As Black History Month ends and Women’s History Month begins, I wanted to share with you the Combahee River Collective and the work of other Black women fighting against racism, sexism, violence, and other oppressions. This collective of Black feminists began meeting in 1974. They created this space of their own because they believed the feminist and civil rights movements of the era each failed to address the needs of women of color. Within the feminist movement, they found racism. Within the civil rights movement, they found sexism and homophobia. They believed that to defeat any one oppression, people needed to understand how each system of oppression worked together or “intersected.” Intersectionality, (a term coined in the 1980s by Black scholar and activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw), has roots in the work of the Combahee River Collective.
How does the work of these Black women in 1974 influence the work of SARA in 2021? The Collective explained it best in their original Collective Statement (1977): “We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.” We at SARA recognize that racial violence against women of color is often sexual violence against women of color. Therefore, in order to stem the tide of sexual violence against Black and Brown women, our work must also be to stem the tide of racism and other oppressions.
We are always learning how best to meet that challenge and there is much work to be done. We acknowledge that barriers—from mistrust of institutions and systems, to lack of culturally specific services, to fear of deportation and more—have kept survivors from getting the care they deserve and from prevention efforts from reaching historically oppressed communities.
This work requires us to be intentional and to ask ourselves: