Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology
Edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
Color of Violence introduces the reader to an array of topics of particular concern for women of color. The public policies described have an especially damaging impact on African American families and other women of color. But when large segments of our population are marginalized and disadvantaged, all of us are negatively affected, regardless of the color of our skin. Each chapter offers a different author’s perspective on the lives of women of different nationalities, genders, identities, economic levels and situations. For readers who are white, heterosexual, English speaking and able bodied, the book offers windows into the lives of women of color that rarely are accessible elsewhere, including, for instance, those who are Arab-American, poor, queer, sex workers, immigrants or unjustly entangled in the justice system.
Very recently, the mass incarceration of black men held for decades in isolation cells has caught the attention of mainstream media, largely as a result of the prisoners’ hunger strikes in protest of their appalling conditions. In contrast, little attention has been paid to the dramatic rise in imprisonment of women of color during several recent decades and the mistreatment they endure has remained very much in the shadows. Color of Violence provides a long overdue platform for women of color to speak out about sexual assault and other crimes committed against them by local police, INS officers, U.S. prison guards and Mexican-border control guards.
Another form of violence described in the book is sometimes labeled as “the cradle to prison pipeline.” It begins when judges, court social workers and psychiatrists unjustly separate women from their children. A chapter on adoption informs readers that black children comprise less than 20 percent of the nation’s children, but more than 35 percent of the foster care population. In Chicago, for example, almost all of the children in foster care are black and in New York black children in 2004 were “ten times as likely as white children to be in state protective custody.” In some situations even the staff at shelters for abused women contribute to those decisions. Color of Violence urges all feminists to acknowledge that “the racial disparities in adoption are powerful reasons to radically transform the child welfare system, so that it generously and noncoercively supports families.”
Though for several decades I have tracked racism and have worked on behalf of women abused by intimate partners, I learned much from reading this book. In thirty chapters a wide range of authors do more than expose the numerous injustices endured by women of color. They call for changes in government policy. White readers such as myself may feel uncomfortable in learning about the many ways cruelty and abuse of women of color are institutionalized by government policies. But new knowledge about large numbers of our population can inspire us to work toward creating humane policies that makes all of us safer. Reading this book has certainly had that effect on me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It's so easy to slip into despair. Easy to lament and bemoan the seeming fact that nothing changes. What we often mean is that it never changes for those of us who are most vulnerable. It's true that history records similar issues being addressed over and over. But there are often changes taking place right under our noses - for good and for ill. In a New Yorker review of Christian Caryl’s book Strange Rebels, 1979: John Lanchester provided this perspective: At the start of 1978, the biggest country in the world, the Soviet Union, and the most populous country in the world, China, both seemed immovable monoliths of Communist ideology. Iran was run by the Shah, and the aging leader of the clerical opposition, Ayatollah Khomeini, was in exile in Iraq. Afghanistan was under the control of Mohammad Daoud, a French-educated secularist, keen on modernizationa and women’s rights, and the main threat to his autocratic rule came from a different flavor of secularist, those of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, who were Communists. The Iron Curtain seemed a permanent division between the free and the unfree, and the cold War was the dominant fact of global politics. By the end of 1979, all these pillars of a seemingly permanent world order had crumbled or were crumbling. An obscure Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, was now Pope John Paul II, and the galvanizing effect of his papacy on the people of Poland was starting to destabilize the entire Soviet bloc. The Shah had fled into exile, and Ayatollah Khomeini was at the head of Iran’s new revolutionary Islamic government President Daoud had been deposed and murdered, and Islamist Guerrillas had begun the war of resistance to his successors that was to turn into the global jihad that is still with us. Deng Xiaoping had steered China sharply toward its new identity as a capitalist economy. Caryl sees 1979 as a moment of counter-revolution, a swing of the historical pendulum against the trends of the preceding decades. He makes a strong, sweeping case that the year ushered in, as his subtitle puts it, the birth of the twenty-first century. Today the Soviet Union is gone, China is capitalist, Iran is a theocracy, and jihad is the new normal; and all these things began to happen in 1979, which nobody at the time saw coming." From The Critics, a Critic at large “1979 and all that: Margaret Thatcher’s revolution." By John Lanchester. “Caryl’s book 'Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century' asks the question: What if the really important year in recent history was 1979?'" New Yorker, August 5, 2013.