I recently had the chance to be a part of the OUTcast: On Being Queer and a Child Sexual Abuse Survivor panel in DCRead More
The Westwood Baptist Church in Richmond, VA where Rev. Michael Lomax is the pastor will host a FREE all day conference on sexual violence, accountability and healing on Saturday, April 21, 2018. There will be a panel, a screening of NO! The Rape Documentary, and a keynote by #BlackFeminist sister/scholar/comrade/friend, co-founder of The Feminist Wire, and the first lady of Westwood Baptist Church, Dr. Tamura Lomax.
SPREAD THE WORD. This FREE intergenerational gathering is open to all. You can register here.
Join Aishah Shahidah Simmons for Take Back the Night at Dickinson College Wednesday April 11th at 6:30pm in Allison Great Hall.
Aishah will kick off April's Sexual Assault Awareness month in Tuscon, Arizona with a fundraiser screening of NO! The Rape Documentary on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 7:30pm.
All proceeds will go towards the planning of Tucson Take Back the Night 2018, the annual march and event raising awareness around sexual assault and empowering survivors.
Aishah was also featured on a local news segment.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons was one of several LGBTQI individuals who paid homage to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice in Eboné Bell’s, “Astraea Foundation Investing, Advocating, Amplifying, and Propelling LGBTQI Voices” in Tagg Magazine
“Over 20-years ago the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice was the first foundation that supported an unknown unapologetically out, twenty-something Black feminist lesbian rape survivor making a feature length documentary film about sexual violence and healing in Black communities. Astreaa’s institutional support legitimized both the filmmaker and the film, NO! The Rape Documentary, which became an internationally acclaimed award-winning film that has transformed the lives of many survivors across the United States and internationally. Fast forward twenty years later and my support for Astraea support is unwavering just as theirs has been for countless lesbians and queer people like me who had nowhere else to turn.” -- Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Producer/Director, NO! The Rape Documentary
Click here to read the article in its entirety
On International Women's Day, Aishah Shahidah Simmons released the Essex Hemphill segment featured in NO! The Rape Documentary as a separate stand-alone video.
Cassius Life Magazine's news and culture editor Stephanie Long interviewed Aishah and published their conversation on March 14, 2018.
When NO! The Rape Documentary first debuted at the Pan African Film Festival in 2006, it was received with critical acclaim. Among the 50 documentaries and short films invited to be a part of the Open Frame Film Festival in 2009, NO! took home the Audience Choice Award and a Juried Award at the 2006 Sandiego Women Film Festival. It also won the award for Best Documentary at the 2008 India International Women’s Film Festival.
Now, for the first time, the film’s Essex Hemphill segment has been made into a stand-alone video. “I decided to make it a stand-alone short video this year because I believe it’s very important that we hear from Black men who are unwavering about the imperative need to address and end sexual and domestic violence in our communities,”Aishah Shahidah Simmons, director of NO!, told CASSIUS. “I worked with my friend and colleague Dr. Kai Green, who helped me create the stand alone video in his office at Williams College.”
C.: What went into making the decision to release this segment this year? Was it meant to be released sooner?
A.S.: The decision to release the Essex Hemphill segment as a standalone video separate from and still related to NO! The Rape Documentary was based on my desire to celebrate Black women in Women’s Herstory Month, and to lift up Hemphill’s radical vision of a world that respects and cherishes Black women long before it was trending. Hemphill’s poem, “To Some Supposed Brothers,” is a powerful acknowledgement of the wounds that so many Black women have to live with. Written almost three decades ago, his words and delivery have a compelling way of drawing you into a painful reality, while simultaneously calling the viewer into action to co-create a world without violence. Hemphill’s work was so piercing. He didn’t feel the necessity to sugar coat his words or images in order to make the audience feel good. His intention was to make you uncomfortable in order to affect radical social change.
C.: Can you tell us a little about raising funds to have the segment edited back in 1997 and why that was important?
A.S.: Fundraising for the making of the film was a hardcore Black feminist and LGBTQ grassroots effort. In the early days of the 12-year journey, I relied heavily upon the communities from which I come to support this vision. Award-winning poet and activist Sonia Sanchez and longterm activists Inelle Cox Bagwell and Pat Clark were the first people who gave major donations in support of the making of NO! The Rape Documentary. The Astraa Lesbian Foundation for Justice was the very first foundation who said, “YES! to NO!” Their collective funding enabled me to create two trailers, which featured the Essex Hemphill segment and testimonies from Black women rape survivors. I screened these trailers extensively across the United States and in several European countries including England, The Netherlands, France, and Italy at numerous educational fundraising screenings. The money raised at those screenings went directly into the making of the feature length documentary film.
