of California described in the 1860s, Native people were “the dirtiest lot of human beings on earth (Rawls 1984, 195).” They wear “filthy rags, with their persons unwashed, hair uncombed and swarming with vermin (Rawls 1984, 195).” The following 1885 Proctor & Gamble ad for Ivory Soap also illustrates this equation between Indian bodies and dirt.

We were once factious, fierce and wild,
In peaceful arts unreconciled
Our blankets smeared with grease and stains
From buffalo meat and settlers’ veins.
Through summer’s dust and heat content
From moon to moon unwashed we went,
But IVORY SOAP came like a ray
Of light across our darkened way
And now we’re civil, kind and good
And keep the laws as people should,
We wear our linen, lawn and lace
As well as folks with paler face
And now I take, where’er we go
This cake of IVORY SOAP to show
What civilized my squaw and me
And made us clean and fair to see (Lopez n.d., 119).

In the colonial worldview, only “clean” and “pure” bodies deserve to be protected from violence and these concepts are always already racialized. Violence done to “dirty” or “impure” bodies simply does not count as violence. Because the bodies of women of color are also seen as “dirty,” they too are considered “rapable.” The practice of mutilating Indian bodies, for instance– both living and dead –makes it clear that colonizers do not think Indian people deserve bodily integrity. This attitude dates back to the earliest periods of westward conquest, as these examples from history illustrate:

I saw the body of White Antelope with the privates cut off, and I heard a soldier say he was going to make a tobacco-pouch out of them (Wrone and Nelson 1982, 113).

One more dexterous than the rest, proceeded to flay the chief’s [Tecumseh’s] body; then, cutting the skin in narrow strips…at once, a supply of razor-straps for the more “ferocious” of his brethren (Wrone and Nelson 1982, 82).

Andrew Jackson…supervised the mutilation of 800 or so Creek Indian corpses–the bodies of men, women and children that he and his men massacred–cutting off their noses to count and preserve a record of the dead, slicing long strips of flesh from their bodies to tan and turn into bridle reins (Stannard 1992, 121).

Although Native men have also been scarred by abuse, Native women have often been the primary focus of sexual violence because of their ability to give birth. Control over reproduction is essential in destroying a people; if the women of a nation are not disproportionately killed, the nation’s population can always rebound. This is why colonizers such as Andrew Jackson recommended that, after massacres, troops complete the extermination by systematically killing Indian women and children. Similarly, Methodist minister Colonel John Chivington’s policy was to “kill and scalp all little and big” because “nits make lice (Stannard 1992, 131).” Symbolic and literal control over their bodies is important in the war against Native people, as these testimonies of colonization attest:

Two of the best looking of the squaws were lying in such a position, and from the appearance of the genital organs and of their wounds, there can be no doubt that they were first ravished and then shot dead. Nearly all of the dead were mutilated (Wrone and Nelson 1982, 123).

One woman, big with child, rushed into the church, clasping the alter and crying for mercy for herself and unborn babe. She was followed, and fell pierced with a dozen lances. . .the child was torn alive from the yet palpitating body of its mother, first plunged into the holy water to be baptized, and immediately its brains were dashed out against a wall, (Wrone and Nelson 1982, 97)

I heard one man say that he had cut a woman’s private parts out, and had them for exhibition on a stick. I heard another man say that he had cut the fingers off of an Indian, to get the rings off his hand. I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females, and stretched them over their saddle-bows and some of them over their hats (Sand Creek Massacre: A Documentary History 1973).

The history of sexual violence and genocide for Native women is illustrative of how gender violence functions as a tool for racism and colonialism for women of color in general. As with Native women, African American women have also been viewed as inherently rapable. Whereas colonizers used sexual violence to kill of Native populations, however, white slave owners used rape to reproduce an exploitable labor force. Because the children of Black slave women inherited their slave status, it was economically profitable to systematically rape Black women in order to reproduce their slave labor. Because Black women were seen as the property of their slaveowners, their rape at the hands of these men did not count. As one southern politician declared in the early 1900s, there was no such thing as “virtuous colored girl” over the age of fourteen (Davis 1981, 182). The testimonies from slave narratives and other sources reveals the systematic abuse of slave women by white slaveowners.

