Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead

Original photo Hipsters de los Muertos by Erik Estrada from an LA Weekly Article on Disney’s attempt to own The Day Of The Dead

Dear White People (or should I say Queridos Gringos/Gabachos),

Let me begin by saying it is completely natural that you would find yourself attracted to The Day of The Dead. This indigenous holiday from Mexico celebrates the loving connection between the living and our departed loved ones that is so deeply missing in Western culture. Who wouldn’t feel moved by intricately and lovingly built altars, beautifully painted skull faces, waterfalls of marigold flowers, fragrant sweet breads and delicious meals for those whom we miss sharing our earthly lives. I understand. Many cultures from around the world celebrate these things, and many of them at this time of year. As a woman whose Latin@ heritage is Puerto Rican, I have grown up in California, seeing this ritual all my life and feeling the ancestral kinship to this reverent, prayerful honoring of the departed.

Let me continue by saying that it is completely natural that you would want to participate in celebrating The Day of The Dead. You, like all human beings, have lineage, ancestors, departed family members. You have skulls under the skin of your own faces, bones beneath your flesh. Like all mortals, you seek ways to understand death, to befriend it, and celebrate it in the context of celebrating life and love.

I understand.

And in the tradition of indigenous peoples, Chican@ and Mexican-American communities have not told you not to come, not to join, not to celebrate your dead alongside them. In the tradition of indigenous peoples and of ceremony, you, in your own grief and missing your loved ones have not been turned away. You arrived at the Dia De Los Muertos ceremony shipwrecked, a refugee from a culture that suppresses grief, hides death, banishes it, celebrates it only in the most morbid ways—horror movies, violent television—death is dehumanized, without loving connection, without ceremony. You arrived at El Dia De Los Muertos like a Pilgrim, starving, unequal to survival in the land of grief, and the indigenous ceremonies fed you and took you in and revived you and made a place for you at the table.

And what have you done?

Like the Pilgrims, you have begun to take over, to gentrify and colonize this holiday for yourselves. I was shocked this year to find Day of the Dead events in my native Oakland Bay Area not only that were not organized by Chican@s or Mexican@s or Latin@s, but events with zero Latin@ artists participating, involved, consulted, paid, recognized, acknowledged, prayed with.

Certain announcements of some of this year’s celebrations conjured visions of hipsters drinking special holiday microbrews and listening to live music by white bands and eating white food in calavera facepaint and broken trails of marigolds. Don’t bother to build an altar because your celebration is an altar of death, a ceremony of killing culture by appropriation. Do you really not know how to sit at the table? To say thank you? To be a gracious guest?

This year, as midterm elections near and “immigration reform” gets bandied about on the lips of politicians, urban young white voters will wear skull faces and watch puppets with dancing skeleton bones, and party and drink and celebrate. But those same revelers will not think for a single second of deaths of Latin@s trying to cross a militarized border to escape from the deaths caused by NAFTA and CAFTA and US foreign policy and drug policies and dirty wars in Mexico and Central America. Amidst the celebration, there will be no thought for femicide in Juarez, for murdered and missing Indigenous women in North America. As they drink and dance in white-organized and dominated Dia De Los Muertos celebrations without a thought for us, except perhaps the cleaning or custodial staff that will clean up after them, we Latin@s learn what we learned in 1492 about the invaders: you want the golden treasures of our culture, but you don’t want us. Since then, white people have shown that they don’t value indigenous life, but are fascinated by indigenous spirituality.

Not all white people feel this way. Thank you to those of you who speak up against this. Thank you to all who boycott these events, support Latin@/Chican@/Mexican@-led events, hire our community’s artists, and hold the tradition with reverence. For those of you who haven’t been doing so, it’s not too late to start. Challenge white people who attempt to appropriate. Boycott their events and be noisy about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to participate in this deeply human holiday, there’s something wrong with wanting to colonize.

