RIP: Black Feminist Scholar-Activist Aaronette White

"When Aaronette heard that I was making a film about intra-racial rape, other forms of sexual violence, and healing in the Black community, she immediately came up to me at the conference to ask how could she be involved with this project. Shortly after my return home, she sent me a package, which included a donation towards the making of NO!, her curriculum vitae, extensive resources directly related to her ground breaking research and scholarship on anti-rape activism in the Black community. The package also included a letter offering to be involved, for free, in any way possible. This past June, we laughed hysterically during one of our many Sister-friend marathon phone conversations remembering her first mailing to me. Little did she know at the time of sending me her very extensive package in 1996, I was desperate for any and all assistance and expertise in support of the making of NO!.  Aaronette literally thought she had to convince me that she would be a wonderful resource for the project.  Shortly after receipt of her first of many packages over the years, she became one of the five Black feminist scholar-activist advisors[1] to NO!. Equally as important, Aaronette, was a featured interviewee who shared both her testimony as a survivor of rape; and her scholar-activism on sexual violence on camera. Without expecting anything in return, Aaronette worked tirelessly in support of NO! always looking for ways for me to secure funds to help me cross the finish line; and to spread the word about the making of the documentary. She most generously gave her time both as a scholar-activist and also as one of the consistent trusted shoulders upon which I leaned for ten out of the twelve years it took for me to makeNO!.

"Aaronette’s activism, scholarship, and writings were frequently ahead of the curve. She constantly championed unsung warrior feminist women who were predominantly of African descent. However, she celebrated the resiliency and (sometimes armed) resistance of all women she defined as freedom fighters."

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, “Remembering And Celebrating The Life And Legacy Of Aaronette M. White,” Feminist Wire 8/18/12

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On some days, like for most scholars, the professor-grind was clearly weighing on her and weighing her down. But at her best (which is how I prefer to remember her) she was an energetic, unyielding feminist scholar unlike any other I have met. She encouraged her students to “not wait to start speaking up and speaking out,” warning us that as women (and women of color) the academy is all too prepared to silence us as graduate students, then again while waiting for tenure, and again while waiting for the next promotion or for the move into administration, etc. She also acknowledged that fierce dedication to speaking one’s truth has consequences: that liberation comes with a price. I will never forget how she defined herself on her own terms. She shared once in class, that when one of her doctoral committee members asked her whether she intended to be an activist or a scholar, she boldly stated, “I didn’t know the two were mutually exclusive.” True to form, she remained dedicated achieving feminist praxis through her anti-rape, activist work on sexual violence against women and through her research and scholarship.

From what I can ascertain, Dr. Aaronette White shares one of her most significant and abiding truths with us in the in the conclusion of Ain’t I Feminist?, stating that “…a feminist is not just someone you are automatically; it is a type of person one must continuously become.”

Stephanie Troutman, “Where She Entered: Remembering Dr. Aaronette White And Doing The Work Of Feminism,” New Black Man (In Exile) 8/17/12

My Personal Reflection on the Day of Traveling with Black Women's Blueprint to Geneva, Switzerland

My Personal Reflection on the Day of Traveling with Black Women’s Blueprint to Geneva, Switzerland

I left the country for the first time in 1989 on a study abroad program during my sophomore year in college. That journey and my preceding herstory as an incest survivor marked the trajectory of my life. In 1989, I was raped one night and had consensual sex with another man the following night. I returned home pregnant unsure of who the father was and six weeks later had a safe and legal abortion a few days after my twentieth birthday. Three months later, recognizing that I was functionally depressed, Michael Simmons (Dad) took me to Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain to attend an international nuclear disarmament conference. After the conference, I backpacked throughout Spain alone for five weeks. During my journey I met with members of the Basque Separatist Movement, the Women’s League of the Communist Party of Barcelona and Madrid. It was in Granada, Spain at the Alhambra that I wrote in my journal that rather than go in debt over a degree, I would go in debt over a film… Little did I know 

Five years later in 1994, I was the youngest member of the American Friends Service Committee’s delegation to observe the first elections post the end of “legal” apartheid. There was a cosmic symmetry about my journey because it was almost exactly 30-years after Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons (Mom) went to Laurel, Mississippi in 1964 (through 1966) to fight against/defy U.S. Sanctioned Apartheid by working with Local Mississippians and her SNCC comrades to register disenfranchised African-Americans to vote. I traveled through and stayed in South Africa for five weeks. It was there that I received a poster from Black South African Feminist Activists that said “The most violent social settings in South Africa was in the home, the crime battering.” Prior to that moment, I never ever thought about violence perpetuated against women in Black and Coloured South African Communities. We never ever talked about gender violence against Black and Coloured women, in the anti-apartheid activist work that I participated in as both a high school and college student. The only violence we talked about was state sanctioned racialized violence. From my own molestation and rape to Desiree Washington, there were many seeds that were planted but it was in South Africa where the seed that eventually (12-years later) became my film NO! The Rape Documentary was fertilized. Never ever again, would I only think about violence in a racilaized in the absence of gender and sexuality lens. NEVER! 

Since 1994, I’ve been most fortunate to travel extensively in numerous countries throughout Europe, and journey to Kenya, Malaysia, and India. Almost all of those journeys were directly related to my work to address violence perpetuated against women and LGBTQ people.

Twenty-five years after my very first international journey that forever changed my life, things appear to come full circle. I’m humbled and grateful that I was invited to embark on a journey to Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of Black Women’s Blueprint with my sisters/comrades Farah Tanis, Christina Jaus, Ibo Zié La Lune, Nikki Patin Frances Nielah Bradley to testify at the United Nations about the too often unaddressed state sanctioned and intimate violence perpetuated against women and LGBTQ people in Black communities in the United States. This is very personal work and it’s very political work. 

Our individual and collective work (along with the work of so many known and unknown sisters) is often underfunded and under paid, if paid at all. And yet, it is an absolute privilege. I believe those of us who are able have a responsibility and an obligation to do this work, which is part of a continuum of various forms of resistance practiced from Enslavement of African people in the Americas and Caribbean through present day — Free Marissa Now!!!!!

I AM … WE ARE metaphorically standing in the blood and upon the shoulders of straight and queer people who willingly AND unwillingly gave their lives for racial, gender and/or Black queer liberation.

Quoting Co-Founder and Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint, Sister Farah Tanis, “It is by telling our own life stories and by writing new narratives toward justice that we practice liberation, heal ourselves and shift the current paradigm—lifting the foot of oppression off of our necks so we can be free.”

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I invoke my beloved Sister-Comrade-RADICAL-Pan African-Feminist-Anti Rape Activist-Scholar Dr. Aaronette M. White whose second ancestral anniversary is quickly approaching. She used her activism and scholarship to consistently and tirelessly address all forms of gender violence in various parts of the world – the U.S., Africa, Caribbean, Asia, and Europe. If Aaronette were here in the physical form, I know she would most definitely support our efforts (http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/764463/92351ffc87/ARCHIVE) if not also figure out a way to get on the plane and join us. She is with us in Spirit.

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