Contributors. Dena Al-Adeeb, Patricia Allard, Lina Baroudi, Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA), Critical Resistance, Sarah Deer, Eman Desouky, Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo, Dana Erekat, Nirmala Erevelles, Sylvanna Falcón, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Emi Koyama, Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez, maina minahal, Nadine Naber, Stormy Ogden, Julia Chinyere Oparah, Beth Richie, Andrea J. Ritchie, Dorothy Roberts, Loretta J. Ross, s.r., Puneet Kaur Chawla Sahota, Renee Saucedo, Sista II Sista, Aishah Simmons, Andrea Smith, Neferti Tadiar, TransJustice, Haunani-Kay Trask, Traci C. West, Janelle White
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Color of Violence
The Incite! Anthology
By Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
All rights reserved.
Rethinking Antiviolence Strategies
Lessons from the Black Women's Movement in Britain
In April 1998, women activists from Southall Black Sisters, a Black Women's organization at the forefront of breaking the silence around violence against South Asian women, picketed the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Their banners proclaimed their slogans: "Our Tradition, Struggle not Submission" and "Free Zoora Shah!" Five years earlier, Zoora, a Pakistani woman living in the conservative Muslim community of Bradford in the north of England, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life with a tariff (minimum time served) of twenty years. Zoora's story broke the stereotypes about South Asian women that have been a legacy of the colonial era in India. She was not passive, veiled, or submissive. Instead, she defended herself against a physically violent, sexually abusive, and financially exploitative man by poisoning him with arsenic. Zoora's case raised a strategic dilemma for women of color involved in activism against violence. The antiviolence movement has directed many of its demands toward the state, campaigning for specialist women police officers, domestic violence training for police and judges, and harsher sentences for abusive men. These demands share a common vision of the state as protector, standing between women and violent males. But for women convicted of defending themselves against a violent partner, the criminal justice system becomes a site of secondary victimization. And for all women prisoners, the state acts as a punitive perpetrator of violence, subjecting women to invasive body searches, emotional and physical isolation, and physical and verbal abuse. The challenge for women of color activists was to conceptualize the campaign for Zoora's freedom in a way that also created solidarity with other women found guilty of "offending" the state. Meeting that challenge has led to different approaches to resisting the criminalization of survival strategies by women of color.
Colonial Legacies and Patriarchal Violence
Like many violently abused women, Zoora's story starts many years earlier. In the early seventies, she came to Bradford, England, from rural Mirpur following an arranged marriage. She was beaten by her husband, and forced to undergo several abortions in order to avoid the birth of a girl. She was eventually thrown out by her husband's family and found herself homeless, unable to speak English and without any income to support her young children. When pregnant with her third child, she was befriended by Mohammed Azam, a married man who helped her buy a house since she was unable to obtain a mortgage in her own name. Although Zoora by then had her own income from working in a factory, she became financially dependent due to this arrangement and Azam quickly used this to his advantage, foreing her to have sex and becoming violent when she refused to obey him. Azam was also involved in trafficking drugs from Pakistan and when she traveled home on a visit, he demanded that she carry heroin. When he received a prison sentence for trafficking, he pimped her to former prisoners on their release. In her words: "I was used as a mattress by all the men in the community." Zoora turned to community elders for help, but Azam's brother was a prominent leader in the Bradford Council of Mosques and she was told that nothing could be done. On Azam's release from prison, Zoora became anxious because he had persuaded her daughter to enter "a business relationship" with him. Zoora had obtained arsenic in Pakistan believing that in small doses it would make Azam sexually impotent. Instead, she gave him a large dose and he died the same day at the hospital. In her original trial in 1993, Zoora denied killing Azam and did not reveal her experiences of abuse and exploitation:
She denied it because it was too shameful to admit the kind of abuse she was going through and she was part of the criminal underworld, this man is a convicted drug dealer involved in crime, his brother is a leader of the Bradford Council of Mosques, he's a community leader, he's got all the protection he would want. She didn't feel she could speak up and not risk her life and her children, so she didn't say it.
