That Guy: Kevin Powell on Domestic Violence Awareness

3 Oct
Kevin Powell Image: The Brooklyn Paper

Kevin Powell Image: The Brooklyn Paper

You know that anti-sexist guy who we happen to come across in some off-beat progressive feminist magazine, or read about in a Women’s Studies class, or see in an independently produced documentary, yet he still seems mythical in our distant consciousness like faint familiarity? Upon coming across *that guy* we (i.e. the self-proclaimed feminists, womanists, or simply “pro-woman folk”) celebrate and lament all at once, as if to say; “Ah, yes, I’m sure that guy really does exist . . . somewhere.”

In an era when women, regardless of opportunity and choice, still must operate within a male-dominated space, it’s replenishing to the soul almost to the point of orgasmic cleansing that one finally comes in contact with a man conscious of himself, his privileges, and his purpose in the fight for women and girl’s human rights.  I’m talking actually contact; like shaking hands contact, speaking to/with contact, matter-to-matter, human-touch to human-touch contact.  Yes, these men do tangibly exist.

In fact, my father, may he rest in peace, was one of *those* men.  He was someone I could sit down at the dinner table with and shoot-the-shit about how sucky it is to be a woman of color sometimes.  He was one of those men who understood why it was wrong to use sexist language and felt slighted, along with so many women, when then-Senator Hillary Clinton was confronted with sexism on the campaign trail in 2008. But my dad was simply a regular old retired white guy who never had a public platform to advocate for women the way other men do.

Fortunately though, there are men out there with a public platform actively speaking on behalf of human rights for women and girls, men like author/activist, Kevin Powell.

I had the pleasure to attend Mr. Powell’s presentation last night at the New York Open Center, as he talked about “Keys Toward Ending Violence Against Women: A New Perspective on Healing.”

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Powell used his public platform to speak openly and honestly about his past as a former abuser, and about 7 steps toward healing.  He also did something that, in my opinion, is key toward open and honest transformation; he listened.  After his talk, he opened up the floor for woman and men to ask questions and share their own personal stories of abuse and survival.

The entire time while I sat and listened, I thought to myself “wow, what if someone like Barack Obama, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly, or even Jay-Z said something like this”:

“Learn to listen to the voices of women and girls. Be quiet and listen.”

Or this:

“[Men] need to think about [male] privilege everyday.”

Or especially this:

“[Men need to] challenge other males about their emotional, physical, and spiritual violence against women and girls . . . It’s a very lonely world when you speak up – cause no one wants to give up their [male] privilege.”

Kevin Powell said these things, but unfortunately, his voice isn’t enough.  Even the most righteous of righteous men, particularly men of color, need to check their male privilege – and check it often. (This being evident at times when I’m on Twitter reading tweets from the “conscious brothas” as they converse candidly about racism, yet fail to acknowledge their own participation in sexist and homophobic behaviors and language).

Speaking of languaging, notable cultural critic (and friend of Kevin Powell) Michaela Angela Davis was sitting in front of me last night and brought up the issue of normalized sexist language, and how it permeates throughout popular culture.  Michaela rightfully called out commonly used, and outright violent, terminology, like “wife beater,” to describe everyday things, like clothing.

Michaela asserts:

“What’s disturbing is how many women [say], “I’m going to wear my wife beater . . . how do you reconcile that?”

“I feel like [women are abused and marginalized in] these subtle and insidious ways.  How do we start to dismantle the normalcy, particularly with younger people [since perhaps] they haven’t had the time to heal?”

“It’s weird.”

“We need to check each other, but in a loving way.”

Kevin responds:

“I think those of us who are in tune with young people and popular culture gotta be right there on the front lines challenging [this type of violent language].”

“[We have to approach young people] in a way that’s not condemning but at the same time [say]; ‘hey, this is not the way to go.'”

“There’s been a serious dumbing-down of society where it’s like everything goes now [and it comes in the form of] easy vocabulary; ‘wife beater,’ ‘the N-word,’ ‘the B-word,’ etc.,”

I empathized with Michaela’s passion and frustration.

At the closing of the event, an audience member asked Mr. Powell if he had the opportunity to talk with President Obama, what would he say to him with regards to domestic violence awareness and prevention.

Here’s what he said:

“I would say to President Obama [that] domestic violence prevention needs to be on the national agenda in terms of funding, in terms of resources, and in terms of awareness.”

“Domestic violence is completely out of control.”

“I think domestic violence [awareness] needs to be on the level of breast cancer awareness.”

To put it bluntly (and perhaps tritely), Kevin Powell is awesome.  He’s awesome, not simply because he’s a valued ally in the fight for women and girl’s human rights (because like he said last night, “men should not be patted on the back for this kind of work, [men] should be doing this work already”), or even because he said I was a genius – as indicated by him signing my copy of his latest book Open Letters to America.

Kevin Powell thinks I'm a genius, basically.

Kevin Powell thinks I'm a genius, basically.

Kevin Powell is awesome because he’s *that guy* whose activism allies with feminist/womanist thought and whose revolutionary influence can proactively seep into the consciousness of youth and wo/men alike that have yet to be healed, but are more than capable of being healed.

Please visit www.kevinpowell.net for more information, including ways you can learn about getting involved in the community.

8 Responses to “That Guy: Kevin Powell on Domestic Violence Awareness”

  1. Therapist_03 October 3, 2009 at 5:45 am #

    Tara,
    This is an awesome piece of history now and in the making. I see Mr. Powell being a major influence in the journey of healing for women and girls. he is OUR voice, but because of who he is and the fact that he is a man speaking out, I know that he will get the male population, particularly the minority male population reflecting on the language and “status symbols” of the male ego.

    You did an outstanding job, being in the right place at the right time, as always.

    Keep up the outstanding work!

  2. missyM October 26, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    I think Michaela Angela Davis needs to stop trying to be deep and I know for a fact that her dislike for the word wife beater is recent and doesn’t date as far back as she’d like to claim. Please give it up. With our own people dehumanizing ourselves with the constant use of the N word I think it’s silly to spend that much time and energy on a word for a tank top and I think it’s just another ploy of hers to steal the attention from Kevin and his message.

    • tara l. conley October 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks for responding, Missy.

      I’m curious about why you think Michaela is disingenuous. I do not know her personally, but I do know Kevin personally. Both Kevin and Michaela are good friends. I didn’t notice any animosity between them, and Michaela didn’t come across as phony at all.

      Re: Wife beater. Like, Michaela I despise the word and have despised it for a long time. I think language is very important with regards to how we interact with, and treat one another. Even if Michaela just now started rebuking the word, is that necessarily a bad thing?

      I’m interested in your thoughts.

      • missyM October 26, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

        Yes I think Michaela is disingenuous. She likes a lot of attention a lot of the times and I think that shines brighter than the causes a lot of times. I also think she plays both sides whenever it’s convenient for her. Like the interview she did on CNN after the Don Imus scandal, she was defending rap and hip hop artists instead of calling out the large number that continuously use the B and N words. But before that interview she was condemning rap and hip hop artists for the same words and images. What changed? I don’t find her authentic or particularly articulate.

        I understand your point about being responsible with our words but looking at the entire picture I think we have bigger fish to fry than what we call a tank top.

  3. Matt November 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    Hey Tara,

    thank you for posting this, specifically the information related to language and violence. It got me thinking about about this piece by sociologist Sherryl Kleinman called “Why Sexist Language Matters” — it’s short, but to the point. I thought you would appreciate it:

    http://www.alternet.org/story/48856/

    In solidarity,
    Matt

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