Black Women, Don’t Forget Your Names
In that jail it was nothing to see a woman brought in all beat up. In some cases, the only charge was “resisting arrest.” A Puerto Rican sister was brought in one night. She had been so badly beaten by the police that the matron on duty didn’t want to admit her. “I don’t want her dying on my shift,” she kept saying. - Assata Shakur
Although her story has not gained the media attention it deserves and although Black cis-het men have been doing everything in their power to disregard her as “not in her right mind” I know Korryn Gaines’ life mattered. She was a bold Black revolutionary who was vocal about her rights and refused to be silent about her beliefs even in the event of confronting her oppressor. Where is the Black rage and support for this political, radical woman who according to her mother “loved her Black people?” Have we conserved all of this rage for the moment a Black man is murdered?
Pictured Above: Korryn Gaines
It’s 2016 and Black women are still expected to remain silent pawns in the fight for Black liberation, present only to hold the trauma of Black men. As a Black woman, I’m tired of the male-centric narrative of the Movement for Black Lives, particularly when it comes to addressing police brutality and discrimination against us. I’m even more jaded by my fellow Black women, who have forgotten that the violence against Black lives is not only the Black man’s burden. In doing this, not only are we erasing our own struggles, but we are also placing the massive responsibility of healing and protecting Black men on ourselves, when we have not yet tended to our own wounds.
The fact that, in 2013, out of all the men stopped by police, 57% were Black, will not come as surprise to most. Every year Black men are disproportionately targeted by the police due to the hypermasculinization and criminalization of Black men. In the same vein, it should not come as a shock that in the same year, out of all the women stopped by police, 53% were Black. We have a right to feel indignant and enraged by the mass murder of Black men, however we must also channel our anger into fighting for the liberation of our own lives. We must end the exploitation and dehumanization of Black women by our community.
The reason we don’t hear about police brutality against Black women is not because it is not happening. It is because Black women are perceived as less entitled to justice. Whenever a Black woman is killed, beaten, or raped by law enforcement, corporate media is business as usual with a few exceptions. When a Black man is killed, the media is abuzz, tears are shed and suddenly Black lives matter again. Two weeks after Eric Garner was murdered, a video was released showing a seven months pregnant Rosan Miller being held in a chokehold similar to the fatal one that sparked outrage across the country when Garner was suffocated to death. Her only crime, aside from being Black, was barbecuing on a public sidewalk outside her Brooklyn home. Two similar cases took place in New York, two weeks apart, where a police officer is filmed violating NYPD policy to harass two Black people for minor crimes. So out of both cases, why is the only name most people can instantly recognize Eric Garner? The reason is simple - this movement was made for Black men. And we are enabling this exclusive narrative to continue by perpetuating the role of the Black women savior complex.
This complex is not a new phenomenon. The silencing of Black women for the purpose of uplifting the Black man was birthed in the plantation, and persisted throughout the post-emancipation era and the Jim Crow Era. In a Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood, Michelle Wallace recalls the same silencing of Black women during the Black power movement over 40 years ago. ‘“Help the brother get his thing together,” they were told… The sisters got along by keeping their mouth shut, by refusing to see what was daily becoming more difficult to ignore...” As Black women we are expected to constantly uphold a docile demeanor in liberation spaces because the brunt of Black oppression is commonly portrayed to be felt by the Black man. Besides the danger of leaving our stories out, the effects of this can have even more serious consequences as Jaleesa Smiley states:
The effects of committing to the role of performing strength are real, and dangerous. Black women have higher rates of depressive symptoms, have higher rates of anxiety disorders and phobias such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and have higher rates of obesity. When our feelings, health, and personal well-being are disregarded in justification for contributing to “the greater good” and we are expected to obey, and care unconditionally about everyone except for ourselves, our emotional labor is being exploited.
The Movement for Black Lives has been and continues to be heavily infused with the misogynistic concept that the Black woman must sacrifice everything to protect the Black cis-man. The same Black man who silenced us in the Civil Rights Movement, which few people know was essentially founded by anti-rape women activists like Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells. The same Black man who today is silent when Daniel Holtzclaw, a former police officer, raped 36 Black women while on duty. The same Black man today who dons his dashiki and holds his fists up high while he sexually harasses women in liberation spaces and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The typical sentiment I hear from woman grieving over the loss of another Black life lost to police violence is, “I fear for my son, I fear for my brother, I fear for my significant other.” Where is our fear for the life of Black femmes, when we are equally subject to police brutality in various forms?
I protested last week knowing that not all of us are given a vigil, a protest, or even a hashtag. I absent mindedly shouted “Michael Brown, say his name! Eric Garner, say his name!" with dozens of marching Black folx before I could reflect on the fact that we have been saying their names. Black men I stand with you, but I refuse to be a martyr for you, and I refuse to be silent about my oppression. Black women, if we want to heal our community as well as preserve ourselves, we cannot be strong and resilient for our brothers while we forget our own battles. We must be all encompassing of the intersections of race and gender when discussing our liberation. Otherwise we might as well rename the hashtag to #BlackMenMatter. We must remember our own names first before we carry his.