It is day 18 of #31forMARISSA, the national letter writing campaign co-organized by Esther Armah and Mariame Kaba and featuring letters written by men to Marissa Alexander, the black Florida woman currently serving a 20 year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. The campaign has taken the month of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to engage men on issues of violence, misogyny, abuse, criminal justice, and more, while showing support for the incarcerated Alexander. The letters have been collected at theSWAGspot Tumblr, Ebony.com, and Alternet. There are eighteen so far, coming from men of all different backgrounds. A few excerpts:
“Somebody once told me that, ‘Man, sometimes you have to hit a woman.’ My reply was, ‘Well, when is that time?’ It’s been two years and I haven’t received an answer yet. ~ Donald Stubbs
“Domestic violence is often viewed as an issue for women and thus, women tend to be the predominant voice on this plight. Domestic violence is not an issue solely for women however. These women whom we tend to make faceless when we disassociate ourselves are our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. These women are the nurturers of our society and provide the support system necessary for us all to flourish. We would not be here if not for these women.” ~ Alfred Obiesie
“Patriarchy, sexism, racism, and classism play a huge role in why your case is not front and center in the media. People around the country should be outraged about the length of your incarceration, or that you are even incarcerated at all! If you were not a woman of color, you would have garnered much more public attention and support. This is a function of our society’s continued marginalization and devaluation of black women, such as yourself.” ~ Byron Hurt
“I’m not sure that it matters but I believe you, Marissa. I believe you were scared when you fired what you called “a warning shot”. My believing you doesn’t at all mean that I think your partner tried to hurt you, choke you, or strike you. I don’t know him. I don’t know you either, but I believe that you were scared. And I believe that you should be. I believe that your partner, like me and like much of this nation, has leaned on you for survival while attempting to mangle your body, your trust, your imagination, your access to healthy choice and truth. I wonder if we have the will to change.” ~ Kiese Laymon
I wrote a letter of my own that you can read here. What drew me to this project, aside from a desire to be in solidarity with Alexander, was its explicit choice to engage men on the issue of domestic violence. As we’ve seen with other issues this week, there is a crippling unwillingness in our society to hold accountable the perpetrators of violent, oppressive, gender-based violence. So long as we continue dancing around the problems of patriarchy, violent masculinity, and power, while placing the responsibility of protecting one’s self from the manifestations of these systems of oppression on the victims, violence against women thrives. Men must constantly be challenged on these ideas. And while still took the prodding of women to get men to wrestle with masculinity (we need to work on that), it’s a step in the right direction that so many have been willing to do so.
And if you’d like to write a letter to Marissa, you can send it to theswagspot7(at)gmail(dot)com.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute. Free ‘em all.