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart. Now it’s about plastic decorations and cheap polyester costumes and young women having permission to wear sexy clothes without being slut-shamed and kids bingeing on candy. November first finds piles of plastic and synthetic junk headed to the landfill to litter the earth. You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store. Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.


BACKSTORY from my novel-in-progress — *The Manhattan Escort & Larceny Service* “Marisol Lands Her First Legit Job”

Fotosearch_u17549431For full novel description, see About Aya’s novel-in-progress:

Marisol had left her New York pimp to become a wealthy executive’s mistress. It seemed like a good gig at first, because all her needs were met and he only wanted sex once a day, at most. But she had to be available 24-7, because she never knew when he might make a request. A quick blow job while he showered after mid-morning racquetball. A little latenight missionary after a board meeting.

Although never gave her cash, he would let her buy anything she wanted off the internet. She quickly learned which stores would give cash refunds for items bought online, and began to squirrel away some savings. She got bored after a while, until she discovered online education. She managed to get an online degree in bookkeeping while she was on-call in his apartment.

A few months later, the executive was working on a merger, and was guaranteed to be gone all day. Marisol printed out her resume and began looking for work.

She got her first interview with a public health clinic in Chelsea that served a lot of sex workers. Marisol could have made much more money in a corporate environment, but she was hoping to get a job where she didn’t have to make up an imaginary past.

At her second interview, Marisol sat in the program director’s cramped and cluttered office, staring out the smudged window at a dumpster in the back alley. Eva Feldman looked at Marisol’s resume, saw an eight-year gap between the time Marisol had graduated high school and the time she started doing temp work as a bookkeeper. The program director glanced up at the attractive, voluptuous, young Latina in the low-cut button-down top and tight slacks and did the math.

“What’s your number one reason for wanting to work at our clinic?” Eva asked casually.

“I came here a few times as a client,” Marisol said.  “I’d rather work in a place where I can be myself.”

“So what are your career goals?” Eva asked. “I like to think about employees long term. You might start at this job, but what’s the bigger plan? Are you wanting a steady 9 to 5 job so you can pay your bills and just relax and have your life, or more of a career track job? Long hours, more pressure, but with more potential to move up? Just be honest. We have both types of opportunities for here. I like to put people in the situation that’ll be a good fit.”

“I’m more interested in the career track,” Marisol said.

“You have something particular in mind?” Eva asked. “Clinical work? Like a counselor or social worker? Or more on the program end?”

“I’m interested in the financials,” Marisol said. “I live with this guy right now. He’s a corporate guy, and I read a lot of his economics books. I got really into this idea of business models. I mean, all the time I was in the business—the sex industry—I didn’t understand the model. I just knew what me and the other girls did to get paid. And I knew my pimp got paid and he didn’t have sex with anybody. But I couldn’t see the big picture. With these books, they didn’t talk about sex work, but I started thinking about how to apply the theories and business models to the industry.”

“Interesting,” Eva said, and nodded encouragingly. Later, Marisol would learn that this was her psychotherapist voice.

“Yeah,” Marisol said. “And I been wondering how you could mix and match different models, and make something totally new to help the girls have more control and financial independence. That’s part of why I wanted to work for the clinic. Because in all my time in the industry, this was the only place that actually helped me think about my health and my future, you know?”

Marisol realized she should shut her mouth and stop spouting these crazy theories she’d been dreaming up. She could feel herself sweating in the synthetic blouse she had gotten for $6.99 at the same place she bought her street gear. She really wanted this job. The temp bookkeeping gigs were in uptight offices with stuffy-ass chicks. One had even looked down at her cleavage and mentioned a dress code. This white woman seemed more sympathetic, and much less stuffy, with her short, slightly wild, curly brown hair and her black cotton V-neck top. She had a little cleavage of her own showing, although, Eva Feldman had the kind of boobs that show cleavage in a turtleneck.

