The untimely and horrific murders of Black men and women at the hands of police officers have garnered global attention, and spurred conversations around police reform and the defunding of police departments across the nation.
We all know of George Floyd, and will never forget the last 8 minutes and 46 seconds of his life. After the murder of Floyd, global protests emerged from the streets of Everett to London. I, in my 34 years of living have never witnessed a global movement of this kind; I was overwhelmed but hopeful about change.
As a Black woman, I also had to contend with America’s sidelining of Black women’s lived experiences, and how the deaths of Black women don’t spark the same global outrage or the same calls for police accountability and reform.
Two months before George Floyd was killed, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, an Emergency Medical Technician was shot and killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment during a police drug raid. The police officers entered Taylor’s home without knocking or announcing a search warrant, opened fire, and murdered Breonna. It was later discovered that Taylor’s residence was not the address in the warrant, and the actual suspects were more than 10 miles away from where Breonna resided. It took nearly three months for one of the three officers at the scene to be fired. There was no video footage of her murder; and like many other Black women victimized by police misconduct, there was minimal outrage or calls for justice.
If we’re going to profess that Black Lives Matter, then we must confront and dismantle the systemic inequities that allow some Black Lives to matter more and others matter less. Why it is that America has focused on the deaths of Black men while ignoring the deaths of Black cis-gender (where gender matches that gender assigned at birth) and transgender women?
In order to understand this conundrum, one must understand patriarchy. Patriarchy refers to a social or political system where men hold authority over women, and we see evidence of it in our family structure, the economy, the culture and the political arena. Patriarchy has contributed to an unequal distribution of labor in the household, it has created the motherhood penalty in the workplace, it has led to men making decisions about a women’s reproductive rights, and it has created systemic barriers for a woman to secure the highest office in the land, the presidency.
Patriarchy has operated in different ways for Black men than it has for white men, but patriarchy works in this context because it has centered Black men as being the only victims of police violence.
Civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberle Crenshaw says that during slavery in the United States, Black women endured endless labor, sexual assault and being torn away from their children. Black men also bared inhumane treatment during slavery, but oftentimes their stories became the center narrative. Given that Black women experience both racism and sexism, their experiences are often relegated to the margins; and society continues to render the pain of Black women invisible. Part of being a Black woman is understanding your vulnerabilities, pain and trauma must be concealed at the expense of your own mental, emotional and physical health.
When we render the lived experiences of Black women invisible, they of course become an afterthought when we talk about how police have inflicted violence on Black people. Because society has never allowed Black women to express their pain, we can never expect an America that has privileged the male and white perspective to understand or empathize with Black women. We regard Black women as superheroes; women who are capable of managing multiple roles, over-performing, infallible and self-sacrificing. When we see people as “heroic” or “saviors,” we have a hard time conceptualizing what their destruction or demise looks like.
The lack of calls for police accountability when Black women are murdered led to the creation of the #SayHerName Campaign. A campaign started by Kimberle Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum to bring awareness to Black women who have been targeted by law enforcement. Women like Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson and Seattle resident Charleena Lyles will never be forgotten in spite of America’s lack of acknowledgement of their humanity.
Black women have always been at the forefront for the fight for justice. It was a Black woman who started the Black Lives Matter movement, a Black woman who started the #MeToo movement, and a Black transgender woman who played a pivotal role in the LGBTQ+ Stonewall protest. If we as a country are going to join and stand behind movements that have been initiated and continue to be led by Black women—we need to acknowledge the existence and value that Black women bring in changing the social discourse in America.
Similarly, we also need to acknowledge that Black women who die are also worthy of global outrage.
Follow Herald columnist Ciera Graham on Twitter @CieraGrahamPhD.