In 1998, with support from Southall Black Sisters, Zoora appealed her conviction on the grounds that she was suffering anxiety and severe depression at the time of Azam's death. The court found her testimony about the extensive sexual and physical violence that she had survived "not capable of belief," and upheld the original perception of Zoora as a dangerous and malicious woman who had willfully planned Azam's death. In 2000, after considering testimony provided by activists, including her daughters Naseem and Fozia Shah, then Home Secretary Jack Straw cut Zoora's tariff from twenty to twelve years, with a parole date of 2004. At the time of writing, Zoora continues to serve time at an open, low security prison in Yorkshire. Her case for release on license was due to be reviewed in 2006.
The failure of the campaign to free Zoora Shah must be understood against the backdrop of another case that changed the way women who kill their abusive partners are dealt with in English courts. Kiranjit Ahluwalia was born into a privileged Sikh family in rural India. She moved to England in 1979, and settled in suburban London. In 1989, Kiranjit was sentenced to life for the murder of her physically, verbally, and sexually abusive husband. Because Kiranjit had set him on fire and she had appeared detached to authorities immediately after the event, the prosecution attempted to depict her as a calculating and sadistic murderess. In her appeal, however, Southall Black Sisters amassed extensive evidence arguing that the traditional legal construct of "provocation" should be expanded to include the cumulative effects of a history of violence, and maintained that Kiranjit's behavior was influenced by battered women's syndrome. This campaign revealed Kiranjit's shame about being a battered woman, her unwillingness to seek help due to her sense of izzat (honor), as well as her desperation and isolation as an Indian woman, and it helped reconstruct Kiranjit's image. Although the case for provocation was rejected, Kiranjit won her case on the grounds of diminished responsibility, based on psychiatric reports that indicated she was suffering from depression. She was released on time served in September 1992.
Kiranjit's case was publicized through an immensely successful media campaign by Southall Black Sisters working in coalition with Justice for Women, a predominantly white feminist group. Justice for Women grew out of a campaign pressing for the release of Sara Thornton, a white woman serving a life sentence for killing her abusive husband. The two high-profile cases marked a turning point in antiviolence activism:
There was a time, from 1990 onwards, that there was a momentum that grew around women that killed violent partners. Does it make sense for those women to be incarcerated for those kind of crimes when they were effectively going through a double punishment, having gone through domestic violence already, separated from their children? That didn't serve the public interest. We were asking for things like clemency as well as working on the legal cases to overturn their convictions. And it created a momentum in the country [for] a major debate on domestic violence. There were debates in the House of Commons, media talking about it constantly, the general ordinary public was talking about it in a way that they hadn't talked about domestic violence before. So it really did put domestic violence on the national agenda.
Southall Black Sisters converted media interest in Kiranjit's case to support their appeal for leniency. While early stories in the local Crawley press described Kiranjit as a dangerous killer, the national media soon picked up on the image of a submissive woman facing constant oppression within a traditional South Asian community. The South Asian tradition of izzat, sometimes used as a defense for men accused of killing their female family members, was invoked to explain Kiranjit's failure to seek help outside the family before events escalated. Finally, she was viewed sympathetically because of her role as an exemplary mother, for her sacrificial decision to stay in an abusive situation in the interests of her two children, and her quiet and nonconfrontational demeanor.
In the end, public opinion swung in Kiranjit's favor not only because of a general rise in awareness about domestic violence and its brutal effects, but also because the case reinforced dominant tropes about South Asian immigrants. In the context of British colonial legacies, the South Asian community, comprised of predominantly rural Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indians — who migrated after the Second World War — and their British-born children, is viewed as a site of outdated traditions, religious fundamentalisms, and political fanaticisms. Racist immigration legislation, such as the 1981 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, was justified in part by an appeal to defend "English values" of common sense, decency, and democracy from, in Margaret Thatcher's terms, being "swamped" by people of different cultures. Presenting South Asian cultures as alien and unfathomable is one way of erasing the colonial legacy of violence, exploitation, and cultural intermixing.
