My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

The Interrupters – 2011

on April 20, 2012

This is a little different than most of the documentaries I watch.  It’s not about feminism, it’s about the violence on the streets of Chicago, and – more importantly – stopping it.  It takes you inside these people’s world, and makes it so real.  We all know that in certain areas there’s a lot of killings, that boys expect to be ‘dead or in jail’ by the time they’re 20, and that we wouldn’t want to live there, or even walk down the streets.  (At least, that has been my experience as a middle class white person.)

But these people are not monsters.  They’re not different than other people.   They’re not evil.  If you look just a little closer and you hear their stories, you realize that they are victims of this racist, classist, and yes, patriarchal system.

Crips and Bloods: Made In America is a great documentary that explains how this all started (which I don’t think I will post on).  But, accepting that it has gotten to the point that these babies are being born into this world, told that they are scary, dangerous, suspicious, that there are no resources or jobs for them, they have very little hope for any kind of profitable future (‘you can’t be what you can’t see’), and that being a man means demanding respect, not being afraid of anything, and being aggressive and violent, how could we expect any different outcome?

There are a lot of heartbreaking stories in this documentary, but overall, it is amazingly hopeful.  (I just watched the trailer again to refresh my memory, and am now tearing up, and covered in goosebumps.)  The interrupters are men and women who used to contribute the the violence in this war zone, but now work to interrupt individual violent acts.  Because the people that they work with know and respect them, they are able to have a profound influence**.

And they do.  On individuals and on the system as a whole.  Murder rates are down in areas that have interrupters.  This is just so inspiring I can barely even handle it.  I didn’t know I believed in angels until I saw this film.  Looking into this world, hearing the stories and learning the stats… it just seems so hopeless.  If they can change this for the better, what can’t we fix?

Despite the fact that there are multiple ism’s working against this community (rather than just the sexism that feminism usually focuses on*), I still see parallels between the situation in Chicago and the situation for Western women in general.  The war in Chicago is much more literal, direct, violent, and oppressive than that facing women in other areas, but still there are similarities.

As I watched, I was frustrated because these people are just keeping themselves down.  It’s no surprise that they are pissed and want to do something about it – the system has completely fucked them.  But it’s not their neighbour down the street, or that kid that just walked past their house, or the little family business on the corner that caused this.  They’re all in the same boat.  Just imagine if they directed their energy and spirit and anger towards the right people!

And then I thought about all the women who call each other sluts, point out each others’ “flaws,” are jealous or hateful, and – essentially – keep each other down.  Aren’t we doing the same thing?  It sucks to be oppressed by these fucked up, pervasive, elitist system, but why are we taking it out on each other?

We need to love each other.  Really.  We’re all in this together.  One of my favourite parts of this documentary (there are so many) was the relationship between Ameena (an interrupter) and Caprysha (a teenaged girl who was getting in a bit of trouble).  In the trailer, it shows Ameena asking “Do you want to be loved? Absolutely.  Do you deserve to be loved?”  And without hesitation, Caprysha answers, “no.” And without hesitation, Ameena says, “Absolutely.”  (And then I sobbed.)  Even if she did nothing else, loving this girl changes everything.

I know I sound like a crazy hippie (but I’m not the only one), but imagine if we could all just love each other.  Instead of internalizing whatever oppression you’re facing and using it to fuel your hatred of other people in similar situations, or of yourself, have compassion.  We’re all dealing with this shit, let’s just love each other through it instead of holding each other down.

*I know this is problematic.  As a white woman, I (try to) recognize my many privileges, and feminism helps me do that.  But I still think of feminism as focusing primarily on the sexism that all women face, while more marginally commenting on other inequalities.  I know that a black woman’s feminism is different than mine, and that a lesbian’s is different still.

**This fact makes me feel a lot better about the fact that I don’t do anything near this amazing.  Sometimes I feel guilty for focusing only on what affects me, and feeling like I’m doing something by sitting at home blogging or tweeting.  I know really terrible things like this are happening not so far away, so I feel like I should be interrupting it as well.  But if I walked into Jane and Finch (which is the only comparable area I can think of that is nearby) and told people to just be nice… well, I don’t think I would have the same impact.  I am so thankful that there are such amazing people in this world who are able to do these things, but you also have to know what you can’t do.  And obviously, I can’t do this.  (Hopefully one day I will find what I can do that will have such a huge impact.)


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