Caitlin Reed Wiesner, “The First Thing They Cry About is Violence”: The National Black Women’s Health Project and the Fight Against Rape and Battering

During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP)
conceptualized gender violence within the Black community primarily as an issue of
Black women’s health. Like other gender and racial health disparities, rape and battering derived from systemic oppression and could be treated through politically engaged
“self-help” counseling. This stood in contrast to the narrow framing of gender violence
as a crime issue in mainstream American politics and feminist anti-violence groups.
The NBWHP’s unique interpretation compelled them to oppose the Violence Against
Women Act of 1994, now understood as a touchstone of carceral feminism. Attending to
their overlooked activism prompts a rethinking of the intertwining of the anti-violence against-women movement and the US carceral state in the late twentieth century. It
also shows that anti-violence organizing rooted in Black feminist politics survived the
conservative turn of the 1980s.


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