#FaithFeminisms: Beyond Reform

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“It is the solidarity of the executed Jesus with the other imprisoned and other executed ones that makes up the first certain Christian community.” -Mark Lewis Taylor

We are thrilled to partake in the #FaithFeminisms conversations this week. However, it is important to articulate how surface level unity or lowest common denominator organizing can easily lead to ignore espousing clear political priorities. With #YesAllWomen, a conversation started by a Muslim woman of color, we saw how the creator’s original intent for the hashtag was co-opted and whitewashed in order to serve as a platform for white women to cling to their victimhood. Yes, white women are subordinated on the axis of gender, but still maintain relative privilege over women of color who are subordinated by both race and gender. We are not asking for white women or accomplices to forgo involvement in social movements, but to center the voices of the most marginalized. We ask the #FaithFeminisms community to focus on bottom-up organizing, rather than seeking to make trickle down hierarchal changes might eventually reach the most marginalized. This way we focus on the needs of those in crisis and can organize to offer immediate relief.  Bottom-up organizing means that organizing around the needs of the most organized will by default lead to liberation of all.

In the words of Andrea Smith, white feminism is dependent on settler colonialism. That is, white feminism is born our of a colonial-settler state. Therefore, all waves of feminism following the first wave of the white feminist movement do not work towards further inclusion, since the very foundation of white feminism is tied to the limitations and logics of the nation-state. Not only was it a mistake of the past to confuse first wave (white) feminism as the birthplace for “all” women’s liberation, but the logics of “liberate white women and then the rest” continue to play out in current and ongoing feminist projects when many of their politics directly harm women of color. Furthermore, envisioning the early pioneers of feminism as white women is to engage in a complete erasure of the ongoing resistance of Black and Native feminists. As a collective centering women of color feminists, we refuse to offer our labor and our free education for the self-improvement of “allies” who will walk away with more knowledge, but no commitment in laboring for our liberation. It is time to challenge this forced order of “unity” at the cost of flattening histories and present realities. White feminism is not a starting point or a first step, it is the marker of derailment.

Revelation 3:16 (NIV)
So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Reform is not enough. We refuse to be tricked into believing that inherently violent systems can be made friendlier. Women of color feminism is not simply about being “nicer” to an individual and it is about more than making prisons or the police seem “nicer”. We believe that choosing to leave these systems entirely intact while bandaging wounds is not grasping the problem at its roots, but instead continuously pruning the branches of a structure growing more violent and more powerful. Our pruning helping to maintain and justify a violent structures by making them seem reformed. The problem with the left calling out the right is it allows them to name their sin loudly and declare “this is what racism or sexism looks like and we’re not like that.”  It allows them to participate in the same systems of oppression without any self-examination and to benefit from structures that are themselves harmful. It is a more insidious form of oppression and racism. Niceness has done more harm than good. Niceness is a tool of the colonizer. Niceness (civility) was born with the creation of liberal democracy, in which only those considered citizens were allowed to communicate their ideas nicely. Instead we need abolishment. Oscar Wilde once said the worst thing a charity can do is to alleviate the pangs of oppression, thus perpetuating the systems causing them.  A slave owner who was really “nice” to his slaves was still a slaveholder. There’s a way in which our demeanor or knowledge do not line up with our actions or excuse our complicity in violence.

John 8:1-11 (ESV)
but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

When Jesus stopped the woman from being stoned he didn’t say, “hey let’s not kill her, let’s just put in her in jail” – he was critiquing the entire society that caused her to do those things. We believe this passage is a critique of criminalization, in which it’s people who are victims of state violence are not “criminals” but marginalized people. As Mariame Kaba notes, it’s not the abusers and rapists ending up in prison. Mass incarceration is made possible by hyper-criminalization of specific populations, making a system of justice more of a criminal punishment system than anything else. Similar to the woman being stoned in the Bible passage above, we see people being punished for situations they did not create, punishment for surviving amidst economic violence.

Carceral feminism tells us that the state is capable of reform and pushed women to rely on state services for protection from gender violence, despite the state being the biggest perpetrator of gender violence both here and abroad. Focusing on the safety of white women has led to policies such as Stop-and-Frisk and Stand Your Ground laws that have led to criminalization of people of color. We truly can not expect a system of violence to be the solution for ending violence. Prison abolition isChrist-like. Jesus is a revolutionary who came to challenge state power and authority and fight in solidarity with the most marginalized. Both the right and the left are complicit in upholding the criminal justice system and the prison-industrial complex.

Mass incarceration is a symptom of a society too sedated to be self reflexive, a vacuum filled by the bodies of the oppressed. We look at the lynching tree as a public manifestation of such a vacuum (James Cone), but let us not forget the multitudes continue to legally suffer in prisons as a source of free labor and capital–Black bodies used as the conduit for funnelling wealth into the hands of the elite through the expenditure of tax dollars and the glutinous prison-industrial complex. Our greatest sin is complicity in a judicial system predicated on the slaveability of Black bodies, a necessity of imperial logics. Who is the real criminal?

 Luke 4:18-19 (ESV) 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim God’s favor.”

By forfeiting our natural right to be autonomous and passing the responsibility of justice onto the state unearths a willingness to let the government play God. Advocating the perpetuation of the same justice model that killed Jesus shows the world how far we have come from the teachings of Jesus. “Go and sin no more” is not a passive line of grace we as Christians get to objectively offer to sinners. It is a line of active grace that we very much need for ourselves as we find ourselves complicit in state violence while preaching love and justice. The prophets have stated several times that God does not want sacrifice, but mercy.

The Killjoy Prophets collective proposes a week of action to shed light on the Marissa Alexander case as a continuation of #FaithFeminisms. Marissa Alexander is a Black woman of faith who is facing up to 60 years in prison as punishment for surviving. She was a victim of domestic violence and sent a warning shot into the ceiling in fear for her life. The cops arrested her and she has been in the criminal justice system for three years now, which is an extension of the violence she experienced at home.

Please email killjoysandprophets@gmail.com if you are interested in getting involved. We hope to see Christians mobilize for Marissa’s freedom and move our faith into action. Let’s keep the momentum going. 

In Christ,
Killjoy Prophets