A Black Woman Who Occupied Wall Street: Why I Won't Be Going Back.
by Reena Walker on Friday, October 14, 2011 at 4:38pm
The days I spent at the Occupy Wall Street action in the park were harrowing to say the least. The racism is rampant. There is no regard for the need to factor in black issues or empowerment nor is black leadership in actuality encouraged or welcome, even though they claim it is. There are many white men there are very domineering, controlling, demeaning, sarcastic, condescending and do not make black women feel safe, welcome, empowered, appreciated or protected. They have no regard for black people or women.
Women are being molested in the park and there is no real viable system in place to handle it without the need for police intervention. There are white supremacists groups running around there. There are people smoking drugs there even though it puts the entire action at risk and even after being told that the General Assembly had consensus on the fact that there should be no smoking of cigarettes as they are not only a health hazard to everyone and gives support to the tobacco companies, but also a potential fire hazard, people continue to smoke with no regard for their fellow protesters.
There is a constant marginalization of women and I was even verbally and physically imposed on and threatened by a white man who was up in my face with his fingers pointing in my face because he wanted to dictate to people what he thought they should do. When I spoke up and said that he and two other white men are not supposed to dictate to everyone what should happen but that the decision should be made through consensus he got angry. He proclaimed that he called the meeting, as if that is somehow relevant. He also got angry because I as a black woman told him that he was wrong for trying to dictate to people. Not only that but I also offered to facilitate after other people didn't step up as things were confusing and out of control. There was no complaint about my facilitation and we actually got down to there being three points to vote on after hearing everyone voice their opinion after I did. Of course another white man felt that he was the one who should be facilitating so I said "fine you do it" but I also asked if there was a woman who had facilitating training as well and the men started to all say why does it matter if its a woman?
After they began to facilitate, everything got out of control, the group split off into factions and there was no more cohesiveness. The man who called the meeting subsequently came over to me as I was standing on the side having a conversation with two people. He took a very domineering stance and was standing with his face right in front of mine pointing his fingers at me telling me that I will never facilitate again and he was in charge. I barely heard what he was saying as all I kept saying to him was "back up." He was threatening and I could see that he wanted to actually hit me. I threw my bag on the ground and said come on if you want to throw down. Then people pulled us apart. He might have been able to hit me but I would have given him a run for his money. I was so angry and when a black man I met there came over I was telling him what happened. Another white guy steps in between us and proceeds to explain to him what happened in order to protect the other white man. I told him he is in no position to explain to anyone what happened to me and he is being rude. The arrogance of these men is just unbelievable! The black man and I walked down the street together and he calmed me down.
This is the type of thing that goes on, but its okay and sponsored because within the confines of this movement, white people are still acceptably in charge, arrogant and superior. In other words, you can have all of the experience in the world as an organizer, activist or facilitator but if you are not a white man then its a problem. If you are a white man, even though you don't have any experience, don't know how to run a meeting (which I saw happen several different times), are not very bright and don't even know how to be an organizer, its acceptable and fine, even if the meeting isn't fruitful and doesn't result in anything.
They get bogged down in minutiae and say a million things at these meetings, yet there is no follow through on anything, which makes the meetings a complete waste of time and energy. If these people claim this is what they are supposedly fighting against, in the corporate world, then they have a very weird way of showing it. Their behavior makes one feel invalidated and it also doesn't give a strong showing of support to the people who they are supposedly standing up for.
There was another incident with a group of white people at the west end of the park who, when I asked them to help get the area organized, (which was an absolute mess and a fire hazard) began to harass me, taunt me and verbally be abusive. I still went on to gather others who wanted to help with the huge task of organizing this filthy and very disorganized space and they continued to level verbal assaults. They continued to defiantly smoke and light up cigarettes and be obnoxious and continued to harass until I got fed up and told this one girl, who was pushing me to the limit, that she should step up and bring it if she wanted to fight. I went on to curse her out and I let everyone there know that I will not be abused by some stupid white bitch. I really could care less who doesn't like it but if you push things too far they have to learn that it won't be tolerated by everyone. They also have to learn that black people are not going to let them speak to us in any type of manner they choose. I don't know what the agenda of these white people are but their paternalistic attitudes, constant invalidation, smart remarks and repressive behavior toward myself and other black people is not productive nor is it liberating.
There also needs to be said here something about the passive black people there who speak in a white vernacular and want to be white or sleep with white people so badly that they have no black consciousness at all. They really need a wake up call. They have no real desire to be supportive of black people nor do they want to be associated with anything that is truly about the struggle that REAL black people face and basically, will stand there and side with these white people even if they see another black person being attacked, and then blame the black person, which is what happened at the time that these white people were treating me this way. This black girl who was much darker than me, who spoke like a blonde girl on a beach, asked me to leave instead of even listening to me or finding out what happened. She was so concerned about keeping the white folks happy that she wasn't even concerned about my well being or my position on the matter. Who stole the soul is right.
Another insulting situation that happened was a white man coming up to me at the GA giving me a flyer that read "Occupy Harlem". I told him Harlem is already occupied by him and all of these white people coming uptown pushing black folks out of their homes and to word something like that in that way without consideration and then give me another flyer along with that with a bunch of white faces on it was highly insulting. He goes on to tell me he has lived in Harlem for years and his daughter is black, like that is even remotely relevant, and then refused to listen to my concerns because he lives in Harlem. Then he said he doesn't understand why black people are attacking him when he presents this to them and he has been attacked five times already that day. I told him that the fact that he doesn't understand why he is being attacked, is all the more reason why he shouldn't be in charge of an action like that. This is another example of the paternalistic attitudes that exists amongst these white people who think they are automatically in charge and not only that but are somehow in a position to articulate my oppression as a black woman for me
I came away from this experience feeling unsupported, disrespected, maligned and even more oppressed. There is no real regard for oppressed black people there and many of these people are there at Occupy Wall Street for the novelty of it. They have no idea that this stance they are taking is dealing with very real problems that we as black people face every day. This is not a parade or a party or a game for us and if we are there, we are there because it is very serious for us and standing up to these companies and oppressive forces is about standing up for our lives. We don't have rich white parents and communities to run home to after the whole thing ends. We don't have safety nets like they do. The unemployment crisis in the black community is far more of a crisis for the people of our community than it is for them.
This disgusting display of white superiority and male dominance exists throughout this OWS movement. The only bright spot in all of this was the newly formed Women Occupying Wall Street (WOW) group. These women were informed, supportive and concerned about the issues I and other women raised and also had been subjected to abusive behaviors themselves. The meeting that was held by them was actually the only well run and sane meeting that I had attended the whole time I was there, outside of a few of the General Assembly meetings. I drafted a mission statement for them and gave some helpful suggestions. I wish them well and will give my support and I hope they can make a dent. It is unfortunate that I cannot participate any longer though because I have learned long ago to no longer remain in abusive constructs for the sake of unity. It is not worth my sanity or my health.
I say we as black people have to be self-determined and self-defined. White people cannot articulate our oppression. We cannot be a part of movements that are lead by them and be marginalized. We cannot continue to allow the rampant disrespect to continue in the name of some sort of unity. I say we begin to as BLACK PEOPLE and not, "people of color", create define, organize and stand firm in our own movements to articulate our oppression and address it. Only then can we truly be effective and affect change.
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