Click here to read in its entirety here.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons was the keynote speaker at the Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference, which was be held March 2-3 at Hampshire College. The title of her talk was AfroLezfemcentric Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Sexuality.
By The Feminist Wire Associate Editors
We write in celebration of our visionary sister and comrade/comadre, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, black lesbian feminist, cultural worker, filmmaker, incest and rape survivor, and the creator of NO! The Rape Documentary (2006). This feature-length, internationally acclaimed, award-winning film, with Portuguese, French, and Spanish subtitles, a two-hour supplemental educational video, and an accompanying 100-page study guide (funded by the Ford Foundation and published in 2007), which includes national rape and sexual assault resources organized by state and a bibliographic treasure box of over 90 recommended readings – urges us to call rape out and end it. The latter she notes as a “non-negotiable necessity.”
We want to pause and acknowledge Simmons and this black feminist labor of love not only because she is a pioneer of the contemporary anti-violence movement, but because her work, which began in 1994, helps ground current moves to raise awareness about rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. More, Aishah Shahidah Simmons provides an opening to center and make present the continuum of too-often invisibilized feminist labors against rape, in which her work is deeply rooted and from which it emerges.
Recently, the #MeToo online movement has made space for women, some for the first time, to share their experiences of sexual harassment and violence. Initially, the hashtag was incorrectly deemed to originate with actress Alyssa Milano, who tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Milano’s tweet was a response to rape allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. However, #MeToo was in fact created a decade ago as “me too” (not an online campaign) by Tarana Burke, who is currently program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity. And though the current iteration of #MeToo exemplifies a significant historical social media moment, it began as a grassroots social movement, with the aim of empowering young women of color sexual assault survivors.
#MeToo, though initially focused on young women of color, seems in the current moment to have transcended race. This matters. It matters because women of color have been doing the work of “me too” for a very long time. And yet even proper attribution, though important, fails to offer adequate recognition of so many other women. In contemporary viral moments, we routinely fail to note the intricate layers, nuances, and intersections of these voices and works across several decades of anti-rape activism. It also matters that Milano is an Italian American Hollywood actress, best known for television shows like Who’s the Boss?, Melrose Place, and Charmed. It matters that she is an actress/activist who happens to have the ear not only of Hollywood but many Americans. Milano’s tweet calls rape culture back to consciousness in a very particular time in history, against a very famous white man – with very famous and mostly white survivors – and within the context of a “pussy grabbing” white nationalist hetero-patriarchal misogynist capitalist trans-antagonistic POTUS. The wide-ranging and fiery response to Milano’s tweet may very well be a covert way of saying #HimToo.
In short, Milano’s tweet likely caught on as it did not because critiques of rape culture are novel, but because hashtag activism makes anti-violence resistance accessible, easy to grasp, and contagious, and because who tweets about what, how we imagine the survivors, and who we visualize the perpetrator/s to be, matters. Still, online activism, with its tendency to strike quickly and then fade in response to moments such as this, is often ignorant of its historical precursors. Grounding viral moments in their historical, theoretical, and movement-based genealogies is critical, both to name the labor that made the moment possible and to ensure that discussions and actions continue beyond the Internet.
To be sure, online and hashtag activism may generate benefits, including providing discursive space. A great example is the Black Lives Matter network, which was first introduced to many of us as a hashtag. Notwithstanding BLM’s successes, some of the challenges of online and hashtag activism more broadly are that it erases herstories, movements, complexities, and laborers. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor argues, #BlackLivesMatter developed out of longer and continuing movements of and for Black liberation. So too do contemporary incarnations of the anti-rape movement.
#MeToo was not created in a vacuum. It is not a single story. And its focus is not limited to rich white cis men who victimize. The anti-rape movement is about the eradication of heteropatriarchal white supremacy writ large and its specific manifestations of sexual, gender, and racial violence. And if we look at the contributions of radical diverse women who have been fighting against rape culture for two centuries, we see the herstories of sexual violence across inter-racial, intra-racial, and intra-communal lines. It’s easy to critique white supremacy and white feminists for erasures and white men for rape. It’s more difficult to provide complex and winding history that forces us to broaden the map of violences and resistances, and engage intra-communally and historically.
