Kimberlé Crenshaw: Up in Arms, a Conversation About Women and Weapons

As the racial divide in the United States deepens, black women are increasingly taking up arms. According to data released by the Texas Department of Public Safety, black women are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups to obtain permits to carry a concealed weapon. Like combatant women elsewhere, these civilian women cite the necessity of carrying a gun—for protection and power. Crenshaw is a critical voice in understanding this trend, and the driving forces behind it.

For most American audiences, the female fighter exists in a land far, far away. To consider female militancy in this country, in our movements, requires a reckoning: the need to see police brutality against black women as state violence, checkpoints in school cafeterias as militarization, and the death rates from domestic and mass violence as mimicking those of a warzone.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: There are so many other contexts around the world where violence in pursuit of the right to exist is seen as a legitimate expression of that right, except when it’s black people and except when it’s women. And so when you add those two together, black women having the right to protect themselves and to affirm their right to exist by any means necessary is patently outside the parameters of what people consider to be legitimate uses of violence.

[…] What I do see is a renewed recognition of the vulnerability of black life and the debate, at times intense debate, about what that means in terms of response.

I’m thinking particularly about the killing of mostly black women at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. And I was particularly troubled by what can be seen as either the reflection of deeper vulnerability or denial about the threat that we face. The discourse of forgiveness, the discourse of de-escalation, the discourse of we have nothing to do but forgive. Even rhetorical defense seemed to be outside of the scope of possibility for so many people.

When I watched the funeral, I wept both because of the unthinkable tragedy it represents but also what I thought to be the potential green light to a premature discourse of forgiveness and homage to old spirituals of amazing grace—without the capacity to actually defend our right to self-defense in these contexts. I still feel that feeling of: Is anybody going to express outrage about this, is anybody going to say we are under siege, is anybody going to sound the bell that we have to be thinking much more strategically about how to protect our lives at this moment?

[…] The work we’ve been doing with black women and girls in breaking the silence identifies the violence of silence and what is permitted to do in that space. So that we are opening an alternative to speak one’s existence into the gap, into the erased part, and then the second, equally challenging task is to build community out of the resistance to erasure. That’s a different point of departure for community; it’s not just the women’s auxiliary. And it’s not just, We fight white supremacy, too. It is a space that begins with, I recognize the demand that I not see you, because I recognize the demand that I not see myself. And a radical act of the reversal of that is not only to see but to embrace. To love, in ways that are transgressive. In other words, to put black women at the center of their politics, of their mobilization, of their conscious awareness, or their capacity to articulate what is the imperative around racial justice—the imperative is us. More here.

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