The violence against Black and Brown women is real

Trigger warning: violence

Safety and security. These words conjure up different feelings and images for people of different races. For white people to feel safe, they must police Black and Brown people daily with tactics such as the paper bag test and stop-and-frisk. For Black and Brown people, it is vastly different.

Black and Brown people, especially women, have been the target of some heinous crimes perpetrated by white people for centuries. Safety and security exist, but both are few and far between. The CDC reports that Black women die by homicide at nearly three times the rate that white women do. Crimes committed against Black women and Black women that are missing due to the result of crimes/violence are hardly investigated; they are regularly brushed aside to make room for finding the missing white women. (Doreen St. Felix writes about the above issue and more here.) Jay Pitter writes in her article “Black Women need to be Protected in Public Spaces” about who’s most at risk to be murdered in America:

A recent report found that of all women, Black women were the most likely to be murdered in America. Also, a national street harassment report found that along with Latinx women, Black women experienced higher levels of street-based harassment overall and were at the most risk of that harassment escalating into physical aggression. Black women, often sole providers within the home, are over-represented in the homeless population, which is directly spurred by changes in cities.

It often seems that nobody has the back of Black women except other Black women.

The most recent illustration of this that comes to mind—although sadly there are countless instances like this—is the recent murder of Nia Wilson and attack of her sister, Lahtifa, who was injured but thankfully not fatally. It was a totally unprovoked attack by a white man.

Now I, a white-passing Latinx, can’t comment on how hate crimes perpetuated against Black and Brown women and safety within such communities affect the women in those communities; However, I want to ensure the safety and security of Black and Brown people around me and talk about the ways that it can be safer.

I decided I needed to talk with artist Jay Katelansky about this issue. Katelansky is an artist living in California and her work focuses on blackness as well as racial issues and tensions. I asked her because as I was scrolling through Instagram one day, I came across this piece of hers (see image below).

We subsequently had an email conversation about the following work and subsequently about the safety and security of Black women, homelessness and other things:

Veronica Perez (VP): I was struck by this piece of yours while I was scrolling through Instagram. I had just read a New Yorker article about the death of Nia Wilson and, as the news came in, about the three church bombings in Louisiana in the span of ten days, which are now being classified as racially motivated attacks. I am struck by the sincerity of the message and the cadence in which it’s written; I can feel the emotion entangled in it. Where did this piece arise from?

Jay Katelansky (JK): For the last two years I’ve been thinking deeply about the safety and what does that word even mean. So most of the pieces that I make are around me trying to wrap my head around this word/idea. This piece stemmed from a few different things happening in my life. I’m planning to see my mom in late April when I’m on the East Coast for work and it’s been giving me a lot of anxiety. My mother and I have a very complicated relationship but regardless I love her and I constantly worry about her. Ever since I found out as a kid that my mom was homeless, I’ve worried about her safety. I remember one year at day camp, it was storming and I just started to ball hysterically. One of the counselors asked me what was wrong and I told her my mom is somewhere outside in this storm without a place to go. Up to this day, I worry about her because she doesn’t have stable secure housing and she deals with a variety of mental illnesses. Homelessness is everywhere here in Oakland it’s a difficult thing to see. There’s so much money here there should be no reason for a crisis like this. Humans deserve housing everywhere. The piece also stems from my general anxiety with how Black bodies, especially queer Black bodies, navigate space. I worry a lot. I worry about my friends. I worry about my family. I worry about strangers. The world is scary and we are constantly seeing/reading/hearing people do terrible things to Black and Brown people for existing.

VP: What are the ways you’ve felt unsafe?

JK: I’ve felt unsafe in so many ways and in so many places. I feel the most unsafe in predominantly white spaces. I talk about this often but the three years I lived in Wisconsin were the hardest years for me as far as feeling safe. Most days I couldn’t get myself out of my apartment because of how unsafe the environment felt. I feel unsafe in spaces that don’t hold people accountable like I refuse to be in a room with anyone who defends R Kelly. I feel unsafe anytime I pass a police officer. I think it’s important to also mention when I do feel safe. I feel the safest in spaces with Black women. I feel the safest around my friends and loved ones.

VP: How is safety and security dealt with in the Black and Brown communities?

JK: I think it honestly depends on the community. The most successful way it’s dealt with to me is showing up for each other. I know when Nia Wilson was murdered at BART, Black and Brown folks who had access to vehicles offered rides to anyone who felt unsafe riding BART. I also saw people who had the funds offer money towards ride shares or people offered to BART together. When I was in Wisconsin during my first week [Katelansky received her MFA from The University of Wisconsin Madison] a Black woman told me what streets not to walk down at night and offered to walk with me whenever I needed company. I think back to the Black Panther Party and why it was created. One of the reasons was to protect the Black community from police brutality…police the police. All these instances are us showing up for us because

at the end of the day we all we got.