It is not lost on us how the works of first-, second-, and third-wave black and of color feminists have been left out of the current discourse, or how Burke’s initial focus on young women of color and intra-racial rape in communities of color has been excised. Rape culture impacts all women. But what cannot be ignored is how the emphasis on “all women,” particularly in hashtag activism culture, tends to decenter black women and women of color, and how each have herstories of intersecting oppressions and violences that are overwhelmingly increased because of race, ethnicity, and gender reinforcing each other. Further, some women’s narratives of sexual violence have historically been disbelieved, and are still suspect now.
In fact, as Kimberlé Crenshaw argued in 1989, sex discrimination laws were put in place to protect white female sexuality/chastity (from black men), not to protect black women. Yet sexual violence was often the pretext for terrorizing black communities. She posits, “sexist expectations of chastity and racist assumptions of sexual promiscuity combined to create a distinct set of issues confronting black women.” That is, gender makes black women and girls susceptible to sex domination and violence, while blackness denies them state or local protection. Crenshaw notes that some courts went as far as to instruct juries that black women were not to be presumed chaste, leaving them to fend for themselves. Of course, the erasure of some survivors over others is nothing new. Similarly, the blotting out of black and of color anti-rape activists is not innocuous.
We understand anti-rape activism as the resistance to sexual coercion in daily practice and its institutionalized forms. Because rape, as Angela Y. Davis argued in 1978, is the social relations of capitalism and a capitalist interstate system infused with patriarchy and racism, its existence is historic, intentional, and pervasive. Historically, anti-rape activism is present in the contexts of state-sanctioned sexual, gender, and racial violence during colonial and imperial conquests and acts of war; within institutions such as slavery, marriage, prison, health care, immigration, and education; and in the daily acts of our socio-economic and political interpersonal relationships. Anti-rape activism is fueled by and exists alongside sexual violence, be it within survivors alone, or in collectivity with others who strategize against harm. The politicization of our contemporary anti-rape movement is grounded in the global histories of decolonization and Third World Liberation, anti-slavery and abolitionary struggles, and U.S. anti-war, Black Power, civil and labor rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and feminist movements.
The 1960s and 1970s are central to historic understanding of U.S. anti-rape activism, particularly in its institutional formations. The anti-violence work of these decades was deeply informed by Indigenous and Black women’s activism against white supremacist sexual coercion and exploitation that extends back into U.S. settler colonialism and slavery. These efforts developed hand in hand with women’s liberation movements toward greater economic, reproductive, sexual, and cultural autonomy. Anti-rape activism became entangled with other movements, including white middle-class women’s economic empowerment, in ways that made some pathways possible for these women while closing off opportunities for women of color and poor women.
Anti-rape activists for decades have worked, together and sometimes apart, to raise awareness of sexual violence and to strategize against it. Interventions have targeted “private” lives and political institutions, while at the same time challenging the divide between public and private. The Combahee River Collective, Flo Kennedy, June Jordan, This Bridge Called My Back, and many other anti-racist efforts pushed to account for the whiteness of the 1960s-1970s anti-rape movement, grounding the work in a more expansive understanding of slavery, settler colonialism, and imperialism that targets Black, Indigenous, Third World, women of color, and queer and gender non-conforming bodies. The movement was refigured again by the spread of neoliberalism and inclusion of anti-rape efforts inside institutions via Title IX and sexual harassment law, moves that reframed anti-rape as largely a middle-class white women’s concern. How, scholars and activists have asked, can the movement remain radical when funded by the State?
NO! The Rape Documentary (and its supplemental materials), as it explores the transnational operations, reality, and effects of rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence committed against women and girls, and as it deploys first-person testimony, spirituality, activism, and the academic and cultural works of Black folk, is a continuation of historical work, particularly the intersectional lessons of Black feminists who laid the groundwork for anti-rape activism in Black and other communities. Simmons’s cinematically groundbreaking work is significant because it forces us to think about rape through BLACK women’s experiences and intra-communally. That is, it pushes us to call out and resist not only the Weinsteins in every industry but the Bill Cosbys and R. Kellys, too. It refuses invisibility, marginalization and/or tokenism and demands a social, political, cultural, ideological, structural, institutional, and interpersonal shift.