The dominant idea that South Asian cultures, symbolized by the veil and the arranged marriage, are particularly oppressive to women is one way they are marked as "other," and therefore outside of the realm of citizenship. The implication, then, is that South Asian women need to be protected by British law from brutal South Asian patriarchy. This myth that South Asian women need saving from "death by culture" is one prevailing belief that justified British colonial rule. In India, for example, the British Raj banned sati, the Hindu practice of widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres. Outlawing sati subsequently led to the revival of this formerly marginal practice and its reinvention as a symbol of national integrity. As the British assumed the role of "the white knight," the immense colonial violence against women, the rape of women by British colonial troops, and forced labor in tea plantations was therefore invisibilized. It is this narrative of colonial paternalism that generated support for Kiranjit in the media and subsequently led to her release.
The differential racialization of African Caribbean and South Asian communities in Britain also fed into the presentation of Kiranjit as "not belonging" in prison. The depiction of African Caribbean neighborhoods as sites of civil disorder, violence, and criminality has led to disproportionate rates of police surveillance and incarceration. South Asian communities, on the other hand, have been depicted as rigidly policed by internal religious and traditional rules. While African Caribbean women have been portrayed as matriarchal heads of households — thus "out of control" and in need of external policing — Asian women's subjection to patriarchal males has largely exempted them from official surveillance and control. South Asian women are, in fact, underrepresented in prison statistics, making up only 0.8% of women in prison compared to 3.5% in the general population. Kiranjit was therefore racially marked as "out of place," in contrast to African Caribbean women whose disproportionate incarceration has been left unquestioned.
Violent Women: Creation of a Moral Panic
Kiranjit's case and the subsequent release of Sara Thornton were seen by feminists and legal scholars as turning points in the treatment of women who kill their batterers in Britain. Yet six years later, Zoora received little of the empathy offered to Kiranjit. The difference between the two cases can partly be seen as the result of a masculinist backlash after the earlier successful appeals. During Kiranjit's case, a number of editorials appeared in conservative newspapers suggesting that the floodgates might have been opened, and disgruntled women might be allowed to kill their husbands with impunity. Furthermore, stories about violent women and girls were increasingly represented in the media by the early 1990s. Women's liberation, it was argued, had shifted social and psychological constraints that had previously prevented women's aggression, and led to a violent female crime wave:
It is not unreasonable to wonder whether these women represent the vanguard of a new social phenomenon; women who are no longer willing to see themselves discarded or ill-treated without hitting back ... the tip of a post-feminist iceberg in which women who have learned to assert themselves in everyday life have also begun to take the law into their own hands.
Many psychologists believe that the disturbing rise in violence by girls is an inevitable legacy of the Women's movement. Women are seizing upon equality in crime too.
Academic fodder was inadvertently provided by feminist scholars in Britain and the United States who produced a rash of books on violent women. These scholars were seeking to challenge the paternalistic notion promoted in mainstream criminology that women are inherently non-aggressive. Yet their work was open to cooptation by a conservative law-and-order agenda fueling a moral panic about a dramatic rise in violent crimes by women. As Stuart Hall's work on the invention of the "Black mugger" in the 1970s has shown, moral panics about crime are self-fulfilling. Once a certain type of "offense" is defined as a problem, there is greater media coverage and state intervention, thus leading to increases in "offenses" tried and sentenced in the courts. This increase in sentencing in turn produces dramatic growth in "crime rates" which further fuels the moral panic and leads to public calls for harsher sentencing and increased policing. In the 1990s, the panic over violent women followed a similar pattern. Once the notion of women as perpetrators of violence was seen to sell newspapers and push up TV ratings, there was a spate of articles about "girl gangs," "female muggers," and "violent women." "Experts," including psychologists, judges, and criminologists, were called on to explain why women and girls had become "more violent" and to make the connections between women's liberation, girl power, and women's crime. This focus, combined with a general backlash against feminism, led to hardened attitudes toward women by the police and judiciary who saw women's violence as evidence that women's liberation had gone too far.