All these instances are us showing up for us because at the end of the day we all we got.

because at the end of the day we all we got.

we all we got.

This specific line resonated within me at the end of Katelansky’s statement. we all we got. Black and Brown folks are showing up for each other and protecting each other because as she says frankly, nobody else is going to.

As a white-passing Latinx though, there are ways white people and others can and need to show up as allies for Black and Brown women. One of the ways is learning the histories of Black people and the oppression they’ve faced throughout history up until now. Realize that is not something new that is taking place, but that this is a systemic issue that has been happening for a very long time now. Begin to reframe your thinking around systematic oppression and how it seeps into your everyday life. How your implicit bias impacts your thinking in the most minute ways. Y’all need to also listen when Black people are talking. Dismissing Black people when they speak is a form of violence. Excluding lived experiences additionally just because you haven’t experienced a racist cop is shitty. Just take a backseat and truly hear what they are saying they need.

The safety and security of Black and Brown women and men in our community matter so much more than we can see. We shouldn’t let them fight this battle alone—as they have for so long.

I just want to thank Jay for opening up and speaking about these difficult issues. You can see more of her work here: and on her Instagram account: shiftingself

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Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

The college admission scandal is just one blossom from a deeper set of roots

(Following up on the recent post here at BGIM Media, a piece by one of our contributors on the pervasive inequities throughout the educational system that hold people back, often because of race)

So I’m sure y’all have heard by now about this college admissions bribery/scandal/mess with this white dude, William Singer, the two white actresses, and the other 50 parents, administrators, and coaches in the thick of it. To summarize, Singer, for about 10 years, had been falsifying documents, doctoring photographs, rounding up test scores and hiring his own proctors to control tests—all to get students into prestigious programs in exchange for money from the parents (who knew what he was doing). And I’m sure some of you are surprised by this.

Well, if you are, that means you’ve been privileged by the education system.

The education system in America privileges you if you are white, wealthy, and have connections (and yet so many of those people still have to cheat to get in—using a whole extra layer of privilege and connection allowed by wealth). Anyone else attempting the right way to get in by working hard? Good luck.

Black and Brown people have been fighting the education system that ultimately privileges wealth and whiteness (Think all the way back to Ruby Bridges). And what’s happened to these families? One Black mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar in Ohio, falsified her address to send her children to another, better school than the one in her district. When she was found out, she was told to pay over $30,000 in back tuition and when she couldn’t, they made an example of her by throwing her into jail for 10 days and giving her three years probation, along with community service. All for attempting to enrich her child’s educational experience because the system disadvantaged her kids by ignoring the schools where she lived.

There is blatant inequality because of race and wealth in education. It sadly does not matter if these Black and Brown students work hard. Privilege can get you far when you’re white and wealthy. Ashely Alese Edward writes in their article “This Mom Went To Prison For Enrolling Her Son In A School Outside Her District”about another Black mother, Tanya McDowell, who “falsified” her address about where she was staying (her and her son were homeless at the time).

Edwards writes: “All public education in the U.S. is not created equal, which oftentimes forces parents from low-income backgrounds to use the addresses of friends and family members to get their child into a better school district. It should come as no surprise that those most impacted by this disparity in funding are people of color: A recent study found that white school districts have gotten $23 billion more in state and local funding than predominately nonwhite districts”

This sums it up perfectly. Underfunded school districts force parents to intercede in their child’s education. They have no choice. Williams-Bolar and McDowell’s move of falsifying their address isn’t hurting anyone; what these other parents did is, they had a choice. Their choice is keeping brighter and more capable students out. It’s fixing the system in their favor. These Black women should have never been charged; their children should have been given an equal chance at education.

There is so much I could go on about within this topic: how the hardworking student of color lost a spot to a privileged but less deserving white student, how the student of color might be lost in student loan debt because of all of the loans they had to take out, how the student of color isn’t heard at their university with regards to their experience,  how the student of color is passed over for job opportunities in the future…

However, what we need to start with is educational opportunities suited for all students. We need to reward hardworking students, instead of letting them down. The whole educational system needs an overhaul with all parents, instructors, administrators, coaches, and the community working towards the betterment of the students’ education. Every student. The education system is far from equal when it comes to race and wealth. This need to change.

Referenced articles:

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Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

There is power in anger; but who gets to be angry?

Anger. It’s an emotion that, from a young age—especially as women—we are told doesn’t have a place in our lives. Like other emotions (such as sadness, disgust, fear, and vulnerability), anger has to be shut away and shoved down. As women, we are unable to access these sides of the emotional spectrum. This affects certain aspects and people of society, but none so much as the women of Black and Brown communities. We’ve all heard of the angry black woman or spicy latina tropes we’ve see so much of in mainstream media and entertainment, even today. Both are overtly racist stereotypes used to describe women of color (WOC) and how they handle their anger or, more so, how they “fly off the handle.”

