Carving out spaces at Take Back the Night McMaster Womanists talk about their new presence at Take Back the Night and the importance of intersectionality

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By: Emile Shen

On Sept. 28, the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton Area) held Hamilton’s 36th annual Take Back The Night. It was also the first time that the McMaster Womanists tabled at the event, a group that seeks to give survivors a chance to not only reclaim their right to safety, but also collectively heal in a march around downtown Hamilton.

The McMaster Womanists was established in 2014 by Kayonne Christy and Kermeisha Williams to specifically address the issues affecting black women both on and off the university campus. The group’s advocacy is rooted in intersectional principles and black womanism, which prioritizes the experiences of black women to inform advocacy methods.

Gachi Issa, the co-president of McMaster Womanists, spoke on behalf of the group’s activism especially in relation to Take Back The Night.

“Take Back the Night is a great space for mobilization and it’s a great space in which people can gather and talk about gender oppression,” said Issa.

“But we’re also going to carve space for people to talk about racism, to talk about transphobia because a lot of these movements are centered around whiteness, but also a very specific view on femininity and women,” she added.

She noted that feminist spaces have traditionally been predominantly white in their demographic, and trans-exclusionary in their views.

“Even the narrative of Take Back the Night, like, ‘women are subject to serious sexual assault’. People of colour and black women are disproportionately affected by sexual assault — it is a fact,” said Issa.

The status quo of this movement causes the many material issues of other marginalized groups to be ignored. For instance, being a woman who is a visible minority is an additional risk factor for gender-based violence.

“It’s identifying that there are intersections and you can’t just be one thing. You are many things. You can be black and a woman. You could also be a Muslim and facing many different oppressions,” she said.

As such, the official tabling at Take Back The Night by the McMaster Womanists this year practices what the group preaches: both grassroots activism and providing a safe or more comfortable and inclusive space for black women, non-binary folks and other women of colour.

“Every year I go, it’s been adding elements,” said Issa.

Still, it is activists that are demanding that movements expand to include the narratives of people of colour, specifically black women and non-binary individuals.

Outside of special events like Take Back The Night and the Women’s March that immediately followed Donald Trump’s inauguration in February, Issa stresses that a willingness to learn, to come out and talk at events, and to use the resources available online are invaluable.

“Some people don’t understand racism because they’re not affected by it, which is okay but the fact that we are being affected by racism and oppression, but then also have to explain that is a lot. So again, Google is free,” she said.

As Take Back the Night continues to grow every year, groups like McMaster Womanists hope to see more consideration for other marginalized groups.

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