Recently we, the Bay Area Anti-Repression Committee, learned that Natasha Bannan, former President of the National Lawyers Guild, has spent the last decade falsely identifying herself as Latina, when in actuality she is a white woman of European descent with no Latin American heritage. In the aftermath of this disclosure, the National Lawyers Guild Executive Counsel (NEC) released two letters summarizing its response to the incident. While the second letter does denounce her actions and provides some meaningful consequences for her blatant perpetration of white supremacy, it is not enough. The accountability process that the NLG leadership has put forward centers Bannan’s personal growth over returning appropriated resources from Latinx people and examining the organization’s internal culture of white supremacy.
As a collective involved in defending radical movements against state repression, we have worked closely with the SF-Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild for years. As part of a radical community that ostensibly stands against white supremacy in all of its forms, we want to amplify the calls put forward by Latinx activists for the NLG to hold Bannan responsible for her actions in concrete, measurable ways.
- Confidentiality protects the perpetrator: There is no “accountability” without transparency.
We want to draw attention to the fact that, according to its letters, the NEC wanted and still wants an “accountability process” with Bannan that is private and confidential. In fact, it appears that the NEC letter was only written because Bannan’s deception was made public and so the NLG faced pressure to respond publicly. We believe that any engagement with Bannan should be public and transparent. Non-profit organizations like the NLG have a vested interest in maintaining their public image and therefore benefit from taking care of these kinds of incidents behind closed doors. Because of this fact, we do not feel that it makes sense for us, the membership, to simply wait to be told that Bannan has gone through a process and is now somehow “accountable”.
- Misuse of the concept of carcerality caters to white supremacy.
We would also like to address the misuse of the term “carceral logic” in the initial NEC letter. We should not conflate the actual kidnapping and caging of disproportionately Black and Brown people by the state with Latinx activists demanding that a white woman of European descent face social and professional consequences for financially benefiting from impersonating, first a Colombian woman, then a Puerto Rican woman. Using words like “punishment and disposability” in place of what it actually is – consequences for her racist behavior – protects Bannan under the guise of not “losing sight of Natasha’s humanity.”
It is a normal and reasonable consequence to lose trust, social capital, professional status, and resources when someone so deeply betrays a politic that they claimed (and continue to claim) to represent. Calling these consequences “carceral logic”, “punishment”, and “disposability” panders to the white fragility of someone who is so racist that they would create a years long professional career based on deceiving her community and stealing resources that were not meant for her.
- Consequences for behavior are the only way to truly “center those who have been harmed.”
Consequences for oppressive behavior shouldn’t be conditional to an accountability process that hasn’t been transparent and is within a framework that equates consequences with carcerality. NEC has stated that they will be moving forward with their accountability process, and if Bannan refuses to partake or does so in an unsatisfactory way, she will potentially face certain consequences, including permanent removal from NLG membership. As legal workers and members of the NLG community, we find the presented process unsatisfactory.
While we hope that she indeed is able to reflect on her behavior and make personal changes, that is not the main goal we hope to achieve. The only way to measure accountability is through concrete actions taken by Bannan to remove herself from positions of leadership and return any capital she gained from pretending to be a Latina woman.
Since the release of the news about Bannan, Latinx lawyers, legal workers, and activists have spoken up about the impact of her actions. We have been reading about these responses as well as talking to individuals who have worked closely with her in the past. There is an understandable anger for the way that Bannan was able to take scarce resources from a community that is extremely underrepresented in radical legal and social justice circles–and in particular resources that could have supported Black and Indigenous Latinx people.
We are in solidarity with the people who have spoken out against Bannan’s actions so far. We also support the calls for accountability made by the SF Bay Area NLG chapter that have yet to be addressed by the NLG executive counsel, including:
- That Natasha return to the NLG any funds she took for travel or work related to TUPOCC.
- That Natasha extricate herself from movement spaces in which she has centered herself and taken up space that should be filled by Latinx activists and organizers, including third world liberation movements into which she has inserted herself as a Latinx activist in joint struggle.
- That the NLG issue a statement rescinding the reference to Natasha as the “First Latina President”.
- The National NEC work with MADRE, Code Pink and the Center for Constitutional Rights to request that they ask for her resignation from their Boards as well.
For those who are not familiar with the story, you can read the article that exposed her here.
Prism later released a second article with interviews with Latinx activists who have worked with Bannan, and following the statements from National NLG and SF Bay NLG.
The first National NLG letter can be read here. The second National NLG letter can be read here.
The SF Bay Area NLG made a separate statement that can be read here.