“Solidarity doesn’t demand agreement on political ideology. We can agree on some things and vehemently disagree with others. We have a duty to make our disagreements known while coalescing around the things we can agree on.” Mariame Kaba
On a Wednesday, back in March, after a long workday and attending a candidate’s lecture for a faculty position at my alma mater, I braved winds, dampness and fatigue to attend a reading/book-signing. I went to the reading because I wanted to support the South Side Coalition on Urban Girls (SSCUG), and I wanted to hear Monique Morris talk about her new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. I was late because I accidentally saved the wrong start time in my phone.
I get there and I sit, sorta, in the cut, because the energy of the cypher had already been established—I didn’t want to interrupt it. I listened to the sista share about her book, and I was attentive and nodded my head in agreement as she read a bit from it.
During Q & A, a teen asked what should she do when her friend, who is in a “situation” with an older man, comes to her to sound off. The teen said something like, “I’m JUST a person she tells stuff to.” The belittling and defeatist way she said “just” resonated with me, because she was not just, anything. I imagine to her peer, she was a safe space.
One response to the young sista was for her to stay after the Q & A to receive resources and emergency numbers that she could share with the friend. She’d receive a more personalized response afterwards. Uhm yeah, my “spidey senses” went off.
I didn’t want to say ish, nada, nuffin…no-thing! I didn’t even want to have an opinion. I just wanted to be in the space with like-minded folk who works with gyrls. But, the questions start coming—internal dialogue: What if the young sista didn’t stay to get the info? What if someone else in the room also needed a response? Damnit, I was on “in the cut” duty, no intention of saying ish.
Here’s the thing, though. I cannot unknow, what I know. From working with young people I know that young people go to one another before they come to us [adults]. I know it’s unlikely that the numbers will be used, not that they shouldn’t be provided. I also know that despite being taboo and shunned, harm reduction, safety planning and girl-led responsiveness are key.
Harm reduction is a practice of respectful, free of judgment engagement with people to find ways to be healthier,safer, & more in control of their lives without having to make sudden & immediate changes. – YWEP
My approach was to:
- Pour into the young sista who was asking the question;
- Encourage her to remain nonjudgmental, because these “situations” are never black/white, there’s always a lot of gray.
- Address harm reduction, and suggest that the resources offered to her include harm reduction;
- Suggest that the young sista asking the question, “safety plan” with her friend.
I was hesitant to respond because I know adults aren’t always able to receive harm reduction (H.R.) suggestions, because it doesn’t always align with our adult desire to “save” our gyrls. We also often have a desire to teach Black gyrls how to “be safe,” as opposed to teaching boys, not to harm.
Save?!?!?!?!?!?! Truth is, our young people can save themselves—they’re on the journey of uncovering themselves—it is our gig as adults to support them on this uncovering. And I get it. I get that we want to protect our youth yadda yadda yadda. But like I said, I cannot unknow what I know with how Black gyrls move through spaces and navigate these challenging situations.
What we know is that young people want to be seen, heard and to know they matter. We know that youth run away all the time. We know that there’s a large number young people actively in the sex trade, being trafficked etc. I am not condoning it, I’m acknowledging it while suggesting harm reduction. But like the quote that I began with says, “We can agree on some things and vehemently disagree with others. We have a duty to make our disagreements known while coalescing around the things we can agree on.”
The sex trade & streets economies exist & thrive because of the lack of resources, choices, support, education & respect. – YWEP
Nonetheless, I had no desire to refute or fight with well-meaning adults. Heck, I am also a well-meaning adult who, like the other adults in the room, is an ally to gyrls. I also thought about which programs and orgs are receiving funding for gyrls and womyn-centered work, is it primarily orgs who align with respectability politics, or who?