This week we’ve been remembering Reena Virk on blackcoffeepoet.com. Monday saw the 14 year anniversary of her murder. Reena was 14 and killed 14 years ago on November 14, 1997: 14, 14, 14.
We had a very educational video roundtable and book reivew and interview and today a prose piece by Gitaanjali Lena.
I’ve known Gita for years. It’s always a pleasure running into her and sharing words. Gita is known for her good politics, great attitude, and radical poetry. The last reading of Gita’s I witnessed saw her throw a shoe across the room in mid sentence!
Watch and learn as Gita Lena reads Who Was Reena Virk?
Thanks Gitanjali for your words. It is important to take up the fact that not all the young women who attacked Reena in the first assault are white. From my reading of the court transcripts and attendance at two of Ellards trials I observed that of the six charged with assault, as many as four are not white. News reports indicated that the police dismissed racism because of the involvement of non-white assailants. This simplistic understanding of racial violence fails to take up the ways that people of colour are involved in acts of racial sexual violence. It fails to address structures of inequity and how differently located people participate in them. Reena’s death was an act of racial sexual violence because our society is racist, misogynist and heterosexist. Her social location and that of those who attacked and murdered her are crucially important but the picture is more complicated in this case. Respectfully, Sheila Batacharya.
its funny actually jorge and i were talking about just that after i read the piece. at the time i wrote the piece 14 years ago i didnt know about the women of colour involved in the first assault and torture. i have since come to know that but i didnt want to re-write the piece with that knowlege. but jorge and i were talking about how people of colour get involved in attacks on other racialized people to prove their loyalty to whiteness and other privileges. and the presence of racialized people certainly doesn’t make burning a bindi onto reena’s face NOT a racist act. in fact i was telling him how when i was experiencing intense physical and verbal bullying at school in ottawa the worst of my bullies was a greek girl.
thanks for bringing that to the web page sheila.
After I read about the racial identities of the women involved in the first attack used to dismiss racism, it was very rarely mentioned again. When it was, such as in the courtroom, it was to frame the assailant as deviant in comparison to Kelly Ellard and suggest that she fell into the “wrong” crowd (code for Black and Native youth). The moral panic around girls being involved in the first attack on Reena depended on the category of “girl” holding together – and that category had to be raced as white for the girl violence narrative to work re: loss of innocence, failure to adhere to respectable citizen roles (good daughter/potential patriotic wife and mother). So, it is no wonder that a more complex discussion about racism and the identities of those involved in this crime was not central in the media accounts. Your point about how people endeavor to prove loyalty to whiteness and other hierarchies is so very important. I can remember being racially bullied in school and then remaining silent or participating when another SA girl became the target of attacks. I think about the girls who attacked Reena. One saw her father murdered when she was a child. Others were in care and criminalized. They were living with violence and oppression, vying for power and policing each other according to racist and heterosexist hierarchies and norms. This completely toxic and destructive context makes young women such as Reena vulnerable to violence from those who may have had similar experiences of racism and gendered violence but who aligned themselves with those power relations instead of opposing them. Thanks for your comments Gitanjali. Much respect, Sheila.