Oh my god, was she staring at the woman’s chest? She was definitely rambling. Marisol knew she should shut up, that she was probably blowing the interview. Who was she to say she had ideas about business models? She was just supposed to keep the books. Enter data and do spreadsheets and crank out reports. She knew she should shut up about this other stuff, but she’d been reading these economics books for the past year, and had let these ideas rattle around in her head for so long with no one to talk to. Eva kept listening, didn’t look impatient, didn’t glance at her watch or anything, so Marisol couldn’t help herself.

“I mean, the pimp sent me to the clinic because he wanted me to be healthy but just so I could keep working. The clinic cared about me, but you guys don’t have any real money. What’s it called—non-profit? Meanwhile, the pimp is all about profit. Why can’t you mix the two? I heard in Sweden prostitution is legal and they tax it or something, right? Plus they have public health. There’s gotta be a way to work it here in the US so girls get a better deal. I know that sounds crazy, right?”

“Yeah,” Eva said. “But crazy in a good way.”

Eva gave Marisol the job, and encouraged her good-crazy ideas. As a result, several years later, the two of them opened the María de la Vega clinic, with an innovative mixed business model. With Eva’s professional mentorship, Marisol had gotten that career with the long hours and the high pressure. She also changed her image, and began to wear clothes that were attractively tailored to flatter her curves with more subtlety than the cheap stuff from the hot girl fashion stores.

So Marisol had been strictly legal and legit for nearly a decade when the recession hit. And then she had to get creative…


BACKSTORY: A New Series that features excerpts from drafts of my novel-in-progress *The Manhattan Escort & Larceny Service*

Fotosearch_u17549431Recently, I’ve been getting really excited about my novel. As I’ve been in writers’ spaces and talking about it, I realize I’m not just enjoying the book itself, but the world of characters I created. As I wait for the manuscript to work its way into the machinery of the publishing industry, I’ve decided to start posting excerpts from earlier drafts. These will be part of a series called BACKSTORY, scenes and flashbacks that got cut in service of keeping the forward motion of an action-packed plot and character development arc. I’ve written at least ten drafts of this book, and I mourned when certain scenes got cut from the final manuscript, but I’m delighted for them to live here instead.

Here’s the description of the novel, and next week I’ll be posting the first excerpt: “Marisol Lands Her First Legit Job.”

 

Working Title The Manhattan Escort & Larceny Service

novel-in-progress description:

What happens to a financial genius who’s born brown and female, who grows up poor but voluptuous. Who at seventeen has to put her brilliance to work saving her ass from homelessness and puts her ass to work because orphaned seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican girls with kid sisters to support gotta use what they got.  But ten years and a few lucky breaks later, she might find herself with an online degree in bookkeeping and an entry level job at a women’s health clinic for sex workers. But what happens to a financial genius nearly a decade later when she’s running the health clinic and the economy tanks?  She might start an escort service on the side to make ends meet.  And what if one of the girls starts escorting a client to houses of rich corporate CEOs involved in a sex trafficking scandal?  What if those CEOs have wall safes?  A financial genius might use the escorts to case the apartments to do a little safecracking. Because sometimes the best donor to a nonprofit is the unintentional donor, and financial genius Marisol Rivera will do whatever it takes to keep the clinic doors open. Mels teamHer team includes three fierce women: Tyesha, an African American public health graduate student by day; Kim, “the lock whisperer,” a petite Korean immigrant; and Kim’s girlfriend Jodie, a six-foot tall blonde dominatrix. But can they heist a security-obsessed, high profile billionaire?  If they succeed, the team and the clinic could be set for life. But there are so many ways her plan could go wrong.  Still, Marisol has gotta try it.  Because the society keeps churning out brown girls with more curves than cash and more prospects for pimps and sugar daddies than college professors.  Somebody’s gotta level the playing field a little.  This novel takes the racist, sexist, cliché of the Puerto Rican hooker and turns it on it’s head.  Then shakes all the money out of its pockets and gives it to la gente.


