Notes from WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series

“Addressing Violence Against Women of Color”

An hourlong teleconference with

Dr. Andrea Smith

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

1 PM to 2 PM EDT

Thanks to Andrea Smith for her time and talent on this call. The following notes accompany the audio that can be found at on WATER’s website ( and at WATER’s Soundcloud page ( These notes are not meant to be comprehensive, but to give a sense of the conversation.

Dr. Smith talked about “Addressing Violence Against Women of Color,” drawing on her writing and extensive activism. Recommended reading for the call is her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End, 2005), particularly Chapter One, “Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide” pp. 7-33, and Chapter Seven, “Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence” pp. 137-175.

She explained that groups like the National Coalition against Sexual Assault ( tried to incorporate indigenous concerns into their work. But, as in many cases, it was like adding a medicine wheel and calling it indigenous. Another approach some organizations took was to have an indigenous caucus in which native women were critiquing the larger body, sometimes even paid as speakers to do that. None of these approaches really got the job done. She said rather than assuming that being included is a given, Native women are asking the questions on their own terms about what it would take to end violence against women of color. They are not waiting to react to white feminists, but are building their own programs. If women of color are at the center, what will be different for them and everyone else?

One cannot look at domestic violence and sexual assault without looking at state violence, especially toward Native women. Indian massacres were not just colonialists killing people, but rape and sexual assault that render native people able to be raped, their lands able to be invaded and their resources able to be extractable. Likewise, immigrant exploitation is sexual. Therefore, centering the analysis on women of color is helpful for understanding all women.

Rather than cooperate with the apparatus of police violence, especially longer prison sentences for those accused which do not solve the problem of gender violence, one needs to get to the root causes. Prison sentences do not reduce crime. They cause more poverty and it is easier to get drugs inside. See Beth Ritchie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and Americas Prison Nation (New York University Press, 2012).

The problem when the state controls the funding of anti-violence work is that the results are longer sentences and other unhelpful strategies. How else can we address gender violence without relying on state resources? Rather than kicking a person out, it is possible for the whole community to hold the person accountable. A conference sponsored by INCITE! ( in Chicago in March 2015 will explore community accountability. The point is not to assume that there is never a time to call the police, rather to think about other options.

Dr. Smith suggests connecting with movements on a global scale for which there is respect, mutuality, and non-violence, to build the system we want to live in. Faith communities have epidemic levels of violence. Creating safe space is not in order to escape, but in order to practice what we want to bring into being in terms of different kinds of governance and accountably.

Discussion ensued:

  1. The first question focused on the relationship between religion and violence.

Andrea said that all denominations are complicit in violence especially when religious authority is concentrated. Prior to colonization, religious leaders were not on a pedestal. Now hierarchies and abuses of power exist with no accountability.

  1. A participant asked about alternate forms of governance and why Andy studied law.

Andy replied that law could be helpful but that we need short-term legal strategies and long-term visions. We need both so that the vision can judge whether the short-term legal strategy needs to be changed.

  1. Another called asked about how different churches might be transformed to take responsibility for ending violence against people.

Andy described aspects of her evangelical background in which the Prophets call out for justice. For example, Southern Baptists recently acknowledged complicity in gender violence.

She went on to say that “women of color space” is not “safe space”; everyone doesn’t get along. They have learned to think of safe space as dangerous space where there will be conflict, then build structures to deal with it – institutionalized self-critique.

  1. A colleague talked about being in a church as a black queer person and finding that the community organizing around violence against women is done in white dominated spaced. The internalized theology in the Catholic Church about how we are to be is unhelpful. There is no conversation on Post colonialism and few people with whom to talk.

Andy’s advice was “If it doesn’t exist, create it.” That is how she and a few friends have worked—starting organizations with two or three friends, putting ads on matchbooks in bowling alleys to spread the word. “If we see the issue, we can do the organizing,” she said.

  1. One question was posed about getting beyond the silo approach. When women of color create what they need it can become insular. Andy replied that “women of color” is not primarily an identity but a political category. She recommends Loretta Ross’ YouTube “History of Women of Color” ( She suggested addressing colonialism by working in coalition to see how white supremacy functions.

Some examples are:

–SISTER SONG—Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (

–Audre Lorde Project- queers of color (

–Mamas of Color Rising in Austin, TX (


The questioner added AFFIRM—a transnational womanist, feminist organization (

  1. A woman asked working with girls/teens/younger kids/schools made up of people of color.

Andy referenced INCITE since it is primarily from and for young people;

She added youth led organizations:

–Info Shop (

–Native Youth Sexual in Toronto (

  1. Another caller asked about trust issues in working on violence.

Andy said that we don’t need to trust people to work with them; trust is not necessary to organizing. Rather, building structure of accountability is key. She urged us to presume mistrust, given the dangers in the work and then think about what structures we need to create to get the work done.

  1. Immigration was the final topic.

Andy spoke of how border enforcement militarizes land so that “bad immigrants” are locked up in the Prison Industrial Complex. Faith based communities need to address mass incarceration. We must ask who created borders. Why is it that 10 miles from the border there are lands that have been in native possession for generations? Solidarity across borders means that immigrant issues are indigenous issues.

WATER thanks Andrea Smith for her input and insight.