For a period of fourth months, including the latter stages of pregnancy, delivery, and recent recovery there from…he beat her with clubs, iron chains and other deadly weapons time after time; burnt her; inflicted stripes over and often with scourages, which literally excoriated her whole body; forced her to work in inclement seasons, without being duly clad; provided for her insufficient food, exacted labor beyond her strength, and wantonly beat because she could not comply with his requisitions. These enormities, besides others, too disgusting, particularly designated, the prisoner, without his heart once relenting, practiced…even up to the last hours of victim’s existence. (A report of a North Carolina slaveowner’s abuse and eventual murder of a slave woman) (Genovese 1976, 72).

He was a good man {my master} but he was pretty bad among the women. Married or not married, made no difference to him. Whoever he wanted among the slaves, he went and got her or had her meet him somewhere out in the bushes. I have known him to go to the shack and make the woman’s husbands sit outside while he went into his wife. …He wasn’t no worse than none of the rest. They all used their women like they wanted to, and there wasn’t nobody to say anything about it. Neither the woman nor the men could help themselves. They submitted to it but kept praying to God (a slave testimony from South Carolina) (Johnson 1969, 90).

Immigrant women as well have endured a long history of sexual exploitation in the U.S. For instance, women were often lured into the U.S. with the promise of a stable marriage or job, only to find themselves trapped in the sex trade. Financially impoverished Chinese families were often forced to sell their daughters into prostitution and in other cases, racially discriminatory employment laws forced thousands of Chinese immigrant women into prostitution. By 1860, over 23.4 percent of the Chinese in San Francisco (all female) were employed in prostitution (Almaguer 1994, 174).

In these histories, while women of color suffered from routine sexual exploitation in the process of racist and colonial expansion, men of color become stereotyped as sexual predators. Prior to colonization, Indian societies tended not to be male-dominated. In fact, many societies were matrilineal and matrilocal and Indian women often served as spiritual, political, and military leaders. When work was divided by gender, both men’s and women’s labors were accorded similar status. Violence against women and children was rare — in many tribes, unheard of (Jaimes and Halsey 1992). Consequently, through the proliferation of “captivity narratives” in the 1800s, the message was spread that sexual predators were not white men, but were Indian men bent on capturing and raping white women.

Similarly, black men were targeted for lynching for their supposed mass rapes of white women. White women needed to be protected from predatory black men, when in fact it was black women who needed protection from white men. Anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells calculated in her investigations of lynchings that between 1865 and 1895 over ten thousand Blacks had been lynched, whereas no white person was ever lynched for killing a Black (Davis 1981, 184). In addition, while the ostensible reason for these lynchings was to protect white women from black rapists, Wells discovered that only a third of those lynched were even accused of rape. And of those accused of rape, most were obvious consensual sexual relationships with white women (Giddings 1984, 28-29).

Present day context

The historical context of rape, racism and colonialism continues to impact women of color today. This legacy is most evident in the rates of violence in American Indian communities – American Indian women are twice as likely to be victimized by violent crime than women or men of any other ethnic group. In addition, sixty percent of the perpetrators of violence against American Indian women are white and Asian American women are most likely to be victimized by whites as well (Greenfield and Smith 1999). Rates of violence against African American women as well are higher than the national average (Rennison 2001). In general, forty-three percent of women will be raped (including marital rape) and one-half of women in the U.S. will be battered in their lifetime (MacKinnon 1987, 23-24).

Not only has sexual and domestic violence has become internalized within communities of color as a result of this sexual colonization, but women of color continue to be targeted by racialized gender violence in a number of ways. Within U.S. popular culture, Stuart Kasten marketed a new video in 1989 called, “Custer’s Revenge,” in which players get points each time they, in the form of Custer, rape an Indian woman. The slogan of the game is “When you score, you score.” He describes the game as “a fun sequence where the woman is enjoying a sexual act willingly.”

