Understanding the abuse and discrimination Black women, girls and gender diverse people face offers insight on how we can better support their healing journeys.
I’m Andrea Gunraj at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Misogynoir is a term coined by Dr. Moya Bailey to describe the distinctive form of anti-Black sexism faced by Black women. How does this play out in Canada? As limited as race-based data collection in this country is, the evidence is still stunning. Black women are more likely than other groups to live in poverty. They’re more likely to be paid less than white women. Though they’re highly educated, they face disproportionate barriers to entrepreneurial financing and support. They’re racially profiled and over incarcerated. They’re overrepresented when it comes to chronic illness and infections like COVID-19. On an individual level, the experience of misogynoir is painful, traumatic and damaging to mental and physical health. On a collective level, misogynoir devastates the cohesion and wellness of families and communities.
Now add misogynoir to the peril of gender-based violence faced by too many girls, women and Two Spirit trans and non-binary people. You’ll get studies that show that Black women are less likely to be taken seriously when they report violence. You’ll find fewer responsive and relevant services for Black survivors of gendered abuse. Starting this Black History and African Liberation Month and going all year round, how can we be change-makers in light of these long-standing problems? Monica Samuel joins us to talk about it.
Monica is founder and executive director of Black Women in Motion, a Toronto-based, survivor-led, grassroots organization that empowers and supports the advancement of Black survivors of gender-based violence. Monica’s an equity and anti-violence educator, consultant, community builder and social entrepreneur. Her work in the nonprofit sector confronts the roots and impacts of anti-Black racism and gender-based violence. She’s celebrated as one of the Top 100 Black women to watch. A note about content, this episode includes discussion of gender-based violence.
Hi everyone. My name is Monica Samuel, I use she and her pronouns. I just would love to quickly socially locate myself so folks know the intersections that I am coming from. I’m a Black, cis-het, disabled bodied Black woman, fairly introverted, sarcastic, socially awkward Black girl. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and my parents also have very unique experiences of violence. They actually came to Canada from the small Caribbean island of Grenada, so a lot of amazing history and culture that you know, helps to keep me grounded in the work that I do. I’m the first in my family to have graduated high school and actually participate in post-secondary. A lot of my experiences around poverty, I think, has helped me to connect to the work in a very particular way and understand the importance of applying intersectionality to the ways that we plan and develop and deliver services and programming to survivors.
Over the last four years, I’ve really been working more so on grant making and philanthropy and helping other grass-root organizations and emerging groups secure funding, build their governance and accountability structures to scale their work. But I’ve been doing community economic development/ youth development work since, like 2011. Been in the game for a while, and you know, so many things have changed in terms of how we support Black-led and Black- focused organizations. But there are some strides that need to be made when we talk about gender-based violence and gender justice as it relates back to Black victims and survivors of trauma. I’m obviously passionate about community, but I think some things that I hold sacred to myself that help inform the work and ensure that I don’t lose myself is always coming back to this quote that I had heard around, like “Don’t ever run yourself ragged in the name of social justice”.
I am a bleeding heart. I am an empath. I am someone that feels very deeply. I’m obviously connected to the work in very particular ways. You know, it’s easy to go out there and advocate and activate and agitate. That is the nature of the work that we do. But what I find, especially as Black women, as Black gender- diverse people leading the work, it is so easy for us to forget ourselves.
When we think about community, we forget that we are a part of community. So, when we are doing things in in service to community, working alongside community, community care also extends to us as well. Ensuring that we don’t forget ourselves in doing the work and that we are also included are critically important. And joy, especially over the course of the pandemic-What did I care about? What did I love? Like who was I before I had to be this version of Monica. The Monica that is confronting systems of inequity, systems of violence as it relates back to the experiences of Black folks here in so-called Canada. And I’m like, oh, my God, I really loved music. I really loved creative directing. I really loved interior design. I really loved connecting to land and I feel like because my work is so heavy and requires so much of me that sometimes I fail to do those things that help to fill my cup.
In the words of coach Cary, like, you are giving from your overflow. So oftentimes you have a cup of water or you have a glass and we start pulling from the glass in service of community and then when it comes to now being able to provide and nurture for yourself, the glass is half empty or completely empty. So, there’s nothing to pull from. But in reality is, you have to fill the cup first and then what you are giving is the overflow from the cup.
Tell us how gendered violence plays out in unique ways for Black women, girls and gender diverse people. What are the key factors to consider in healing?