The Humbling Process of Daily Writing and the Return of the Editor

I have developed incredible respect for people who blog daily. I just finished 17 days of blogging in support of Shailja Patel. At first, my posts were multilayered essays that were meticulously written and edited. However, on heavy traffic days as a working artist/teacher/mom, they were short or rushed. Of course, one of those rushed posts from October 6th has been widely cross-posted, both in Africa and England. I’m honored for the amplification and humbled by the work’s imperfection.

In today’s fast-moving world, there’s always the balance between the desire to get work out there, and to make sure it’s as good as it can be. I’m pleased that I decided to go with the urgency of campaign to support Shailja over the pull to nitpick my own work. However, I can also see the room for improvement in the piece, and am glad to engage with it as an editor. This daily writing practice is always a good and humbling exercise. Every opportunity for me to put the perfectionism aside is a good one. Perhaps I will sign up for more humbling next month and do NaNoWriMo.

I’m editing the original post to read this weekend at the VONA/CultureStrike LitCrawl reading. However, I wanted to offer both versions here, as a testament to the editing process.

New & Revised

From Amilcar Cabral to Shailja Patel: Masking No Difficulties, Claiming No Easy Victories

Ever since I heard of the alleged sexual assault on Shailja Patel, I have wanted to get on a plane and fly to Kenya. But I can’t. So instead I offer the words of Amilcar Cabral, revolutionary from Guinea Bissau, “Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories.” Today, we will not be masking the alleged sexual assault by Kenyan writer Tony Mochama. We will not be masking it behind anti-feminist epithet name-calling. We will not be masking it behind accusations of anti-black racism. Brutal forms of anti-black racism do exist, but any black man who sexually assaults a woman may not turn around and hide behind charges of anti-black racism. Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories. I wish I could get on a plane today because we are tired of covering up the grime and bloodstains in our movements and relationships. I wish I could get on a plane because we have fastened our seatbelts, by inserting the metal flap into the buckle and are prepared for gender slur name-calling, attempts at slut-shaming, derisive comments about our appearance, our bodies, our faces, our hair, our sex appeal or lack thereof. Sexual violence is not about sex appeal, it’s about the appeal of using sex to assert domination by men in our movements, which we will not be masking today. Some people get anxious when they fly. We get anxious that white people or westerners, or patrons or NGOs or funders will target men in our communities or target our communities as a whole when we reveal the truths of this gender violence, this alleged sexual assault, this intimate abuse, but we will not be masking any of these difficulties. Will not be putting on a smile to mask the epidemic of abuse and disrespect of women in movements that are supposed to be for everybody but have turned out to prioritize boys and men. From My Brother’s Keeper in the US to the alleged assault on Shailja Patel. Let my Kenyan president and Shailja’s Kenyan colleague hear me now, we will not be putting you ahead of us anymore because in the event of an emergency, we have been advised to put on our own masks first, and whether or not the bag inflates, we will not be masking these gender difficulties anymore. Sometimes the nearest exit row is behind you, and you may think it’s a step backwards for women of color to unmask these inconvenient incidences of male domination, but any unity based on women’s silence, based on secret violence is a recipe for a failed revolution. And my revolutionary hero tells me to mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories. I read the safety card, I am willing to follow all written instructions which tell me that I may feel a sudden change in cabin pressure if I speak honestly about what’s been going on with the men in my community. But sexual assault of any kind is an actual emergency. Mr. Mochama, clearly, you are not prepared to be sitting in an exit row, clearly you are not ready to perform the functions of exiting from an oppressive society if you think that women’s bodies are here for your pleasure and amusement. We will need to reseat you, sir, because you will not be able to assist the crew if you are too busy objectifying the flight attendants when your country is in crisis. If the plane is going down, we need to know you’ll be opening the exit door, not searching for a woman you you might lure into the lavatory for that one last mile high tryst. Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories. Please be aware that sexual assault is not permitted on board our movements or artist communities. Federal regulations prohibit tampering with, disabling, or destroying a sexual assault detector in a poets gathering. We will not be masking that difficulty today, so do not claim any woman’s body as your easy victory.

