author – activist – faculty – mom
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.