Loaded question. The world praises Black women, Black girls and Black gender diverse people for how much shit they can put up with, how much abuse, how much violence can you endure? And then they turn around and call us resilient and strong and so much of us, like myself included in this, we have worn strong as a badge of honour. When in reality we are suffering and being harmed, interpersonally and institutionally. And it’s incredibly dehumanizing, and we didn’t choose this. We didn’t choose to exist in systems that erase our experiences. We didn’t choose to experience the violence and harm that we do, as a result of colonialism and white supremacy.
Even the lateral violence that we experience in community, in particular with Black men. Because we have been hyper sexualized and viewed as property for consumption, I find that our pain and our experiences of harm are never taken seriously as a result. We’re not able to even see Black people, but Black women, girls and gender diverse people as victims or survivors. So, when the media erases our experiences, the workplace, educational system, criminal justice system erase our experiences, and then social services and healthcare systems that we go to for support, fail to support our unique needs, all of this sets up a framework that excludes Black survivors and our experiences and leaves us in a position to have to fend for ourselves. So, I think we really need to talk about the self-reflection that needs to happen for all of us to figure out how we are all contributing, consciously, subconsciously, to normalizing and trivializing Black pain and suffering, first and foremost. But especially when it comes to Black women, Black children and Black 2SLGBTQ+ people. Black and Indigenous survivors of violence are the least talked about, which means that there is a huge gap in the resources and supports and services that exist for that particular niche population.
To the second part of the question around healing like, healing has to be survivor centered. So, if you are a service provider, if you are doing advocacy work, you know or mobilizing on the ground, survivors know their experiences and needs the best, and we should be taking the lead and the point from them when it comes to resources, supports and service provision.
Some of the other things I’ll mention kind of speak directly to survivors. Healing looks very different for everyone, there isn’t a one size fits all. For some it is access to one-on-one therapy, for others it’s peer-to-peer survivor led group support. Healing isn’t linear. For me as a survivor of child sexual abuse who lives with high functioning anxiety and major depression, it’s not always love, light and warmth. Sometimes it’s pain, grief and suffering. Some days are really, really good. Some days feel fresh and raw. I want to remind folks that you can hurt and heal at the same time and that the trauma isn’t your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.
Make choosing yourself an everyday ritual, right? So, setting those boundaries, walking away from people, places, things that don’t serve you anymore or that aren’t supporting your healing journey. Honouring and surrendering to your feelings as they come up. But choosing yourself, I think is deeply connected to how you heal, and it’s hard to do that. It is hard to show up for yourself after having experienced something so traumatic. It’s messy and it’s hard and it’s scary, but you will absolutely thank yourself later.
And I think most importantly, is remembering that you are a whole human being. The trauma you’ve experienced is but a chapter in your story. You are more than the trauma and pain that you have experienced. You have a right, a divine right to feel warmth and care and joy and happiness. Doing the things that bring you that joy and peace is really, really important in your healing journey as a victim of survivor of violence as well.
Let’s pause here. Monica reminded me of studies on how Black women’s pain is often dismissed in medical settings.
It’s historical, tied to stereotypes justifying enslavement and abuse, and it’s dangerous. It leads to misdiagnosis and maltreatment today. Just this week, Statistics Canada reported that Black women faced increased risk of death from HIV, AIDS, cancers, diabetes and endocrine disorders compared to white women. When we refuse to acknowledge people’s pain, we refuse to acknowledge their humanity. We refuse to extend our empathy to them. Sure, we may think we’re being positive, acknowledging their great strength, but the understated flip side is that we’re saying what would devastate me devastates you less. You can be more abused than I can be. You can stand more pain. It turns into a naturalizing loop where Black pain is rendered normal, acceptable, and a part of life. It drains motivation to end it.
Thinking about how this distorted logic plays into the way we treat Black survivors of partner violence, sexual abuse, and other gendered violence gives me chills. This logic has to be exposed, debunked and dismantled.
What can we all do to support survivors of violence in our lives who face that virulent mix of gender-based violence and misogynoir?
Engaging in that self-reflection and self-interrogation is so important. While we are doing work to address justice and the liberation of folks who have historically been oppressed and marginalized, it starts with the self. What are your own internalized biases, your own internalized anti-Blackness, anti-Indigenous racism? Doing the work and educating and reeducating yourself around colonialism, white supremacy, the history of anti-Blackness or anti-Indigenous racism and genocide here in so-called Canada, but across Turtle Island, of course.