Original Version

From Amilcar Cabral to Shailja Patel: Masking No Difficulties, Claiming No Easy Victories

I wish I could get on a plane today and fly to Kenya. Ever since I heard of the alleged sexual assault on Shailja Patel, I have wanted to get on a plane and fly to Kenya. But I can’t. So instead I will offer the words of Amilcar Cabral, revolutionary from Guinea Bissau, “Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories.” Today, we will not be masking the alleged sexual assault of Kenyan writer Tony Mochama on Kenyan writer Shailja Patel. We will not be masking it behind anti-feminist epithet name-calling or sexist allegations. We will also not be masking it behind accusations of anti-black racism. Anti-black racism does exist, is brutal, and is deeply embedded and operative in today’s world. But any black man who sexually assaults a woman who is not black may not turn around and hide out in charges of anti-black racism to avoid consequences. Any black man who assaults a woman who is black may not turn around and hide out in charges of anti-black racism to avoid consequences. Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories. We women are tired of being held responsible for impossible predicaments that men of color put us in vis-à-vis racism, sexism, and mistreatment. We are tired of cleaning up the grime and bloodstains in our movements and relationships. If you want a tough stain out, shout it out. We will not be masking, instead we will be shouting out that Tony Mochama allegedly sexually assaulted Shailja Patel, and that sexual assault, intimate violence, or gender-based abusive behavior will not be tolerated in our movements and artist circles. We have fastened our seatbelts, by inserting the metal flap into the buckle and are prepared for gender slur name-calling, attempts at slut-shaming, derisive comments about our appearance, our bodies, our faces, our hair, our sex appeal or lack thereof. Sexual violence is not about sex appeal, it’s about the appeal of using sex to assert domination by men in our movements, which we will not be masking, we will be shouting out today. Some people get anxious when they fly. We get anxious about very real fears and concerns about what white people or westerners, or patrons or NGOs or funders will target men in our communities or our communities as a whole when we reveal the truths of this gender violence, this alleged sexual assault, this intimate abuse, but we will not be masking any of these difficulties. Will not be putting on a smile of a mask to cover the epidemic of abuse and mistreatment of women in movements that are supposed to be for everybody but have turned out to prioritize men from My Brother’s Keeper in the US to the alleged assault on Shailja Patel by Tony Mochama, let my Kenyan president and Shailja’s Kenyan colleague hear me today, in the event of an emergency, we have been advised to put on our own masks first, and whether or not the bag inflates, we know that the oxygen is flowing, and we will be able to think clearly and we will not be masking the difficulty of alleged sexual assault between comrades in communities and movements of people of color. Sometimes the nearest exit row is behind you, and you may think it’s a step backwards for women of color to call out sexism and sexual violence among brown folks, but any unity based on women’s silence, based on secret violence isn’t unity but a recipe for a failed revolution. And my revolutionary hero tells me to Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories, I read the safety card, I am willing to follow all written instructions which tell me to put on my mask first before assisting others. If I can’t breathe safely around you, I can’t assist you. If you think you can’t help yourself from assaulting women, then I can’t help you. Clearly, you are not prepared to be sitting in an exit row, clearly you are not ready to perform the functions of exiting from an oppressive society if you think that women’s bodies are here for your pleasure and amusement. We will need to reseat you, sir, because in the event of an actual emergency, you will not be able to assist the crew if you are too busy objectifying the flight attendants when your country is in crisis; if the plane is going down, we need to know you’ll be opening the exit door, not searching for the woman you you might lure into the lavatory for that one last mile high tryst. Mask no difficulties….Claim no easy victories. Our revolution doesn’t just needs men who are interested in saving women’s lives, but men who are simply interested in women’s lives—our minds, our writing, our leadership. When you assault a woman’s body, you disrespect her mind; we will not be masking that today. Please be aware that sexual assault is not permitted on board our movements or artist communities. Federal regulations prohibit tampering with, disabling, or destroying a sexual assault detector in a poets gathering. We will not be masking that difficulty today, so do not claim any woman’s body as your easy victory.

