SlutWalk: A Black-White Feminist Divide

The SlutWalk movement — a worldwide, city-by-city protest march aimed at ending victim blaming in cases of sexual assault — has been full of controversy since its inception. Because blaming the victim is a colorblind phenomenon, SlutWalk organizers may have taken for granted that every woman and every feminist of every color would support the march, which began after a Toronto police officer told women that they could avoid rape by not dressing like sluts.

But that was not the case. Everything — from the name of the movement to the attire of the attendees; from the underlying racial dynamic between black and white feminists to the protest’s general effectiveness — has been cause for debate.

As a rape survivor, I support a movement that seeks to end the epidemic of victim blaming in our culture. Rape survivors are revictimized when we are blamed for our attacks, whether it’s by the police or even by our friends and family. What we were wearing during the attack, whether we were drinking or whether we took the proper precautions to somehow avoid putting ourselves in that position are all questions that survivors face in the aftermath of an attack.

All of these questions are inappropriate. SlutWalk is a direct response to this problem. You can agree with its premise without agreeing with its name, the spectacle it creates or the lack of diversity among the organizers.

The idea that there is an inherent level of white privilege involved in SlutWalk is an issue that has been debated extensively in the feminist blogosphere. The topic is old hat between white feminists and feminists of color — particularly black feminists, who are too often made to feel that they have to choose between their race and gender.

When it came to SlutWalk, the racial discussion centered on the very concept of the marches. In May a Crunk Feminist Collective writer wrote about how the idea of reclaiming an incendiary word like “slut” was hard for many black women — who “have [historically] been understood to be lascivious, hypersexed, and always ready and willing” — to stomach: “When I think of the daily assaults I hear in the form of copious incantations of ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ in hip-hop music directed at black women, it’s hard to not feel a bit incensed at the how-dare-you-quality [of the protests].” Black women would never organize a mass “ho stroll,” she argued.

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