We are skidding towards the end of 2023 and white women continue to weaponised their tears and fears against Black women.
Last week the National Network released a statement critiquing the work of Justice Reform Initiative (JRI). We critiqued a report that spoke to the oppressions that members of our group had experienced intimately. We critiqued a body of work that we felt did not accurately reflect the experiences of criminalised women and girls. We critiqued the group’s
assertion that jailing is failing.
We provided this critique in a public statement because we have a right to speak about reports that concern us and our experiences. We have a right to comment on policy that affects us. We have a right to speak up when people are praising our abusers for doing “better,” when they are not.
And we have a right to speak. Full stop.
However, this public statement was met with, predictably given the membership of the group, distress and a direct message to one of our members.
‘Just a FYI – there are 4 of us formerly incarcerated women who work at JRI. We run campaigns, often alone in difficult States, we develop important frameworks for intentionally hiring people who have been in prison. We write parliamentary submissions and we contribute to the policy documents and reports that are referred to in this article. Most importantly we are nurtured, celebrated, and supported by a beautiful team of humans who are all fighting to end incarceration but tonight, are all feeling incredibly distressed by this public attack.’
-Tina McPhee (JRI Staff Member)
Take note of the line “[we] are all feeling incredibly distressed by this public attack.” In the above statement. A reminder that we have hurt people’s feelings. A reminder that we must remain civil in all public discourse. A reminder that our critique was met with fear and tears.
This not an uncommon situation for us as criminalised people.
When we speak up and out about our experiences or our aspirations, we are demonised.
And when we are Blak and speak back, we are cast as the savages. The ones to be feared.
Especially when the ones we have to speak back to are white women feminists.
And sure enough, who came for the Blak criminalised member of our Network, a white feminist who works for Justice Reform Initiative.
As soon as our Network responded with a follow up statement, this staff member retreated. Predictably, white people rallied around her, to protect her from the “angry Blak criminalised woman” to which the JRI staff member was only too grateful:
“Thank you for posting– I feel a little less alone (& a little less fearful).”
Ruby Hamad speaks of the ‘power of the white damsel in distress’. This white woman from JRI perfectly invoked this power. A racialised power that is central to the functioning of the prison industrial complex. This JRI staff member approached our National Network member initially to defend their organisation and their work. She was well aware of her privileged status in society and thought she could use it to dominate our member. However, when our member stood up for herself and our Network, this white woman resorted to the damsel in distress archetype of white female innocence and victimhood when challenged. This is surreptitious manipulation, and is the playbook of the white woman feminist, and it’s so damned violent and damaging when it is turned against Indigenous women in this country. As Chelsea Watego states: ‘Such is the gaslighting of black women in the colony, that black women are not allowed to be angry, yet at the same time we can never be cast as anything but the “angry black woman”.’ Professor Watego goes on to say: ‘The tone-policing of black women functions to maintain their position on the ladder, ensuring that we don’t get ahead
of ourselves or them.’
Well, we are angry.
We are sick of these academics speaking about us but never to us.
We are sick of them quoting brilliant Blak intellectuals like Dr Chelsea Watego and Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson yet oppressing Aboriginal women.
We are sick of seeing living and working on stolen Aboriginal land in their bios, yet they pillage and plunder our knowledges and experiences.
We are sick of being told to be quiet, to be polite, to be seen and not heard,
We are sick of seeing abolition in their bios but witnessing them enact carceral violence upon our sisters.
So, if that makes us the villains. So be it.
As Ruth Wilson Gilmore said in a recent interview with one of our members, Tabitha Lean, ‘Abolition doesn’t demand of us to be nice.’
But what it does call on us to be, is accountable.
For comment, please contact
Debbie Kilroy 0419 762 474