Trina Greene Brown has worked in violence prevention for the past 15 years, managing multiple local and national initiatives. She launched Parenting for Liberation as a space for parents of Black children to envision a world where our children are cultivated to be their most liberated selves. Before creating Parenting for Liberation, Trina engaged leaders within the violence against women’s movement to build an inclusive gender and racial justice movement via her role as Outreach and Engagement Manager at Move to End Violence, a ten-year initiative of the NoVo Foundation. She also served as a Director for the YMCA, incorporating violence prevention education focusing on resiliency in the Department of Youth Development. Formerly a Manager at Peace Over Violence, a social service agency dedicated to the elimination of sexual and domestic violence and all forms of interpersonal violence, Trina co-authored a female empowerment curriculum, Be Strong: From The Inside Out, and contributed to the second revision of In Touch With Teens, a nationally recognized relationship violence prevention curriculum. She is the proud co-parent of two African American children, whom she raises with her husband in California to reach for the stars.
In this interview, Trina is discussing her path in the relationship violence movement and how identify intersection is often overlooked. In this section she talks about the challenge to support women in safety and health when her industry relies on relationships with the police for enforcement. How that relationship is further confused by the erasure of black female identity within the feminist movement. And, her path toward recognizing her belonging.
D: When did you have a clear understanding that the dominant paradigm in domestic violence work did not actually include the voice that you were supporting and working for?
T: When did I realize it?
D: When did you realize that?
T: Oh, like in my first week of orientation.
D: So it was not something you figured out in college. This was something that you-
T: No, I didn’t study- In college I studied communications and I studied African American studies. It was all Black. I was Black, and Black, Black, Black. There were no like women’s studies or gender studies classes that I took. I was just all about my Blackness because I was trying to get woke on my own self. About my own identity, because I’m very light skinned. There’s all that stuff that goes on around light skinned privilege and all that so I was like “I’m Black!” I’m showing up. So, you know, I didn’t discover the holes or the challenges within the feminist movement in college because I didn’t even do the feminist track until after.
So yeah, it was during my orientation and I was getting trained on the statistics, like one in every four women, you know, is a victim of violence, or one of every three. I was getting all the statistics and general information – and it was very general, you know. And they said, here are our solutions – call the hotline, we have this program with the domestic abuse response team where we partner with the police department and we show up at the scene and help the survivor. And I ask “so what happens to the person?” And they’re like, “oh, that person’s getting arrested and then you help the survivor.” And I’m like wait what? All this is happening? And so in my orientation to the MOVEMENT, I was the one who raised my hand in the training and said, “well what about the statistics specifically about Black women, and children, and families?” Because I knew, we ain’t calling the police. The police are not the number one solution, so you’re missing a whole large population of people who are being abused.
Also, when I was hearing the way that they would define what a victim. Not what they physically look like, but you know–submissive, economically dependent upon the person, and not able to have a job. I’m just thinking, most of the Black women I know are either – not by choice – but the primary earner or breadwinner. Not by choice because—mass incarceration and felony convictions and unemployment rates of Black men who were formerly incarcerated. I was just thinking about my family, my mom and my dad. My dad was not allowed to get a job because he had to check the box, you know…
In most of my family the men weren’t the breadwinners. I mean, like weren’t going to work. And, so there was no economic dependence, and so, that makes them not a victim.
There was no submission in the way we are taught to think about submission. My people don’t fit that so I was just like “maybe there are other ways of experiencing violence or control, or power.” I raised all these questions and I was told early on, “well violence is not in respect to a person. It can happen to anyone.” You know, the general spiel. “It can happen to any woman or person regardless of their race, and their income, and their class. You know you can be a judge and it happens to judges and lawyers and teachers and it can happen to anyone.” And I was like, “okay,” I was like being told basically – in those statements, in those phrases, in that training – that there was a generalization of the victim. I was going to say whitewashing which is ironic, but that’s basically what they were doing by sterilizing the numbers to say like violence against women happens to everyone.
So, I was like, “I’m new to this movement; let me learn.” Because you know there was this whole thing about the elders of the movement and the seniority and the survivor led movement and so I was like well this isn’t my movement, right?