Listening and believing. It sounds so simple because it is simple and it’s one thing that I find that victims and survivors of violence are usually not afforded to, right, because the world fails to see us as being a potential victim or survivor of harm. So, believing the stories and the truth of Black victims and survivors of violence is key. Affirming their experiences. Listening empathetically, not trying to respond. Not trying to, I find people quickly jump into like Ok, like solution-oriented mode like, I need to rescue you. Park the savior complex and just take some space to listen and to hear and to embody and understand this traumatic experience that someone has had, that a large community of people have had.
I think it’s important to have and intentionally work towards everyday acts of solidarity. So, on a personal level this can look like, you know, I’m gonna offer some type of community care to a victim or survivor within my network. So, it might look like providing childcare relief. It might look like buying groceries, braiding someone’s hair, cleaning the house. Again, you are taking the point from the actual victim of survivor in terms of what ways that they are looking for support right now.
It could also look like calling people out, which is an invitation to call yourself in and again, engage in that self-reflection and self-interrogation work. Someone’s making jokes or laughing about a domestic abuse survivor’s experience. All of the rape culture, like jokes, all of those things. Educating someone on consent culture. On what consent looks like. Taking on that labour because oftentimes you know folks experience harm and it’s our responsibility to heal ourselves, take care of ourselves, educate everybody. So, that is again how you do some emotional and intellectual uptake on the behalf of victims and survivors of harm.
It’s advocacy, so on a systems level, advocating for policy changes at work that name and address anti-Black racism and sexism. Advocating for research on gendered violence, advocating for funding allocations to organizations doing work in the gender justice space, ensuring that post-secondary campuses have culturally relevant healing supports. And non-carceral justice pathways that are rooted in transformative justice for perpetrators of harm. Ensuring that the government makes funding, you know, organizations doing this work a priority when it’s budget times.
Think about the ways that your power, privilege and positionality allow you to have access to certain people or have access to certain spaces and then using that to further the cause and ensuring that all survivors have the opportunity to be supported, because that’s unfortunately not the climate that we exist in right now.
The resource redistribution is critical. Black-led, Black-focused and Black-serving organizations have historically been underfunded. We do the most with less. It’s not our choice to operate in that way, and that also is not sustainable for us, but we do what we can with what we have. Ensuring that Black communities have what they need to be able to respond to folks who are in crisis or folks who are on, you know, their healing journeys. And this can also look like not just funding, but in-kind support. So, services, donating your time, offering space, offering supplies, and then of course most importantly promoting and amplifying the work. I know there’s a lot of people that don’t know Black Women in Motion is around. Being able to be on this platform is a way that we can further spread the work that the organization is doing and trying to do.
Any essential reading you’d recommend for us today?
Anything that has been written by bell hooks, Audre Lorde. When I was speaking to earlier around the peace around joy, and pleasure being critical pieces for healing journeys, for victims and survivors of violence, I think about Pleasure Activism from Adrienne Maree Brown. And whether you are a victim or survivor, even if you are trying to be an ally or co-conspirator and show up, it’s important that we recognize that doing any type of liberatory work requires pleasure and joy to actually be at the epicenter of the movement as well.
As I said before about my own experience, we spend so much time fighting and agitating, which are very, very, very important pieces of work. But in doing that, we forget about the piece around our joy is so critically important and helps to sustain us in doing the work. We have a lot of people doing stuff in the social justice space that are getting burnt-out, that unfortunately transitioning on and it’s because we’re tired and we, ourselves, are fighting these systems.
When I think about transformative justice, supports for survivors and perpetrators of harm, I think about We Will Not Cancel Us, Dreams of Transformative Justice. I think about Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Black Disability Politics. There’s another book Beyond Survival, which is about transformative justice movement as well.
Anything by Sonya Renee Taylor, absolutely love her. The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love has been instrumental in my own healing journey but helped to inform the way that I do my work from like a leadership position.
Lots and lots of great pieces of work that talk about colonialism, white supremacy, but again, the peace around our healing and our joy being centered to our liberation as well, I think are really important.
Alright, now what? In addition to Monica’s wonderful reading suggestions, check out The Philanthropist Journal at thephilanthropist.ca. President and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Paulette Senior, wrote about challenging misogynoir. She also shared three essential insights for Black History Month find them on canadianwomen.org.
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