I can think of a very recent example of a WOC becoming angry in public and being attacked for it, not just monetarily but personally: Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. The referee was making some bad calls on his part, but it wasn’t that. It was the way that Williams reacted that took center stage for many people. She was upset, angry and let the ref know. She even became emotional and broke her tennis racket. So many negative things have been said about Williams’ outburst, whereas John McEnroe, retired tennis player, has been praised for being an outspoken angry man on the tennis court; he was still fined for his actions but definitely treated differently than Williams. There is a huge difference between why Williams is vilified for being angry and why McEnroe is praised for it: he’s a white man.

An angry white man is inspiring. He’s called passionate and a leader. Men are even encouraged to be angry. White women (WW) also have a way of getting away with this. Today more WW than ever are stepping up, becoming “feminists” and standing as “allies” (I use these words in quotations for a reason) and becoming angry. There is inherent privilege in being able to angrily speak out against the disproportionate systems that have been in place for so long and this privilege is mainly possessed by WW.

WW are quoted as saying that they “feel defeated” and “don’t know what to do” and “can’t believe that things like this happen” when they see a WW call the cops on black youths or when another Black person in gunned down in the streets due to police violence, or when our president sends armed troops to the border after women and children. Well, welcome to the world of Black and Brown people in this country. Things like this happen daily. And the only reason you’re in the know now is because a Black or Brown woman is letting you in on the secrets.

Moreover, these WW take platforms away from activists and feminists with black and brown skin attempting to do the same thing. WW make it all about them and forget that there is actually a WOC making the same statements. Instead of supporting the platform of a WOC, other WW support and raise up the white feminism instead of taking a backseat and being an ally or to support a WOC feminist attempting to do the same thing. WW can also be one of the main culprits when calling out WOC for speaking out. I have seen way too many Instagram posts where a WOC is calling out and attempting to dismantle a system created by white people and the whole comment thread is WW talking about how this WOC is being divisive, racist and plain old angry. This is not an anger of divisiveness. This is an anger of passion and wanting these systems to change.

I am not buying it. I am tired of using this as an excuse before I talk about the problematic relationship between white people and anger.

For years, WOC have called out racists and pointed out racial problems in the U.S. They are called divisive, angry, aggressive, hostile and a myriad of other terms. Whereas, when you have a cute, skinny, WW saying the same thing, they are praised for being “so brave and confident,” “changing the system” and—the worst one—“a hero.” And rarely are they called angry. This isn’t anything new I am talking about. White feminism has been such a pervasive entity to the plight of the WOC feminist.

I remember during my time in grad school, when I began my activist work, how hard it was for me to be taken seriously as a Latinx feminist and how angry I was because of it. And how hard it was for me to find feminist views that aligned with mine. I was always given white feminists to read and look up to and it all just…fell short for me. There was never any fire or passion seen in the writings of white feminists. Never any anger, no rage. I could never seem to find a voice that suited mine until I read Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed.

She was the first woman that I read that I could relate with. She talked about growing up half Pakistani/half English and how that had a profound impact on her life. She spoke about being so angry. Then I started to see myself more, researching the works of Aurora Levins Morales and Dolores Huerta. Then I found the others, who gave not only a voice to me but to Black women: Roxane Gay, bell hooks, Audre Lorde—to only name a few of the heavy hitters.

These WOC rounded out my universe, not the universe of the white feminist that had been fed to me for the two years I was in grad school. I know, I know, some think it might be as simple as googling “latina feminist” or something to that effect. But even bringing up such issues I experienced in my life as a Latinx woman, I was repeatedly shut down and explained to by WW that since they have never experienced the same things I had in my life that therefore it must not exist! Even some white men got into the conversation, explaining to me that I was playing into the Latina stereotype by being loud and outspoken and that maybe I should soften my image to get others to listen to what I have to say. As you probably guessed, that only made me angrier.

I am angry. I have been angry for a long time. I am not only angry at these backwards systems that keep people of color in check, but also at the WW who can’t seem to take a back seat and let the WOC lead. I am angry at the white people who call cops on black youths, angry at this systematic racism I’ve seen for years and see daily from our president and others he has gaslighted to lock up immigrants I am angry because when I show my anger, it’s met with disdain.

I believe there is power in being angry. The rage the culminates within can make great change happen. Anger and rage can be one of the most important resources we possess as WOC. This anger is not only justified, but can be a part of the solution. It can be harnessed to facilitate change and give you that slow, low burn to ignite passions. I like being angry as long as the anger is fueled into the solutions. Anger should be a part of a WOC toolkit for fighting against systematic racism, and we should not be made to feel bad about it. It’s an honest and vulnerable emotion, letting you and others around us know how we truly feel and that we’re sick of the systems in place. This rage isn’t about hate. It’s about change. It’s about being sick of the systems that have been set in place for so long.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.