You can find all my posts and all the other writings in support of Shailja at www.mybodymyhome.wordpress.com


In Support of Shailja Patel: Taking No Payoffs – My Body My Home

Day 17:

This is the final day of my 17 days of blogging in support of Shailja Patel, the Kenyan writer who was allegedly sexually assaulted at an international gathering of poets only 17 days after returning home to her native Kenya.

As I’ve said before, there’s no bright side, no silver lining to sexual assault. And yet it has been powerful to stand in support of my sister, to use my words to bring attention to her experience. It has also been a profound daily meditation on grief, outrage, upset, and commitment to change.

It’s also been a wake up call. As I’ve said in recent posts, I have expected that, as I got older and my resume got longer, I would be liberated from certain forms of sexism, or at least become a less likely target–particularly sexual assault. This has reminded me that I can’t age or accomplish my way out of sexism.

As one of my mentors and leaders, Dr. Diane Balser of Boston University Women’s Studies explained at a recent conference, there’s a temptation for feminists to accept individual achievement and accolades instead of fighting for liberation for all. This can be particularly confusing if the individual victory does represent shattering a glass ceiling or breaking into a male-dominated institution or bringing feminism to a new outlet. These things are worthy of celebration, but cannot be mistaken for sweeping victories for all women.

In my own life, as I have gotten a literary agent and hope to soon be navigating the publishing industry, it’s easy to settle into the fantasy that the fulfillment of this long held dream of being a novelist is the end game. But no one gets liberated from certain forms of sexism. Liberation is the wrong verb. We have narrow escapes and close calls. We try to accumulate a few privileges that will spare us from the most brutal parts of the oppression. But if all women aren’t spared, then it’s not liberation. My learning is to not settle, never settle for personal exemption from oppression.

My sister Shailja is halfway around the world. She is a renowned poet, acclaimed writer, longtime activist for progressive change in her native Kenya. If she cannot decide whose hands will land upon her body–in the very country whose liberation she fights for–then the epicenter of the fight for liberation must change to focus on the sovereignty of her body. The fight against colonization must come all the way home. For all women. #MyBodyMyHome

Join the campaign in Support of Shailja

You can find all my posts and all the other writings in support of Shailja at www.mybodymyhome.wordpress.com


In Support of Shailja Patel: Gossip Columns, Photos, and A Thousand Spinning Words

This is day 16 of my 17 days of blogging in support of Shailja Patel, the Kenyan writer who was allegedly sexually assaulted at an international gathering of poets only 17 days after returning home to her native Kenya.

Last week, I wrote about how I expected that as I reached middle age, I wouldn’t have to worry about men trying to grab my body and assault me in the same way I did as a young woman. Part of my outrage is the breaking of my denial here. While sexual violence is more frequently targeted at younger women, sexual violence is ultimately about male domination, and all women are at risk.

Recently, an African media outlet ran what was basically a gossip column piece that criticized Patel. Along with the article, they ran several  photos of Patel. The story the photos tell is as suspect as the copy.

The headline was pasted over this very blurry photo of Patel.

The first clear photo of Patel is this one, where she has long dark hair and makeup. She is younger and more conventionally attractive. She’s also looking very culturally Indian.

Why not choose this picture, where her short, gray hair is clearly visible, where she’s engaged in her work and not even bothered with the camera.

Untitled drawing-2

Or better yet, this photo where Patel is representing as a native Kenyan, born in Africa, reflecting her commitment to the continent and in solidarity with indigenous African people?

