I attended a talk yesterday by the extraordinary Mariame Kaba, where she discussed her work in creating the exhibit No Selves to Defend, which used art to bring to light the history of Black women being criminalized by the state for defending themselves against violence. One reason for the creation of the exhibit was to situate the case of Marissa Alexander in a historical context. A group of people in Chicago, which included me, came together to form the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, with the mission of freeing Marissa, in the spirit of the legal defense committees of the 1970s, who worked advocated on behalf of women who were incarcerated for defending themselves.
One of many things that stood out to me during Mariame’s talk was that it’s important to understand that the oppression and violence we are witnessing today, particularly against Black people, is not new; neither are the organizing strategies. As the No Selves to Defend exhibit showcased, many Black women throughout the history of this country, have been criminalized for defending themselves against violence, because blackness=property, therefore they literally have “no selves to defend” because we are not considered human. Organizing to defend women who are criminalized goes back even further than the 1970s, back to the early 20th century. One such organization that Mariame mentioned was Sojourners for Truth and Justice, the only all Black women group within the U.S. Communist party. Those radical black women, which included Eslanda Robeson, Shirley Graham Dubois, and Beulah Richardson, articulated the ways that gender, race and class impacted the lives of Black women, demanded an end to racial oppression during a protest at the Department of Justice, and advocated for the the freedom of Rosa Lee Ingram, a Black women who was sentenced to death in Georgia, for murdering a White man who attempted to sexually assault her (http://uptownmagazine.com/2013/02/no-girls-allowed-the-removal-of-women-from-the-civil-rights-narrative/3/).
It’s so important to remember where we come from, not just in terms of culture, but also resistance.