In the summer of 2012, CMS continued its work with men from Round 2 of the Study into Action Project. Interested participants joined facilitators to set up breakout sessions that focused on specific topics that participants were unable to discuss in depth during the previous Study into Action sessions.
Motivated in part by frustration and disappointment, some of the men of color in CMS wanted to explore how sexism, misogyny and racism relate to one another in shaping and impeding the connections and relationships we have (had) with white women. We wanted to reflect personally on social, professional, movement and family relationships.
In holding this conversation, we attempted to reflect on our past experiences individually (with time for writing and/or drawing) and in small groups, while specifically focusing on emotions and sensations that emerged. To help shape this discussion, we selected two excerpts from Frank Wilderson’s memoir Incognegro that explore his fraught intimate relationship with a white partner and the intense racism and tokenizing at play in his workplace. Using the latter excerpt as a starting point, we also discussed how women of color fit into these dynamics and relationships in our lives.
* What do these relationships between men of color and white women look like in institutions (work, school, healthcare, court, etc)? In the history of your community (e.g., white women and slavery, colonialism, educating ‘savages’, missionaries, caretakers, comrades)?
* How do we respond to these situations of institutional power?
* How do we navigate our emotions (anger, fear, sadness, vulnerability)?
* How do historical and personal experiences get in the way of solidarity? In the way of intimacy?
* How do we move toward mutual respect and allyship when it seems like the other person isn’t also trying to move in that direction?
* What does a complicated understanding of safety for men of color look like, particularly when the framing around safety often doesn’t allow space for us?
Having the space to discuss such a critical topic was helpful for many of the participants in understanding their misogyny against white women within the context of white supremacy, while expanding their individual capacity for solidarity.
This session addressed pornography in relation to desire and masculinity. We sought to create a safe, non-shaming environment where men were able to openly and critically discuss aspects of their connection to porn and its social and emotional influences on their sexuality, masculinity, body image and intimate relationships.
The goal of the session was to help participants, through dialogue, to navigate where the connections and disconnections between their relationship to porn and their politics of challenging gender-based violence and male supremacy. Participants discussed session-specific readings. We made drawings, diagrams, maps, timelines, and cartoons as a departure point for sharing personal stories, thoughts, questions, feelings and conflicts with pornography.
Many participants expressed appreciation for the space to have this kind of discussion with other men. For most, it was the first time they had an opportunity honestly and openly to discuss their sexuality, their politics, their anxieties and their personal contradictions in relation to this often private and deeply personal topic.
The readings and works were chosen to provide a range of perspectives. As men and as people who are not sex workers, we support the organizing of those who have lived experiences working in the sex trade and survival economies. We stand for the rights of all workers and against criminalization. We see the efforts of Streetwise And Safe and the Young Women’s Empowerment Project as key reference points in building effective responses to the social and state violence directed at women and LGBTQ people of color engaged in sex work and other survival economies.
As part of our bi-monthly discussions series, CMS held a special session on Community Accountability and Transformative Justice for past participants of our two Study-into-Action programs as well as other people in their community they wanted to invite.
We began by sharing a brief history of contemporary community accountability and Transformative Justice work (see Community Accountability). We followed this with a discussion rooted in participant’s own experiences with community-based accountability processes – as bystanders to an incident and/or the response, as an active bystander participant in a response, as a person who caused harm, or as a person who was harmed. This personal sharing moved us into a very grounded conversation of the successes and disappointments of our experiences with these processes. Recognizing that we, our networks, families, and communities are often under duress and ill-prepared to undertake such processes, we also discussed why continuing to build community accountability and transformative justice feels important to us.
We closed by exploring our visions of what community-based responses to violence could look like; what values, practices, skill-sets/competencies and goals felt most important and useful in moving us toward greater safety, healing, self-determination, accountability, and transformation.
The discussion on pornography built on the mutual trust, and shared political analysis and understandings we had developed in the Study-Into-Action group. We were able to welcome new participants into the discussion and delve deeply into topics that are highly fraught and shame-laden. Many of us had never had the opportunity to reflect on and open up about the role of pornography in our sexuality and intimate relationships in this way before. – Steve, educator and former SIA participant