Anne Worrall argues that when women are not being disciplined by male family members, the state steps in, in the guise of social workers, psychiatrists, and the judiciary, to supervise and punish women who "offend" gendered norms. But the debate about violent women is not only gendered. Articles about "girl gangs" and women involved in fights inevitably focused on either African Caribbean or white working=class girls from impoverished public housing estates. Behavior which deviated from gendered norms of passivity and self-sacrifice was therefore "explained" through racialized and class-based ideologies which depicted Black people and impoverished and unemployed women and men as aggressive, irrational, and alienated. Thus, paternalistic notions of femininity were mediated through prisms of race and class, creating the ideological space for the punishment and incarceration of Black and working-class women.
Karlene Faith points out that the backlash against feminism in the 1990s led to popular representations of women who appropriate power and force — traditionally seen as masculine characteristics — as pathologically manipulative and evil. Against this backdrop of shifting perceptions of gender, violence, and culpability, Zoora Shah's life history was utilized to differentiate her from Kiranjit Ahluwalia. Where Kiranjit was seen as an abused and self-sacrificing wife and mother who was pushed to do something entirely out of character, Zoora fit the image of the new "criminal" woman:
Excerpted from Color of Violence by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Copyright © 2016 Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsIntroduction 1
I. Reconceptualizing Antiviolence Strategies
1. Rethinking Antiviolence Strategies: Lessons from the Black Women's Movement in Britain / Julia Sudbury 13
2. Disability in the New World Order / Nirmala Erevelles 25
3. Federal Indian Law and Violent Crime / Sarah Deer 32
4. Feminism, Race, and Adoption Policy / Dorothy Roberts 42
5. The Color of Choice: White Supremacy and Reproductive Justice / Loretta J. Ross 53
6. Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pilars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing / Andrea Smith 66
7. A Call for Consistency: Palestinian Resistance and Radical US Women of Color / Nadine Naber 74
II. Forms of Violence
8. The Color of Violence / Hauani-Kay Trask 81
9. Four Generations in Resistance / Dana Erekat 88
10. The War to Be Human / Becoming Human in a Time of War / Neferti Tadiar 92
11. The Forgotten "-ism": An Arab American Women's Perspective on Zionism, Racism, and Sexism / Nadine Naber, Eman Desouky, and Lina Baroudi for Arab Women's Solidarity Association, San Francisco Chapter 97
12. Relections in a Time of War: A Letter to My Sisters / Dena Al-Adeeb 113
13. Don't Liberate Me / S. R. 118
14. "National Security" and the Violation of Women: Militarized Border Rape at the US-Mexico Border / Sylvanna Falcón 119
15. The Complexities of "Feminicide" on the Border / Rosa Linda Fregoso 130
16. INS Raids and How Immigrant Women are Fighting Back / Renee Saucedo 135
17. Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color / Andrea J. Ritchie 138
18. Crime, Punishment, and Economic Violence / Patricia Allard 157
19. Pomo Woman, Ex-Prisoner, Speaks Out / Stormy Ogden 164
20. The War Against Black Women, and the Making of NO! / Aishah Simmons 170
21. Medical Violence Against People of Color and the Medicalization of Domestic Violence / Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo 179
III. Building Movement
22. Unite and Rebel! Challenges and Strategies in Building Alliances / Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez 191
23. Sistas Makin' Moves: Collective Leadership for Personal Transformation and Social Justice / Sista II Sista 196
24. Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence Shelter System / Emi Koyama 208
25. Gender Violence and the Prison-Industrial Complex / Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence 223
26. Trans Action for Social and Economic Justice / TransJustice 227
27. "The Personal is the Private is the Cultural": South Asian Women Organizing Against Domestic Violence / Puneet Kuar Chawla Sahota 231
28. An Antiracist Christian Ethical Approach to Violence Resistance / Traci C. West 243
29. Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies / Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) 250
30. poems on trying to love without fear / maiana minahal 267
Endnotes and Works Cited 270
About the Contributors 321
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"This beautifully produced and exquisitely edited anthology is a mind-bending experience to read. More than two dozen brilliant, committed women and trans activists write with passion and righteous anger, but also great skill."