Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Take a moment to think about the following:
How much do you know about Breonna Taylor’s story? Have you heard of Riah Milton or Shukri Abdi on the news as much as you have coverage of pubs reopening for the summer? What do you know about Deborah Danner or Charleena Lyles? How about Vera Uwaila Omozuwa or Oluwatoyin Salau?
For many of you, you will not be able to easily answer the above questions. Why? Because society is failing Black women. Attacks against Black women by members of the public or the police are the least reported and one of the least investigated crimes. They are also the stories that are the least likely to be covered by major news sources. Unfortunately, the women I have mentioned at the start of this article do not even begin to cover all the stories of Black women who have been racially or sexually attacked, abused or murdered. Therefore, I both invite and implore for you to go out, find these stories, share them and take action to get justice for these women.
Breonna Taylor was murdered by police after being awoken in the middle of the night. The police entered without warning. No arrests or prosecutions have been made.
Riah Milton was killed during an attempted robbery. She was shot multiple times.
Shukri Abdi’s body was found in a river after concerns about her being bullied were ignored. She was only twelve when she died.
Deborah Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia, was shot by police who did not follow appropriate protocol in approaching people with mental illness. Her murderer was acquitted.
Charleena Lyles was murdered by police despite being the one to call them for a burglary. She was pregnant and looking after her children when she was shot.
Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was raped, then murdered. This happened whilst she was studying in a church.
Oluwatoyin Salau went missing and was confirmed to have been killed soon after. This happened within days of her sharing her story of sexual assault.
The past few months have seen a promising surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement (a movement that was started by queer, Black women, I add this because it is so often forgotten). The tragic death of George Floyd was horrifying, and it unfortunately reveals the reality that BIPOC experience and are at risk to everyday of their lives, just as they have been for centuries. George Floyd’s death is said to have been a main cause for this recent rise in the fight for justice against racism, but what about Breonna Taylor? Breonna Taylor was also murdered by police two months before George Floyd, and yet her murderers are still free. Protests calling for justice occurred months after her death and petitions aiming to support her family took longer to reach their goals- and some are still yet to be reached. People were angry and upset about how George Floyd was murdered by police, as they should be (and it must be said that the punishment that his killers have received are far from enough), yet this same passion that people had for justice seems to be missing now for these women.
I repeat this because perhaps the severity of the situation has been missed: Breonna Taylor, an EMT worker, was murdered by police, and they all walk free today; they continue their lives whilst her beautiful one was cut short. Instead of this anger being carried to the same extent by most, social media has returned to normal, Breonna Taylor’s name has become one linked to an old story. The numbers of those protesting and working for her justice have declined as Black Lives Matter hashtags have stopped trending. This is a pattern that is often seen when it involves Black women; some of the women I mentioned above all died a year or more ago and yet many do not even know their names.
The problems Black women face are often unknown, treated as an afterthought or simply ignored by society. Police brutality affects Black women too, as does sexual assault, disproportionately so in comparison to most other groups. Daniel Holtzclaw, a former police officer, is guilty of raping, sexually assaulting and stalking countless women, many of them Black, working class women, because he knew that the law was less likely to believe their stories. He was right. Prosecutors in the case accused the women who came forward as looking to ‘further their agendas’. A statement embedded in misogynoir beliefs and prejudice. These women were raped and abused by a member of the police, but because of their class, the colour of their skin, and their gender, they were considered nothing more than criminals looking for publicity. I do not see how you cannot see the issue here.
Sojourner Truth said it best when she asked “ain’t I a woman?”; a speech which highlights the erasure of the voices and experiences of Black women. Even within activism, discrimination and the exclusion of the experience of Black women is evident. White feminism seeks to only liberate and serve the interests of middle class, White, heterosexual women which ignores the voices and needs on women of colour from different cultures, religions and the working class. Some anti-racism movements have often spoken of liberating the Black man whilst ignoring the needs of Black women and failing to see them as equal. Black women are subject to racism and sexism. So many Black women also experience ableism, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, colourism, texturism and so much more, often at one time. There are many intersections that construct the experience of different Black women; these are intersections that often subject Black women to deeper forms of discrimination and hate that others will never experience.
In later articles I will aim to explore these forms of discrimination that impact Black women in more depth whilst also emphasising the importance of intersectionality. Until then, and as a starting point, here are a few questions and thoughts for you to consider, research and learn the answer to. I include these questions to help you continue to support social justice efforts and build on your anti-racist efforts in a more inclusive and intersectional manner:
What do I know about the ‘#SayHerName’ movement and how can I support it?
How many Black women activists/speakers/writers do I know about?
What are the different forms of discrimination?
What microaggressions do Black women face and how can I avoid doing these?
What do I know about Black feminism?
Is my current knowledge on feminism western-centric/dominated by White feminist thought?
Is my current knowledge on racial justice focused on the writing of just men?
What do I know about LGBTQIA+ thinkers and how does this relate to racial justice?
Social justice will come in the form of extensive reforms, defunding of racist institutions, access to voting for all as well as the deconstruction of society as we know it now. When society is re-established, we must not forget Black women again. We must construct a form of society in which intersectionality is understood, in which experiences of all are recognised and respected, especially those most oppressed. Support those who society aims to erase.
(Image Credit: Stephanie Kenyaa Mzee - https://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/photo-series-examines-ways-which-black-women-are-forced-comply-society)