Taking my experience as a sexual assault survivor to better understand racism

In some ways, this latest post from Heather Denkmire carries echoes of a couple other recent posts, so I’ll link them here: Me Too by René Goddess Johnson and How about we examine what’s really likely with Kavanaugh? by Samuel James. -BGIM


If you’re anything like me—and most women (of color and white) I know are—you’ve survived some kind of sexual violation. My own history includes 12 traumatic sexual abuse, assault, and harassment experiences, eight of which were with boys (teens) and men with backgrounds similar to Brett Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony echoed my own experiences closely, and I knew boys from my preppy Connecticut high school who told me they participated in assaults like those described by Julie Swetnick. Since the 2016 elections, I have been careful about my intake of the news, as Donald Trump’s vile behavior is also very familiar. To say that mid-September through early October was difficult for me is putting it mildly.

Many people came together to object to Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and they are still protesting. There were amazing and powerful protests of Kavanaugh by survivors like me, and survivors with very different stories, and people who know and love survivors, or simply people who have empathy and understanding. But in these protests, we white women have done harm to women of color.

It’s true that it wasn’t only white women protesting Kavanaugh, that’s for sure. And, believe me, I’m not suggesting the protests were a mistake. But, just like with the women’s march—see I’ll pass on “Unity” and the Women’s March and Black Girl In Maine’s The path to unity requires honesty, or Beyond the march—too many of us white women were driven to outrage because of our own experiences and the potential impact on our own lives, which, regardless of our intentions has the impact of telling women of color their lived experiences effectively mean nothing to us.

Let me explain what I mean here, and I’ll tell you how I use my own experience to try to comprehend what it must be like for a woman of color seeing the protesters dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale, or (understandably!) crying about losing ground in women’s rights.

Let’s start with this article by Melayna Williams, “For black women, The Handmaid’s Tale’s dystopia is real—and telling. In her piece, Ms. Williams points out that the show “doesn’t offer a vision of an America where democracy has collapsed. Instead, it shows white women subjected to the conditions under which their country was born. The thing that, tellingly, has proven the most alarming to audiences.” The characters are “find themselves captive, were bred against their will, and were tortured and even killed for attempting escape,” as Black women were for centuries.

The way we white women are full of rage and fear because Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned is reasonable. What is harmful and not reasonable is for us white women to act like all women’s bodies have had safe and affordable access to medical care and only now are those rights being threatened. Black women have not had the same access to abortions and other necessary medical care that we white women have had. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women.

So, if you are a survivor of sexual violence as I am, and you see or hear another survivor like Dr. Blasey Ford go public with her experience, how does it feel when people don’t believe her? How does it feel when a survivor’s accusations are treated as if they are not evidence? How did it feel when you saw people demand Dr. Blasey Ford offer up more proof, more proof than her own lived experience? How many times are harassment, abuse, and assault survivors told they must’ve misunderstood? (Some claim they believe Dr. Blasey Ford was assaulted but think she must be mistaken about who the violent teen boy was.)

Now imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, “My life is not protected by the current system like your life is protected. The current system causes me harm every day.” And our response is, “Why are you bringing up race?” (I hear, “Quit complaining. Quit making a big deal about nothing! You’re missing the important point!”)

Imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, as Melayna Williams did, “White supremacy, weaponized to protect white women’s bodies, is not new. Liberal and conservative women have collectively struggled to acknowledge the ways in which mainstream feminism has served to undercut and erase the voices and struggles of women of colour.” And our response is to say women of color should work toward unity with us white women? Would we tell Dr. Blasey Ford she ought to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh and make nice?

No. I’m quite sure the white women activists who are puzzled by the anger women of color at their Handmaid’s Tale costumes, or at their suggestion that people “take a knee” to protest rape culture would never tell Dr. Blasey Ford that her lived experience is not evidence, or that she ought to find common ground with Brett Kavanaugh.

When it comes to our activism, fellow white women survivors, we must listen to the truth tellers, the women of color who are understandably saying, “No. I will not work with you.” We must work to understand why. We must listen to the women of color who are telling us to acknowledge the harms we’ve perpetrated against them. We must change. We need to believe her when she tells her story. We must not cause harm to women of color in the way abusing, assaulting, harassing men have caused harm to all of us.


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1 thought on “Taking my experience as a sexual assault survivor to better understand racism

  1. However…. a white woman has the protection that no black woman ever has — just by the fact of the former having a lighter skin color . Hence it is simply not possible to equate the two world views.

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