Many of the mainstream African media spins on this story disappoint me, right down to the photos they choose.

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In Support of Shailja Patel: A Call to Grief for Caroline Mutoko

mutokoFeminists are often characterized as angry, but underneath it all, we’re heartbroken. Our hearts break every day for the brutal mistreatment of women and girls. We weep for the lives lost, bones shattered, spirits crushed. Those of us who are black women mourn often. We wail for the unsolved murder of two sex workers in Florida, hog tied and dumped by the side of the road like trash. We sob for the black woman who bested not one but three young male rappers at a new years eve party, and what should have been her victory became her lynching. We grieve for women’s losses and for the indifference the world shows to our losses, and the policies and institutions that pay lip service to concern about us, but consistently allow, reinforce, support, or exploit the brutality against us.

Recently, in this blog series, I have been grieving the loss of safety. Really the loss of the illusion of safety. I thought that as a middle-aged, accomplished woman writer, I would no longer be subject to certain outrages as a woman. But the alleged sexual assault on internationally renowned Kenyan writer Shailja Patel has challenged my fantasy that age and achievement would keep me safe. And so I grieve for that lost illusion.

Grief is a powerful tool. Grief allows us to mend the places where we are heartbroken over our loss. “Strong at the broken places,” as the saying goes. Without grief, we harden into rigid shapes that protect our injuries. We viciously defend our wounds’ right to stay unhealed. We rage or chase away anyone who challenges our right to stay broken.

In Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, Stage One is DENIAL. Recently, a Kenyan radio personality, Caroline Mutoko  spoke her own invitation to grief. She grew up with Shailja Patel’s alleged assailant, Tony Mochama. She said: “He has a committed partnership. I think he’s married, and he has a child. I’m finding it very hard to believe that what is being said about Tony is true…I’m hoping it isn’t….It would be painful if it was true.”

This past weekend, Shailja Patel allegedly spoke to Caroline Mutoko and challenged her to consider that Patel was telling the truth. Reportedly, Caroline Mutoko rejected this idea: “It’s as if she wants me to play judge, jury, and executioner,” Mutoko said.

Caroline Mutoko, has being a woman taught you nothing over all these years? Have you never trusted a man, an institution, a situation, only to find that you were not safe in your own body? Your own home? Why are you offering the cliché, irrational, and statistically-disproven excuse that the alleged perpetrator having a wife and child as evidence of his innocence? No one is asking you to convict him, we are asking you to open your heart to the painful possibility that this allegation might be true. What would you have to feel? Grief for an innocent boy or young man who wouldn’t have been capable of sexual assault whose innocence got lost on the way to becoming the man who was capable? THIS IS OUR GRIEF. As daughters and sisters and mothers and friends, this is our grief. To sob for the women who are brutalized by male domination and to grieve for the boys who are brutalized into male domination. Feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about hating the system that socializes men to act out hatefulness toward women. Feminism is about our rage and grief at being hated.

Denial is a powerful force. Many of us don’t want to believe that misogynist violence exists, or if it does, the woman brought it on herself, or if she didn’t then the agents are some other group of bad, faraway men. Not our husbands, lovers, fathers, brothers, friends. Nobody we know.

Caroline Mutoko, stop making excuses for perpetrators. Stop waiting for a court to tell you how to feel about the man you grew up with. Here’s what you didn’t say. You didn’t say you were waiting for the trial so you could examine the evidence for yourself and decide for yourself. Here’s what you did say. You said you were waiting for the outcome of the trial. For a male dominated authority to decide and dictate to you what is true about what happened.

As feminists, our hearts also break for the women who serve as character witnesses for the perpetrators and put their faith in male institutions. You say it would be “painful” if it were true. Consider the possibility that the truth doesn’t live in a man’s court, but a woman’s body. Stop running from the painful truths of women’s lives. Trust the truth from the source: a woman’s own body, her own home.

 

Join the campaign in Support of Shailja


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