During times of heightened tensions between Native and white communities, sexual violence remains prevalent as is evident in some of these events I was involved in. During the Chippewa spearfishing controversies in the 1980s when Chippewa spearfishers were being harassed by white racist mobs for exercising their treaty-protected rights to spear fish, one white harasser carried a sign saying “Save a fish; spear a pregnant squaw.” During the 1990 Mohawk crisis in Oka, a white mob surrounded the ambulance of a Native woman who was attempting to leave the Mohawk reservation because she was hemorrhaging after having given birth. She was forced to “spread her legs” to prove she had given birth. The police at the scene refused to intervene. Two women from Chicago WARN went to Oka in Mohawk Territory, Canada to videotape the crisis. They were arrested and held in custody for eleven hours without being charged, and were told that they could not go to the bathroom unless the male police officers could watch. The place they were held was covered with pornographic magazines.

Trafficking in women from Asian and other Third world countries continues unabated in the US. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, 45,000 to 50,000 women are trafficked in the US each year (Brinkley 2000). In addition, there are over 50,000 Filipina mail-order brides in the US alone (Tadiar 2000). White men, desiring women they presume to be submissive, procure mail-order brides, who then, because of their precarious legal status, are vulnerable to domestic and sexual violence in their homes. Neferti Tadiar, scholar of Philippines history, reports the promotional material for procuring mail order brides: Filipinas have “exceptionally smooth skin and tight vaginas. . .[they are] low maintenance wives. [They] can always be returned and replaced by a younger model (Tadiar 2000).”

Women of color are also targeted for sexual violence crossing the U.S. border. Blacks and Latinos comprise 43% of those searched through customs even through they comprise 24% of the population (Bhattacharjee 2001). The American Friends Service Committee documented over 346 reports of gender violence on the US Mexico border from 1993-1995 and this is just the report of one agency, which does not account for the women who either do not report or report to another agency. The following case illustrates the kinds of abuse women face at the border:

A Border Patrol agent, Larry Selders, raped several women over a period of time. Finally one of the rape victims in Nogales, Arizona had to sue the United States government for not taking action to investigate her rape. Selders demanded sex from the woman in return for her release. When she refused, Selders drove her out of town to an isolated area, raped her and threatened her not to say anything to anyone. Her defense describes in great detail the horrible trauma that she continued to suffer after the incident. Although the rape took place in 1993, it was only in October 1999, that the court finally arrived a decision in favor of the victims. ‘The government guarded information about Selders’ prior acts. It took more than three years of legal battles to uncover that at least three other victims were known to the government,’ declared the victim’s attorney, Jesus Romo (Bhattacharjee 2001).

Undocumented survivors of violence face many barriers to accessing services as a result of their legal status. They are often reluctant to report crimes because their partners threaten to report them to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) for deportation. Many programs for domestic and sexual violence survivors in the U.S. do not provide services in languages other than English. In one case reported by a Chicago rape crisis center, a Latina was raped by a prominent businessman. During the trial, the basic line of defense taken by the defense attorney was to ask her repeatedly, “You’ve been in this country for a long time. Why don’t you speak English yet?” Her attacker (who was a friend of the judge) was acquitted.

Meanwhile, the media generally ignores this pervasive violence and focuses on the individual acts of violence by men of color. Examples include the media hype of their murder trial of O.J. Simpson (an African American celebrity charged with killing his ex-wife), Clarence Thomas (U.S. Supreme Court Justice accused of sexual harassment) and Mike Tyson (an African American boxer tried and convicted for rape). In the public discussions over these cases, women of color continued to be marginalized. That is, communities of color often focused on the racism directed against the men in these cases, neglecting to see how their female victims (in the Tyson and Thomas cases) are also victimized by racism. The response by many communities of color to these cases was to blame the victims for breaking silence around violence. Meanwhile, the white women’s anti-violence movement made these figures the symbols of male violence against women rather than white perpetrators. For instance, William Kennedy Smith (a white prominent figure who was tried for rape) was acquitted, no public outcry resulted even among activists in the anti-violence movement as it did when O.J. Simpson was acquitted. In fact, the outcry was so tremendous among white people after OJ Simpson’s acquittal that many publicly called for an end to affirmative action programs because of his acquittal. The thousands of white men who batter and rape women have failed to attain the same public scrutiny as have men of color. This demonization of men of color as the real rapists, from whom white women need protection, ironically hinders white women as well from securing real safety from violence. That is, white women fear violence from men of color and consequently are less likely to protect themselves from those most likely to perpetuate violence against them – white men whom they know.

