Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Please share widely, but do not tag the survivor.
To BYP 100
and the larger community of Chicago activists:
As you may know, I recently disclosed that I am a survivor of a sexual assault perpetrated by your co-chair and regarded community organizer, Malcolm London. I came forward during the intense social media campaign surrounding his recent arrest at a demonstration for Laquan McDonald.
While I understand the campaign was necessary for the movement, and for Malcolm’s safety, having my social media bombarded with images of the person who harmed me accompanied by descriptions of him as a hero and upstanding human was nothing short of traumatizing. So I decided to share my story.
While I didn’t plan or expect my disclosure to become as public as it did, I appreciate the swift and largely loving response I received from all over the country, as well as the seriousness with which your organization is regarding this issue. BYP, thank you for contacting me so quickly and starting your internal accountability process immediately upon Malcolm’s release. And while I am looking forward to speaking with you in person, I believe that true accountability cannot begin unless the entire community is aware and involved in holding our leaders to a standard that will keep us safe. That is why I am writing this letter.
The assault happened three years ago on this exact day. I had met him a few days prior at an event and he asked me if I wanted to go see a movie after I’d finished Thanksgiving dinner with my family. On the way to the movie, we talked about his activism and my role as a sexual health and assault educator on my college campus. He told me sexual violence prevention was something he was really passionate about and I felt relieved to finally be around someone who understood. Because I thought he was a safe person, I disclosed to him that I had been assaulted a few months prior and that I was in the middle of a court process that was equally as traumatizing as the assault itself. He seemed outraged and concerned. I felt like I could trust him.
After the movie, he asked to come up to my apartment for coffee and I obliged because I thought he needed it to stay awake during his drive home. But when I offered it to him he said he didn’t actually want any, and just wanted an excuse to come upstairs. He made a few sexual advances, and each time I asked him to stop. I was clear that I did not consent, and I thought he got the picture that he’d made me uncomfortable. But because it was late, at some point I dosed off and I woke up with Malcolm’s fingers in my vagina. (For those who are unaware, unconscious people cannot consent to sex.) I immediately asked him to leave and once he was gone I told him what he did was an act of sexual violence. He was apologetic, but did not understand why what he did to me was assault. To this day, he still refers to what occurred between us as “a misunderstanding.”
As someone who works with survivors of sexual violence and has dedicated much of my time to educating people about the history of rape in the Black community, I know my story is far too common. Black and Brown women are abused at the hands of men of color and we’re told to stay silent about our experiences in order to “help the movement.” And as Black and Brown women, we carry the community on our backs and will do anything to protect our sons, brothers, and fathers even when they are harming us. I’ve had Black survivors tell me that they didn’t press charges against their attacker because they “didn’t want to put another Black man in the system.” Prominent Black male leaders like Huey Newton have abused their power raping Black women and we erased those women’s stories out of history.
When I came forward this week, there were activists who messaged my friends saying that sharing my story was damaging to the community, and that I needed to be quiet until Malcolm was released because it was inconvenient timing. But liberation isn’t convenient, or easy. We don’t get to say “Hold up while we free these people real quick and then we’ll come back for the rest of you,” which is in essence what Black women have been told throughout history. Solidarity is for Black men and white women, not us.
As a Black woman, the idea of a “safe space” is currently a fallacy for me. I am not safe out in the world, I am not safe in my own community, and I am not even safe in activist spaces around people who claim to be working towards my liberation. You can’t fight for me while I’m awake then rape me while I’m asleep. I want be a bigger part of the movement, I want to join protests, I want to organize, but I can’t do that when the person who hurt me is a figurehead in those spaces.
I doubt I’m the first person who hasn’t felt safe in communities because of violent masculinity and coercive sexual scripts. I doubt I’m the only woman Malcolm has harmed. We’re keeping important voices of Black and Brown women out of the movement because they are scared to join. Liberation for some is liberation for none.
We can’t trust the justice system to protect us or to hold perpetrators accountable– that much is clear. So, we need to work towards a way to do that ourselves. By sharing my experience, my short term goal is to come up with a system by which we can hold people in the organizing community accountable when they hurt people, and to educate folks both before and after harm is done. And maybe that system can turn into inspiration for ways we can protect the community at large without police. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like yet, but I am looking forward to working with you to figure out a plan.