Earlier this year, Simmons gave a powerful presentation to students of all genders and sexualities at King-Drew Magnet High School in South Los Angeles, a predominantly Black and Latinx campus. Simmons’ presentation was followed by student-led workshops on sexual violence, harassment, and rape culture conducted by youth from the Women’s Leadership Project. Simmons’ statements on the connection between white supremacist hetero-normative violence and racialized sexual terrorism against girls of color resonated strongly with WLP students. Twelfth grade student Drea Wooden noted that normalized sexual violence against Black girls and girls of color is seldom discussed on most school campuses. Tenth grader Cheyanne Mclaren stressed that Simmons’ talk reaffirmed that “sexual violence is an important issue for communities of color because women of color are seen as lesser in value than white women and women of color aren’t getting the justice they deserve.”
WLP students, peer educator Issachar Curbeon, Aishah S. Simmons & TFW’s Sikivu Hutchinson
We are celebrating Simmons because her work marks a pivotal moment in anti-rape activism. Because NO! “let’s you know what you need to know fast” (“Because We”), and has inspired new generations of womanists and feminists to resist and take action against a global regime of sexual violence. Because she reminds us that all oppressions are linked. Because she holds us accountable to how we respond to sexual violence. Because she charts an Afro-futurist path for collectively doing things differently and imagining and realizing communities free of rape, assault, and incest. Because this work was created in community for community. Because NO! centers and hopes to heal black and brown sacred flesh. Because Simmons has shown up for us and for survivors everywhere. Because when and where she enters, she brings all the anti-rape feminist and womanist foremothers, co-laborers, and survivors with her. Because Aishah Shahidah Simmons taught us that NO! is a complete sentence that not only explicitly names rape, which may sometimes be cause for erasure because language is political, but unequivocally refuses it and calls us and our communities to action.
WomanPreach!, Inc. and Children of Combahee's co-hosted the groundbreaking “For the Sake of Our Children: Confronting Sexual Violence in Church Spaces” weekend convening at Eden Seminary in St. Louis (October 20, 2017 - October 22, 2017). Aishah Shahidah Simmons gave an interactive presentation on #LoveWITHAccountability -- it's origins and work. Deep full body bows to Rev. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman and Ahmad Greene-Hayes for their visions and their work.
[AUDIO] “How do you move beyond sharing about your trauma to healing it?” asks child sexual abuse survivor, adult rape survivor, NO! The Rape Documentary producer/director and #LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Episode 2 of Feral Visions: a decolonial feminist podcast with producer/host Anjali Nath. Feral Visions is also available as an iTunes podcast. Resources listed below.
***The interview was conducted on August 14, 2017 and released on October 19, 2017. Aishah and her father were finally able to have a seismic, transformative conversation on October 16, 2017.***
Links to resources referenced in the interview.
“[...]I’ve been pruning in the gender based-violence forest since the early 1990s — for more than 20 years — and yet it wasn’t until the beginning of January 2015 that I was able to cultivate the strength to dig up my child sexual abuse roots. And as is the case with so many victim-survivors, this digging up inevitably leads to questions of love, accountability, and family.[...]”
Signs - Journal of Women in Culture and Society invited Jaclyn Friedman, Kelly Oliver, Claire Potter, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and Lisa Wade, PhD to respond to Laura Kipnis's controversial (at best) new book 'Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus' for their "Short Takes- Provocations on Public Feminism." Additionally Kipnis responds to our responses. All of which is freely available on Signs' website.
An excerpt from Aishah's response: "The Personal Is Political and Academic":
[...]I share a part of my (rape survivor) story because for many people who don’t have any understanding of what rape is, they would not define what happened to me in March 1989 as rape. Frankly, after reading Kipnis’s deeply troubling Unwanted Advances, I’m not sure she would define what happened to me as rape.
While reading Kipnis’s book, I found myself asking, why this book now? I’m assuming she wrote the manuscript before the (alleged) sexual predator in chief was elected to govern the United States.Perhaps she and her mainstream publisher thought it would be a very provocative and insightful read during a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential administration. It might have been. However, in the current political climate, where conditions and interventions that can follow a sexual assault are at risk of becoming defined as preexisting conditions under the proposed American Health Care Act, which recently passed in the House of Representatives, her book is a very frightening and I believe dangerous read.[...]
Read all of the responses in their entirety here.
They talked about Aishah's deeply personal and very public #LoveWITHAccountability work, the rigors of healing work, and reflections upon the pending Cosby trial's larger societal implications.
