#SayHerName lecture series opens

by Elizabeth Janowski | 7/12/19 2:05am

On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd filtered into Filene Auditorium for the opening of “#SayHerName: Intersectionality and Violence Against Black Women and Girls” — a six-part public lecture series exploring the topics of black feminism, social activism and responses to race and gender-based violence in America. 

Beth Richie, African American studies, sociology, and gender and women’s studies professor and head of the criminology, law and justice department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, initiated the series with a talk titled “Black Feminist Responses to Gender Violence: The Case for Abolition Politics and Praxis.” Women’s and gender studies professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick Brittney Cooper hosted the second installation to the series with her talk “The Future of Black Feminism (in Theory)” on Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday’s events began with introductions from philosophy professor Susan Brison and government professor Shatema Threadcraft, who co-organized the lecture series. 

Brison emphasized in her introduction that the #SayHerName social movement arose from the need to address the gender-specific ways in which black women experience the effects of racial injustice — particularly the disproportionate violence that they face in American society.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Threadcraft stated that the idea of hosting a #SayHerName lecture series at the College came about after she and Brison heard each other speak at a conference on the #MeToo movement hosted at the City University of New York last fall.

“Professor Brison got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in co-organizing a series that centered the concerns of black women and girls, given their absence in the mainstream #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements,” Threadcraft said. “We both agreed that Dartmouth needed to address the issue of intersectionality and violence against black women and girls, and [Dartmouth] enthusiastically supported our plan.”

Richie opened her lecture by echoing Brison and Threadcraft’s sentiments, commenting on the lack of representation of black female experiences that she says tends to characterize mainstream social activist campaigns.

“Among the vigorous political debates about racial injustice, there was virtual silence about the issues of gender and sexuality,” Richie said. “The silence was not only troubling because gender wasn’t included in the frame of injustice, but also because women and gender non-conforming people were not considered to be suffering in the same way men were.”

Richie spoke out against the persistence of gender-based violence towards black women and urged the audience to challenge media representations — or lack thereof — of gender inequality and racial injustice.

“No one said their names,” Richie repeated several times as she told the stories of black women and girls who endured harassment, violence and police brutality with little to no media coverage. 

Richie specifically discussed incarceration, advocating for the abolition of America’s prison system. She argued that an over-reliance on policing has led to the unfair and disproportionate incarceration of black women. Referring to herself as an “abolition feminist,” she expressed hope that in the future, communities will seek alternative methods to the process of criminalization that consider the health and safety of black women. 

“We have chosen to criminalize people’s attempts to survive and build up a prison nation instead,” Richie said. “We need to talk about the real harm that’s done, re-investment in communities, strong justice relationships. What people is need is therapeutic care, not to be put in a cage.”

Reflecting on Richie’s lecture, Threadcraft expressed enthusiasm over the points that were discussed.

“Professor Richie’s talk was phenomenal,” Threadcraft said in an interview after the event. “As a great admirer of her work, I can honestly say that I was dazzled by the depth of her analysis, her talk’s complexity and clarity and her decades-long commitment to scholarship and activism regarding violence against women.”

After her talk, Richie was joined by her sister and Board of Trustees chair Laurel Richie ’81 to co-host a panel discussing their experiences as black female leaders.

Members of the audience asked the Richies questions regarding their views on current politics, gender violence at the university level and how to become involved in political and social activism, among other topics. One student garnered applause after asking for advice on how to remain persistent as an activist, referencing the lack of action taken by the administration in 2014 after a group of students proposed the Freedom Budget — a list of suggested reforms that reflected concerns over diversity and accessibility on campus.

“When we disagree, I hope that you still use your voice to advocate for what you believe in,” Laurel Richie said. 

In her lecture on Thursday, Cooper discussed the marginalization of black women in academia, the performance of academic rigor and the relationship between radical social justice movements and academic disciplines. She emphasized the importance of liberation from the language of academic institutions — which she described as constraining and “esoteric” — in favor of more accessible methods of expression.

Tensions arose during the question and answer portion of the talk when Emory University philosophy professor and Montgomery Fellow George Yancy objected to Cooper’s response to a student, in which she said white women and black men are “on the d—s” of white men. She said that both white women and black men see “freedom” as obtaining the kind of power white men have, and are thus complicit in perpetuating the existing power structure.

Yancy said in an interview after the event that the “talk was incredibly good” and “directed towards black women in a very important way,” but that he could not tolerate “a black woman [saying] that black men and white women are on the jocks of white men.”

During the exchange, Cooper said that Yancy’s “performance of solidarity undercuts [his] commitment to solidarity,” pointing out the ways in which his interruption of her reflected existing patriarchal power structures and underlying assumptions about black feminism.

“The problem is that when black women try to talk about freedom — because of the ways black men have been treated — if we don’t begin our critiques at the space of acknowledging everything they have done for us, then there is criticism,” Cooper said to Yancy. Cooper declined to comment further on the matter.

Brison said that she was “deeply gratified” with the crowd that the series’ first events attracted. She added that she was particularly grateful for the attendance of College President Phil Hanlon, dean of the faculty Elizabeth Smith and associate dean for the faculty of arts and humanities Barbara Will at the first event.

The lectures will also serve to supplement the curriculum for Brison and Threadcraft’s courses this summer. Students in GOVT 86.35/AAAS 20/WGSS 67.05, “Feminist Theory” — taught by Threadcraft — and PHIL 004/WGSS 46.01, “Philosophy and Gender” — taught by Brison — will attend the lectures as part of their courses and have the opportunity to speak with the lecturers following each event.