Remedies

Because violence against women of color cannot be separated from racism and colonialism, it is necessary to develop remedies for violence that also counter racism and colonialism, particularly as they are manifested in state violence. Unfortunately, the remedies that have been pursued by the mainstream anti-violence movement have often had the effect of strengthening rather than opposing state violence. The anti-sexual/domestic violence movements have been critical in breaking the silence around violence against women and providing critically needed services to survivors of sexual/domestic violence. However, these movements have also become increasingly professionalized around providing services, and consequently are often reluctant to address sexual and domestic violence within the larger context of institutionalized violence. As a case in point, many state coalitions on domestic/sexual violence have refused to take stands against the anti-immigration backlash and its violent impact on immigrant women, arguing that this issue is not a sexual/domestic violence issue. However, as the immigration backlash intensifies, many immigrant women do not report abuse for fear of deportation. However, it is impossible to seriously address sexual/domestic violence within communities of color without addressing these larger structures of violence, such as militarism, attacks on immigrants’ rights and Indian treaty rights, the proliferation of prisons, militarism, economic neo-colonialism, and institutional racism. Consequently, it is critical that those interested in combating sexual/domestic violence adopt anti-violence strategies that are mindful of the larger structures of violence that govern our world. In other words, strategies designed to combat violence within communities must be linked to strategies that combat the violence directed against communities of color.

As a case in point, increasingly, mainstream anti-violence advocates are demanding longer prison sentences for batterers and sex offenders as a front line approach to stopping violence against women. However, the criminal justice system has always been brutally oppressive toward communities of color. In 1994, for instance, one out of every three African American men between the ages of 20-29 was under some form of criminal justice supervision. Two-thirds of men of color in California between the ages of 18 and 30 have been arrested (Donziger 1996, 102-104). It is problematic for women of color to go to the state for the solution to the problems it has had a large part in creating. Consider these examples from reports from rape crisis centers from around the United States:

An undocumented woman calls the police because of domestic violence. Under current mandatory arrest laws, the police must arrest someone on domestic violence calls. Because the police cannot find the batterer, they arrest her and have her deported (Tucson).

An African American homeless woman calls the police because she has been the victim of group rape. The police arrest her for prostitution (Chicago).

An African-America woman calls the police when her husband who is battering her accidentally sets fire to their apartment. She is arrested for the fire (New York).

In fact the New York Times recently reported that the effects of the strengthened anti-domestic violence legislation is that battered women kill their abusive partners less frequently, BUT batterers do NOT kill their partners less frequently (Butterfield 2000). Thus, ironically, laws passed to protect battered women are actually protecting their batterers!

In addition, as Beth Richie notes in her study of Black women in prison and Luana Ross describes in her study of American Indian women in prison, women of color are generally in prison as a direct or indirect result of gender violence. That is, for instance, women of color, often become involved in abusive relationship in which they are forced to participate in men’s criminal activities (Richie 1996; Ross 1998). In addition, over 40 percent of women in prison are there because they murdered an abusive partner (Jurik and Winn 1990). Thus, the criminal justice system, rather than solving the problems of violence, often re-victimize women of color who are survivors of violence. And in fact, Luana Ross notes the criminal justice system actually criminalizes the attempts of women of color to resist and survive violence (Ross 1998).

