When I was first learning about feminism I was living in Oakland, California in the beginning of the 1990s. I was teaching myself with books that I would find at a flea market held in the parking lot of a mass transit train station. I was not part of any women’s group, nor did I have any like minded friends. These books were my sole source of information and guidance.
Most of my friends were male and very much part of the patriarchy and loving it, at least from what I could tell. I stayed silent about my personal development because I felt I wasn’t educated well enough to accurately represent my beliefs and concerns to a hostile party.
Shopping on San Pablo Avenue one day with a friend we came across “Your Black Muslim Bakery.” My friend wanted to go in and see what is what like. I’m not sure if he wanted to purchase something or if he just wanted to gawk at the “different” people. I, however, put my foot down and found the courage to state that as a feminist I could not enter the store. Never before had I declared to anyone that I was a feminist and this shocked him. I had no idea the impact these few words would make on the day and on our friendship. He laughed at me initially, and when he saw that I did not return the humour he then asked if I was serious. I stated that I was. Then came the questions that I was completely unprepared to answer. Questions that I have now had to answer so many times in my life that I have responses pre-formed and ready to submit before the inquisitor can even finish his/her sentence. These questions ranged from how can I call myself a feminist when I have done all these <insert un-feminist things> in the past, to how can I be so concerned with women in the United States when there are women who are much worse off in other countries. He was essentially telling me that I was wasting my energy on national concerns and being selfish. Women living in the United States of America have “made it” and it was stupid to be drawing attention away from the the plights of women who are really oppressed. It was this question that stumped me. To say that I thought it was completely ludicrous would be a lie. I saw merit in the question, but I did not know how to argue against it. I felt that women were oppressed globally, some perhaps more so than others, yet I couldn’t tell a woman who is homeless and living with HIV that she is better off than a woman in Afghanistan. Orphans exist all throughout the world who are in need of caretakers. We don’t just adopt children from China or Malawi and tell Americans that U.S. Born orphans are better off because they are in the United States so adoptions of these children is prohibited.
After making a few feeble attempts to answer my friend’s question and realising that is was a failure I walked the rest of the way home from the bakery wondering if my interactions were always going to be this way when “coming out” to my peers, friends, and the like. I was not fond of defeat and certainly not happy to have my first feminist discussion end so poorly. I voraciously returned to my feminist books I had obtained from the flea market. It did not escape me that these cherished books of mine were in the dollar bin while the copies of Playboy and Sidney Sheldon were amassing two to three times as much. However, I wasn’t going to complain. I felt the team could take it if it meant a new feminist was to be born.
Today is Sunday, I’m reading the news on a local website when I see this article, Bean pies, power, sex and death at Oakland’s Your Black Muslim Bakery. The title is catchy with the important key buzzword “sex”. I recall that embarrassing day way back when in my early feminist herstory. As I read the article I am surprised and well, horrified to find that the answer to my friend’s question was less than 3 feet away from me all along.
But many of those who describe themselves as victims of bakery employees and the Bey family say the alleged crimes started with the father.
Tarika Lewis will testify. No one listened to Lewis when she spoke out in the 1970s, when she worked at the bakery and said she saw the elder Bey beating women. No one – not police, not community leaders, not Child Protective Services – intervened in 1981, when Lewis said she told them Bey had raped underage girls.
The alleged victims were Lewis’ stepdaughters, who had been placed in Bey’s custody by her ex-husband. In 2002, prosecutors said they had DNA evidence to prove that Bey fathered five children with four victims under the age of 14, two of whom gave birth when they were 13. Two were Lewis’ stepdaughters. Bey died of colon cancer at age 67 before he was to go to trial on charges involving one of the victims.
San Francisco Chronicle
Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007
This type of news story is not terribly shocking to me anymore. I have read many like it, practically daily, over the course of twelve years. I am incensed that the now deceased owner of this bakery was never brought to trial for his alleged crimes. I am incensed that so many young girls, and when I say young, I’m not exaggerating, were raped repeatedly and had their youth stolen by this man. Young girls giving birth to his children when they themselves are still children. I am incensed the author chose to use the buzzword “sex” in the title of this article. This isn’t sex, what happened here was rape.
Don’t try to titilate us, and nullify the actions of this man by lessening the meaning of what he did by correlating the rape of four children under the age of 14 with sex.
I am no longer acquainted with the male friend who tried to put me in my place so many years ago. I will never be able to answer his question, and I don’t really feel that I need to anymore. I do, however, wonder if he remembers that day outside Your Black Muslim Bakery, and if he will read about this story in the news. I wonder then if he will remember the question he once asked of me, and I then wonder whether this will answer that question for him.
Sadly though, I doubt it.