Clicky

Feminists We Love: Crista Noel, Africana Womanist - The Feminist Wire

Feminists We Love: Crista Noel, Africana Womanist

Crista Noel

Crista Noel

I first met Sister Crista Noel in August 2014 when we were in Geneva, Switzerland during the United Nations’ CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) U.S. Review. I was a member of Black Women’s Blueprint‘s (BWB) six member delegation and Sister Crista was representing Women’s All Points Bulletin (WAPB), an organization that she co-founded to address the rampant occurrence of state sanctioned violence against African/Black women.

We were all there to speak to the U.N. CERD Committee and the Senior United States Government Delegation about the horrific impact of State Sanctioned Violence and Intimate/Personal Violence perpetuated against Black/African women in the United States. It is important to note that we, along with many other U.S. Human Rights Network Members and Allies were in Geneva from August 9/10, 2014 through August 15, 2014 testifying at the United Nations against various unspeakable forms of multi-layered racial discrimination in the United States.  I’m still struck by the irony that our work occurred during the beginning of the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the vicious and brutal murder of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

Sisters Crista and Farah Tanis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BWB, both served on the U.S. Human Rights Network’s working group on State Inflicted and Other Violence. It was through their work together with other members of the committee of which I was one, that I had the opportunity to engage with and learn about Sister Crista and her work. She is a proud citizen of Chicago, Illinois, “the greatest American city founded by an African businessman.” Her family migrated from Tennessee during the first wave into Chicago and she can trace her American family roots back over 200 years. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Education and Social Policy, and worked as a manager for Fortune 10 and 500 companies until she was attacked by a police officer in Westchester, Illinois on January 1, 2009. This attack occurred approximately 12 hours after Oscar Grant was mortally wounded by an officer in a BART train station in Oakland, California. After being maliciously prosecuted by the officer, and still traumatized by the attack, she studied the criminal justice system and researched police violence against women. Together with Beverly Wilson Ellison, Sr., she founded Women’s All Points Bulletin (WAPB), a non-profit organization created by women, for women who have been victimized by violence during policing encounters. Ms. Noel is a member and Certified Practitioner of Oversight by the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE), a member of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR), and the United States Human Rights Network (USHRN). She is a graduate of the Illinois Attorney General’s Victims Assistance Academy (IVAA), and an alumnus of the Evanston Police Civilian Police Academy. She is certified by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), and a recipient of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women and Project NIA’s 2014 Women Heroines Award. She is also a 2014 Urban Justice Center, Human Rights Institute Fellow. Her goal is to eradicate violence against women specifically in relation to assaults by law enforcement personnel, and to usher in a new millennium constitutional policing model based on Human Rights and community involved policing.

We had the opportunity to connect over Labor Day weekend to communicate about her unwavering commitment to end state sanctioned violence against African/Black women through her work with WAPB.

Aishah: We’ve had the opportunity to engage in person and through the cyber waves about identifying ourselves as Black feminist and Africana womanist respectively. We are both very intentional with our self-definitions. I use and capitalize the word Black and use it interchangeably with African-American to describe some of the descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought over against their will in chains to this hemisphere. In this context Black is not a color, it is a political racial identity. I identify as a Black feminist because I see myself and my work as part of a continuum of radical Black/African-American women who have been fighting for racial, gender, and sexuality justice in the United States and internationally for centuries. Will you please share how you came to your identities and how it has shaped your activism?

Crista: I actually try not to identify by color. My preferred designation label, would be intelligent woman.  I think the issue is I hate labels, and therefore I don’t identify as anything but an intelligent woman.  Has my multi-ethnicity affected my decision not to identify beyond the basic reality? Yes.  I have grown up with an identity connected to all ethnicities, and a realization that American cultural experiences are shared and were shaped by African culture. Therefore there is no American culture without Black culture and yet, there is absolutely a distinct “Black experience in Amerikkka.” But we both know that not all of America is Amerikkka.  If you ask me to be more specific, I would say I am an intelligent African woman from America.

After much research on the Ancient people, which started as a result of us researching an Egyptian symbol to define WAPB, I stumbled upon the extraordinary histories of the Egyptians, Nubians, and Ethiopians.  I would think anyone would fall in love with Africa after that journey.

Lastly, Nah Dove’s African Womanism: An Afrocentric Theory (1998), credits Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems and other scholars in shaping the Africana womanist model. Dove asserts:

A concept [Africana Womanism] that has been shaped by the work of women such as Clenora Hudson-Weems, Ifi Amadiume, Mary E. Modupe Kolawole, and others. African womanism may be viewed as fundamental to the continuing development of Afrocentric theory. Africana womanism brings to the forefront the role of African mothers as leaders in the struggle to regain, reconstruct, and create a cultural integrity that espouses the ancient Maatic principles of reciprocity, balance, harmony, justice, truth, righteousness, order, and so forth.

WAPB Logo

WAPB Logo

This resonates with the framework  from which I work. The WAPB’s symbol is Ma’at. It is the Egyptian Goddess conceptualization of Ma’atic principles.

Aishah: Thank you, Sister Crista. The Feminist Wire’s column is titled “Feminists We Love” and it’s important that our readers know that we honor feminists and womanists. As Pulitzer Prize winning author and activist Alice Walker who is credited with coining the term Womanist wrote, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is lavender.” We come to our respect work with different lenses and yet, I’m explicitly clear as are you that we are sisters in the struggle for peace, dignity, and justice.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, will you please share your herstory with police violence and how it led to your co-founding Women’s All Points Bulletin (WAPB)?