The basic problem is that the premise of the justice system is that most people are law-abiding except for “deviants” who do not follow the law. However, given the epidemic rates of sexual and domestic violence in which 50 percent of women will be battered and 43 percent will be raped in their lifetime, it is clear that most men are implicated in our rape culture (MacKinnon 1987, 23-24). It is not likely that we can send all of these men to jail. Addressing rape through the justice system simply furthers the myth that rape/domestic violence is caused by a few bad men rather than acts which most men find themselves implicated in. Thus, relying upon the criminal justice system to end violence against women strengthens t a criminal justice apparatus that has been historically racist, while providing little more than the illusion of safety to survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

At the same time, however, many of the alternatives to incarceration that are promoted under the “restorative justice model” have not developed sufficient safety mechanisms for survivors of domestic/sexual violence. In addition, anti-prison activists often uncritically support restorative justice programs as alternatives to incarceration without considering how to ensure these models provide safety for survivors. “Restorative justice” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of programs which attempt to address crime from a restorative and reconciliatory rather than a punitive framework. That is, as opposed to the US criminal justice system that focuses solely on punishing the perpetrator and removing him from society through incarceration, restorative justice attempts to involve all parties (perpetrators, victims and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community back to wholeness. These models have been particularly well-developed by many Native communities, especially in Canada, where the sovereign status of Native nations allows them more an opportunity to develop community based justice programs. In one program, for instance when a crime is reported, the working team that deals with sexual violence talks to the perpetrator and gives him the option of participating in the program. The perpetrator must first confess his guilt and then follow a healing contract, or go to jail. The perpetrator can decline to participate completely in the program and go through normal routes in the justice system. Everyone (victim, perpetrator, family, friends, and the working team) are involved in developing the healing contract. Everyone is also assigned an advocate through the process. Everyone also holds the perpetrator accountable to his contract. One Tlingit man noted that this approach was often more difficult than going to jail:

First one must deal with the shock and then the dismay on your neighbors faces. One must like with the daily humiliation, and at the same time seek forgiveness not just from victims, but from the community as a whole. . . [A prison sentence] removes the offender from the daily accountability, and may not do anything towards rehabilitation, and for many may actually be an easier disposition than staying in the community (Ross 1997, 18).

These models seem to have much greater potential for dealing with “crime” effectively because if we want perpetrators of violence to live in society peaceably, it makes sense to develop justice models in which the community is involved in holding him/her accountable. Under the current incarceration model, perpetrators are taken away from their community and are further disabled from developing ethical relationships within a community context. As Rupert Ross, an advocate for these models notes: “In reality, rather than making the community a safer place, the threat of jail places the community more at risk (Ross 1997).”

The problem, however, with these models in addressing sexual/domestic is that they work only when the community unites in holding perpetrators accountable. However, in cases of sexual and domestic violence, the community often sides with the perpetrator rather than the victim. So for instance, in many Native communities, these models are often pushed on domestic violence survivors in order to pressure them to “reconcile” with their families and “restore” the community without sufficient concern for their personal safety. Thus, we face a dilemma: one the one hand, the incarceration approach for addressing sexual/domestic violence promotes the repression of communities of color without really providing safety for survivors. On the other hand, restorative justice models often promote community silence and denial around issues of sexual/violence without concern for the safety of survivors of gender violence under the rhetoric of community restoration.

Thus, our challenge is, how do we develop community-based models of accountability in which the community will actually hold the perpetrator accountable? While there are no simple solutions to violence against women of color, it is clear that we will not develop effective strategies unless we stop marginalizing women of color in our analysis and strategies around both racial violence and gender violence.

To answer this set of challenges, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, was organized to combat violence against women of color in all its forms. This organization arose from the Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color conference held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 2000. The primary goals of this conference were to

  1. develop analyses and strategies around ending violence that place women of color at the center;
  2. address violence against women of color in all its forms, including: attacks on immigrants’ rights and Indian treaty rights; the proliferation of prisons; militarism; attacks on the reproductive rights of women of color; medical experimentation on communities of color; homophobia/heterosexism and hate crimes against lesbians of color; economic neo-colonialism; and institutional racism, and
  3. encourage the anti-violence movement to reinsert political organizing into its response to violence.

Originally designed to host 100-200 participants, over 2000 attended the conference while 2000 had to be turned away because of space limitations. Due to the overwhelming response at this conference, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence was formed. INCITE! is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and their communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing. This organization complements the work done by domestic and sexual violence agencies which focus on social services by emphasizing a grassroots, political mobilization approach toward ending violence. By supporting grassroots organizing, we intend to advance a national movement to nurture the health and well-being of communities of color. Through the efforts of INCITE!, women of color and our communities will move closer towards global peace, justice and liberation.