THREE WOMEN RISING, the journey to ending childhood sexual abuse on Episode 19 of Rythea Lee's 'Advice from a Loving Bitch' series. Rythea invited expert artists, activists, and cultural workers author Donna Jenson and #LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons to join her to help her tackle this child sexual abuse with passion, grace, and maturity. Rythea, Donna, and Aishah each answer "How do we heal? How do we fight back? How do we break the cycle? How do we find joy?"
This project took several months, tons of patience, lots of trust, deep compassion and much love.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Philadelphia) was one of the participants who reflected upon and participated in an ArtsEverywhere global roundtable assembled by Kholoud Bidak (Cairo) and Coumba Toure (Dakar), The other participants were: Akwaeke Emezi (Brooklyn), Kagure Mugo (Johannesburg), Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, (London), Kutlwano Pearl Magashula (Johannesburg), Pia Love (London), Rokhaya Gueye (Dakar), Sheena Gimase Magenya (Nairobi), and Thato Poelo Semele (Johannesburg). The roundtable asked artist/activists Africa and the Diaspora to weigh in on "What is Wellbeing?"
“[...]Convening this roundtable for ArtsEverywhere presented an opportunity to share the point of view of some people who care about changing ideologies of oppression through their work; we were very keen to share the voices of African/coloured, artists/activists, gender non-conforming individuals, women, lesbians.
The issue of wellbeing is one of our main challenges in the work of activism, either for those who work with NGOs, art, community organizing, or any other channel. It gets more complicated if a person still struggles for essential needs and rights.[...]”
Read in its entirety here.
In September 2016, Aishah Shahidah Simmons had the opportunity to participate in her friend/comrade/sibling survivor Ignacio G Rivera's The HEAL Project's "Outing CSA (Child Sexual Abuse)" campaign, which features the voices of a range of diverse individuals publicly naming their status as CSA survivors. Aishah’s video was posted on March 21, 2017 on The Heal Project’s site. #LoveWITHAccountability is truly grateful for Ignacio's vision and dedicated work to pull up the roots of child sexual abuse in a variety of educationally interactive, media-based ways.
Please visit the video archive here. My video is below.
CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor, rape
NO! The Rape Documentary and #LoveWITHAccountability are going off of the grid from January 10, 2017 through February 13, 2017 while Aishah Shahidah Simmons sits a 30-day vipassana meditation course. This practice is one of two unwavering tools/resources that both support and enable Aishah to do the work that she does in the world. We invite you to read her reflections on her process and journey.
We will be back on the grid on February 14, 2017!
I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about the Women's March on Washington.
As a pro-choice black feminist lesbian who voted for Hillary Clinton I found myself asking: Which women? The majority of black women voters did all we could do to prevent what will happen on Jan. 20, 2017. I was alarmed that the original framing of the march ignored the role of race in the struggle for equality for women. The organizers were all white women and were calling it the Million Women March -- a huge faux pas given that the first Million Woman March, in 1997, was organized by black women. I was among the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Philadelphia.
Their mission is clear. This major gathering in Washington, and other cities across the United States and internationally, to send a message to Donald J. Trump, his administration and the world that all women’s rights are human rights and that those who march defend and stand in solidarity with the most marginalized.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the march. As an activist and the daughter of two veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, I believe in the power of marches. The inauguration of Trump is plenty of reason to protest. And yet, the Women’s March organizers don’t call it a protest.
But that's O.K. because we need multilayered strategies to challenge and resist any efforts to rollback the gains we’ve made in women’s rights, civil rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and immigrant rights over the last 50 years.
Luz Marquez Benbow and Dr. Thema Bryant Davis join producer/host Esther Armah for a moving conversation on Child Sexual Abuse, Family, Faith, Forgiveness and The Script of Silence in Part II of #TheSpin's #LoveWITHAccountability special.
Broken silence, breaking soul, drugs, truancy, poetry, Christianity, African-based Spirituality, finding a way, coming home, losing your way, context and comfort and company in this powerful 3-way diasporic Black --Ghanaian, Puerto Rican, and African-American women's exchange.
The brainchild of producer/host/visionary Esther Armah, #TheSpin is a one hour, weekly radio show recorded via BBC Accra and NPR studios. The Spin is distributed by NPR Distribution and the Public Radio Satellite System. The show airs on the radio in Ghana, Nigeria, and on several NPR affiliates throughout the United States. It is also available on SoundCloud and iTunes podcasts via The Spin1 channel.
LISTEN, SHARE, AND TAKE CARE.