The Friday Sex Blog [White Feminists, Shackling, and the Carceral State

Hola mi gente,
I am sick of white feminists1 whose sense of privilege extends to thinking they can browbeat me, a Latino, and lecture me on oppression.

Real life example: One day, after being screamed at by a young white woman for walking too closely to her (I live in NYC, it’s fuckin crowded!) while ignoring the white man who was walking in closer proximity to her, and then being followed by security at a rare books store that I have shopped at countless times, a co-worker — a white woman raised in the south — thought it was appropriate to attempt to correct my language in front of two (white) female interns I was charged with supervising. The word she found offensive? “Guys.”

What her privileged white ass didn’t know was that the interns and I had been in conversation about language. In fact, I have been at the forefront of advocating against stigmatizing language for almost two decades. So, my using “guys” to refer to all of us, was part of an inside joke. If you know me, you know I didn’t stay shut on that and I gave her a piece of my mind. The irony was that, for the two interns, her behavior was a lesson in how not be a feminist.

So, yeah, if your feminist analysis doesn’t include intersectionality2, you can kiss my Puerto Rican ass.

Shackling and the Carceral State

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When I was the director of a Brooklyn-based reentry project, I made a concerted effort to use its resources to reach out to women. How it happened was that one day I was thinking out loud with some my women participant-leaders about why more women didn’t utilize our services. One of the women laughed and said, as if it was as plain as the nose on my face, “Because you’re thinking like a man, Eddie!” and they all started laughing.

When I thought about it, however, I realized, painful as it seemed, that she had a point. Just for the record, I identify as a feminist. I’m also aware that I do as a man in a patriarchal society, so I have blind spots. I see my role as an ally, as in, how can I help. I’m also a man of Puerto Rican descent, so it’s not like I’m clueless about the impact of white patriarchy.

In any case, I met with the few women of the project and we came up with a few ideas. That’s when it was decided that I would bring my leadership development workshop to women about to be released from jails/ prisons. That’s how I ended up at the Rikers Island detention center for women, Rose M. Singer, or Rosie’s, as people who worked there called it.

I am an experienced group facilitator, having run men’s and mixed groups for years, but I have to tell you, running women’s groups was one of the most challenging experiences in my career. Well, I shouldn’t say challenging. It was challenging in the sense that I learned so much, especially in the area of leadership development. It was also one of the most rewarding, and the women had as much of an impact on me as I hope I had on them. After more than ten years, I still see some of “my” women, some of whom have become activists and advocates in their own right.

At one point, I thought the women would be better served if I hired a woman to help run the groups, but they revolted! LOL They didn’t want me to leave. Sure, there was some transference going on, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As one of the participants put it, “Most of the men we’ve known weren’t good to us, Mr. Eddie. Maybe doing this work with you, will help as a model so that in our future relationships we won’t make the same kind of choices.”

They taught me so much…

One day, when I got to the workshop, the group was huddled together, whispering. In the middle there was this lovely young black woman, she was maybe nineteen years-old, if I remember correctly. Unsure of herself, the women encouraged her, saying, “You can tell him, he’s one of us. You can trust him. Go ahead, tell him.”

Then this young woman, barely out of her teens, proceeded to tell me a story that was so horrific, it traumatized me, and I hadn’t experienced it. She told of her experience of being shackled while in labor. In her retelling, she began to experience again the brutality of giving birth as a slave. Before she was finished, her tears were flowing and, breaking protocol, I took her in my arms and hugged her. Here was a young girl who could’ve been my daughter… man, I’m upset just thinking about it.

Can you imagine that? Here are in the 21st century and black and Latina women, and poor women are giving birth while shackled. Giving birth while in captivity. Going into labor while shackled like an animal. This is as a form of state-sanctioned rape (which also happens a lot in women’s prisons).

For that group’s graduation, I invited a state senator, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, who was an ally, and I told her about this practice. The senator did not believe me. I didn’t blame her, because it was hard for me to believe. We spoke to several medical personnel and, though at first they wouldn’t say it on the record, they confirmed that it was true.

My god…

The Senator Montgomery went on to make that issue her signature policy and working with a coalition of women’s groups, they were able to pass legislation to make the practice illegal. I went on work for an organization that played a pivotal role in helping to pass this piece of legislation. In fact, during a day of lobbying, I ran into one of the women who was part of that workshop cycle. However, that’s the bare minimum. There are loopholes in at least nine of the states with laws — either no specific language about shackling women during their first, second, and third trimesters; when they’re being transported to the hospital; or postpartum. That means pregnant women are still being shackled in states where there are laws against shackling pregnant women. Luckily in New York, an additional law was passed that closed off the loopholes.

But this still happens across this nation. I believe there are 28 states that still practice this particular form of barbarism. We are savages.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Notes:

  1. Briefly put, intersectionality is a theory of how different types of discrimination interact.
  2. White feminism is a brand of feminism centered around the ideals and struggles of primarily white women. While not outright exclusive, its failure to consider other women and its preoccupation with Western standards is often alienating to women of color, non-straight women, trans women, and women and men belonging to religious or cultural minorities.
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