I just completed IMPACT Boston’s 20-hour women’s core self-defense course. I’ve wanted to take one of these courses ever since the 1990s but I didn’t for a myriad of reasons. To say that I had one of the most physically and emotionally grueling 20-hour experience that was equally empowering and liberating is an understatement. I am not certain that I can fully articulate what I experienced because I am still processing everything and I am so physically sore.
Throughout the course, I experientially learned a lot about my fears that date back to when my paternal step-grandfather first took the night away from me forty years ago when I was a ten-year old girl. That was the beginning of my leaving my body and living in my head. The leaving continued through the molestation during my tween years and the rape in my sophomore year in college.
Despite my being an unapologetic Black feminist who fights against rape culture, I subconsciously and consciously blamed my body for the sexual harm I experienced as a child and also as young adult woman. I don’t know if I would’ve owned that prior to my self-defense course. Most importantly, I am unwavering in my understanding that I couldn’t have stopped my child sex abuse or young adult rape.
I credit the IMPACT course with giving me an opportunity to face some deep-seated fears that I’ve held for decades. I credit the course with teaching me verbal and physical skills that make me feel empowered in ways that I haven’t EVER felt empowered in my body.
Parts of me wish I had taken the course decades ago. Yet, the timing was just right for me on the literal cusp of 50 years of living. I definitely want all of the young people and many of my peers and older in my life to have the opportunity to take a self-defense course. I am glad there are a range of courses that strive to address different identities and needs.
I am explicitly clear that my being able to defend my Black woman body against personal or stranger violence will not make me safe from subsequently experiencing police violence or being incarcerated precisely because I defended myself. Paraphrasing from the title of an anthology edited by Mariame Kaba cis and trans women of color do not have selves to defend. If you haven’t read already, please read Andrea J. Ritchie’s, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black women and Women of Color, and learn about the radical, transformational work of Survived and Punished. If you are able, please support their work.
Despite all of the contradictions and complexities of literally surviving in a world where Audre Lorde reminds us colored girls, “we were never meant to survive,” I am infinitely grateful that I took the course co-taught by Helen, Meg, Shay, Ann, and Sean. On a “personal is political level” it was a gift that the lead instructor, Helen, is a Black woman. I needed that and didn’t even know it.
A big gratitude shout-out to friend and IMPACT Boston Executive Director Meg Stone for her camaraderie and support leading up to my finally taking a course (an 18-month discernment and life process), and immediately after completing the course.
It warms my spirit knowing that through their IMPACT Boston’s fundraising work, they haven’t ever had to turn down anyone because of lack of funds to take a course. I traveled to Boston because of my camaraderie with Meg. However, there are feminist led self-defense courses in various parts of the country.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker, activist, cultural worker, and international lecturer whose work examines the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and sexual violence. An incest and young adult rape survivor, Aishah is the creator of NO! The Rape Documentary and the #LoveWITHAccountability Project. Her forthcoming edited anthology Love With Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse will be published by AK Press in Fall 2019