Crista: I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because of the total destruction of my life after an attack by the police. Based upon this, I will say that it was a life changing moment and I am slowly recovering. WAPB grew out of a painful place. We were all attacked by the police and maliciously prosecuted. We shared the torturous experience of the criminal justice system with each other. We also shared the survivorship of an attack on us as educated women who believed we had followed the American dream and as a result would never experience violence at the hands of the State. Surprise and betrayal was the meal of the day, and we continue to eat off that plate.  Fortunately, I was not only educated, I was an educator and a protector.  When I experienced the injustices laid upon women, young and old, in our criminal courts, I was compelled to act and protect them. Therefore I divorced myself from my reality, to focus on the reality of assisting my sisters through their painful experiences with police violence. Together with Beverly Wilson Ellison, Sr., we launched the WAPB, five years ago, to provide a safe haven and understanding ear, as well as experienced and trained, court watchers, advocates, and policy creators.

Aishah: Given the current climate in America, you and your work along with the work of other sisters who focus on state sanctioned violence against African/Black women, have been heavily on my mind. Almost immediately upon my return home from Geneva, I devoured every word of WAPB’s United Nations CERD report titled American Police Crimes Against African Women and Women of Color. The deep pain that I experienced while reading WAPB’s well researched and riveting report was magnified during the heightened awareness about state sanctioned violence against African/Black people in America. Unfortunately, however, African/Black women’s voices about and experiences with state sanctioned violence are too often largely missing from the current national discussions about the state sanctioned war against African/Black people and our communities. I wish The Feminist Wire could post the twenty-four-page report in this interview but we can’t. Will you please share the key point that you and your co author, Dr. Olivia Perlow, want readers to know?

Crista: Police violence against women is real and a crime against humanity especially in regards to rape, harassment, and assault. It is rampant and needs to be addressed continuously until it is eradicated.

Aishah: Is your report available to the public?

Crista: Yes, it’s loaded onto USHRN’s (U.S. Human Rights Network’s) website.

http://www.ushrnetwork.org/sites/ushrnetwork.org/files/wapb_report-_rev._7.14.14-2.pdf

Aishah: This is great news. I’m so glad it’s readily available to the public. I hope people will read WAPB’s report post haste along with Dr. Beth E. Richie’s Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America’s Prison Nation.  How do you think WAPB’s report was received by the United Nations CERD Committee? Do you think your report is reflected in their recently released Concluding Observations?

Crista: Absolutely! Our report was reflected in CERD’s Concluding Observations. We quoted present day criminal and civil cases. Only one of those cases was closed for criminal behavior because of the officers involved. However, it was quoted for incorrect court decisions on the resisting arrest law.  The CERD Committee asked the U.S. for follow up to these cases including prosecutions and victims restitution.  Their observations touched more on investigations and prosecution, than reporting, but these things refer to data collection and they take time.

Aishah: Let’s talk about the painful reality of police rape. I don’t think most people have a full understanding of how pervasive it is. What can we do to address and eradicate it?

Crista: Police rape is one of the only criminal acts permitted by law enforcement personnel that is “completely and absolutely with immunity, unquestionably unjustifiable.  After excessive force, “sexual misconduct” ranks as the second most prevalent crime committed by police. The people who are charged with serving and protecting us are raping and sexually assaulting us.  This is a true crime against humanity perpetuated by the police and frequently sanctioned by the criminal justice system period. It has to stop.  We need a national campaign to stop police rape. A U.S. Commission focused on investigating police rape, would make this atrocity real, visible and addressable, therefore capable of elimination. We are just in our infancy stage of launching this campaign. It is a process and we are in it for the long haul. Ask yourselves what are you doing now? Are you speaking up, out and educating for action on this or other atrocities committed by the state against African/Black women, men, and children?

Aishah: Your work is most definitely a part of a powerful continuum of African/Black women and men.  From whom have you drawn inspiration and why?

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Crista: Without question, Ida Wells-Barnett is at the top of the list.  She was from Chicago and she spoke out nationally and internationally on lynching. She played a pivotal role in bringing the bestiality of the lynching of men, women, and children to light on the global stage. WAPB researched Ida Wells-Barnett and many other African/Black women founders of the civil / human rights movements against the racist and sexist war perpetuated against African people in America. We are committed to ensuring that women’s voices and stories are heard.

Aishah: I love Ida Wells-Barnett. She is also one of my heroes along with Harriet Tubman. I believe Paula J. Giddings’ biography on Ms. Wells-Barnett is a “must-read” book. WAPB is most definitely continuing the work of Ms. Wells-Barnett and other warrior African/Black women who precede WAPB. I and so many others are grateful for and deeply appreciative of your courage and commitment.

Aishah: Finally, how can people best support the work of WAPB?

Crista: Like us on Facebook and keep us, and our sister victims and survivors in your prayers.

 

_____________________________________________________________

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian cultural worker and activist. An incest and rape survivor, she is the creator of the internationally acclaimed, award-winning feature length film NO! The Rape Documentary and an Associate Editor of The Feminist Wire. A member of Black Women’s Blueprint’s (BWB) Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Black Women and Sexual Assault, Aishah was a co-author, with BWB Co-Founder and Executive Director Farah Tanis and BWB Communications and Development Manager L. Michelle Odom of BWB’s Human Rights Report to the CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) on “State Sanctioned and Personal Violence against Black/African-American women and LGBTQ people in the United States.” She was also a member of BWB’s 2014 delegation that presented at the United Nations CERD U.S. Review in Geneva, Switzerland.  Aishah is an adjunct professor in Women’s and LGBT Studies Program at Temple University and she was an O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor at Scripps College during their 2014 Spring Semester. She screens her work and lectures extensively across North America and internationally. You can follow her on twitter at @AfroLez. For more more information, please visit: http://NOtheRapeDocumentary.org