Okay. Let me learn. So I learned. And I became like well-rehearsed in the language and it wasn’t until young people called me out. Some liberated young people called me out when I went to schools. I was taking my little handy dandy training book and I was talking to young people about, you know, “this is how you recognize relationship violence, and this is what abuse looks like, and here’s what power and control-” And the young people, they’re like, “well Miss what are we supposed to do?” And I was like, “here are the hotlines.” And the kids were like, “Miss, snitches get stitches” because I’m back in the hood. My organization had said , “Trina, go to whatever schools you want to go to” and I was like “okay I’m going to all the schools in the hood where the Black and Brown kids are.
“Snitches get stitches,” I was told that and it’s true and it’s horrible AND that’s cultural. So they were telling me you don’t call the police. Later, after I’d been there awhile, we had an initiative about going into schools and working with the school police officers to be able to identify when someone is in an abusive relationship and how to respond. The kids said, “Miss you’re working with the police and the police at the school actually are locking us up because we came to school late, and they’re harassing us.” There was this whole initiative in L.A. around school police ticketing young people for being truant. And then making truancy a crime and then they have a criminal record and so they’re being real honest “Trina, you can’t come here and tell us to work with the police because the police are harassing us on campus.”
That’s when the school to prison pipeline stuff became really in the front of people’s minds, there was more language around what it looks like. This was in maybe like 2009, 2010. It was in those moments when I was trying to organize students on how to respond to gender-based violence that I started to really connect the dots. The solutions that we were offering from the movement were actually counterproductive. The relationships that the students had with the police, made it impossible. I was starting to lose some of my young people after school in my program. So I ask, “where are you all going?” They’re like, “we’re going over here” this other group is telling us how to respond to the police and we’re going to fight this new campaign.”
In my mind I was like, “oh, I need to get into it. Because, it’s the truth, and I had already known it? But I got sucked into “this is the way that we do it in this movement.” I eventually ended up having to leave the organization because I couldn’t push our policy, I couldn’t push the work. “I can’t push this policy because it is in direct opposition to the needs of the students. And I want to be helping the students.” It was real complicated because the violence against women’s movement is really connected with the law enforcement agencies because they need to be. The whole movement, the Violence Against Women’s Act is really about making sure that the government responds. That there needs to be a legal response. There needs to be somebody that comes in and holds these men accountable or these perpetrators accountable, so that violence against women is actually a crime. So it has to be penalized and it’s very punitive. This is why there’s a lot of connection and relationship between this movement and the criminal justice field and at the same time there’s like this over reliance, right? I can’t get jiggy with this anymore. I can’t get jiggy with it. I can’t be in bed with the politicians and the criminal law and so it’s just-
D: What you’re talking about is this idea of how systems work and how systems can really impact work that is sort of happening in one sphere. Like, if you look at the system of violence and how it plays out, and Black and Brown people’s relationship with the criminal justice system and all of the different components, you start to see a very different picture. What did you do from there?
T: What – am I doing anything is the question. Or am I doing anything that’s effective yet, is the question that I’m wrestling with.
What I’m trying to do and the work that I’ve done since then has stepped into capacity building programs for the violence against women’s movement. Really I develop spaces to have these kind of conversations, to interrogate the choices, to rethink “what is the solution to violence?” To really examine our relationship to criminal justice, to really look at racial equity within the movement, like why are most of these executive directors in violence against women shelters and coalitions and organizations white? And the folks that are being serviced are the people of color? You know, like really interrogating how dominant culture and white supremacy is actually showing up in this movement and to get really real about it. It’s hard.
I’ve been doing that work and it’s so hard because it requires people to be accountable, and to be honest and to look at their own internalized superiority, inferiority, the ways that they have internalized and practiced and performed white supremacy and dominant culture.
That’s what I’ve been up to, like interrogating racial equity and liberation practices within the violence against women’s movement. And, then also supporting and working with women of color – our leaders of color in this movement – to build their resiliency and to not burn out and not to get to the point of “I’m over this movement that doesn’t see me.” To really be like, “no this actually is our movement.” Really trying to like get reconnected to the history beyond white feminism. Remembering that black feminism does exist and is at the foundation of this movement. That this movement was founded on the civil rights movement, right. Black women were the epicenter of the civil rights movement and also of this movement as well, but have often been erased.
You know that book – All the Women are White and All the Men are Black. Right, this idea that like, our identities are often silenced in both the Black liberation movement and the women’s movement, Black feminism actually is there, it’s just being silenced and so I try to continuously to bring that to the front and center and not to feel like “this isn’t my space, I don’t want to be here.” Because that’s how I felt at one point, and I’m like “oh no, no, no, no – this is ours.
This is ours. We’ve been here. We will stay here.”