Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer after being arrested and beaten by police in June of 1963.
Ferguson has blown open the conversation about police brutality. But we need to understand that "Black" does not only refer to men.
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It is impossible to turn my eyes away from Ferguson, Missouri.
As law enforcement continues to use military weapons to terrorize protesters seeking justice for slain teen Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, the ache in my soul is primitive and all-encompassing.
Reporters are being arrested, children are being hit with tear gas, and political pundits are being threatened. The stench of fear, fear of the power of collective Black rage and action, is rancid. And that fear breeds desperation. The need to suppress that rage, which screams that we are worth more than this country has shown us, claws at the gate-keepers of White supremacy—elected officials, police officers, and mainstream media—until it eats at them from the inside out.
You cannot control what you can’t contain. Wilson’s cold-blooded execution of Michael Brown, who was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, while in a position of surrender, lit the fuse on years of racial profiling and inequality in the town of Ferguson.
And there can be no peace where there is no justice.
They want us believe that it’s about looting; but it’s not. This entire horrific show of violence being committed in the name of the “law” proves once and for all that the system is not broken. When a Black boy is gunned down and left to bleed out in the street, that’s American justice. When his killer is allowed to leave town under the cloak of anonymity, that’s American justice.
To paraphrase Malcolm X, we are not Americans, we are victims of America. But as conversations about Michael Brown and Ferguson segue into broader discussions about the scourge of police brutality at large, it becomes clear that, despite being on the frontlines, the we in question often does not include Black women.
Be clear: The need to have a very specific, targeted discussion about the fear of Black, male bodies is critical.
As Grey’s Anatomy‘s Jesse Williams said with razor-sharp precision, actually being threatened by someone is not the same as the fear of being threatened by someone. And it is that racist, deep-seated fear that enables this country to look itself in the eye when Black, male bodies are stripped of their humanity, shot, choked, and beaten with impunity.
Without qualification or deflection, we must address the very real fact that perpetuation of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy depends on the state-sanctioned murder, mass incarceration, and vilification of Black men. Power and dominance is typically contextualized within the construct of cisgender masculinity, leaving the brutalization of Black women, even when it mirrors that of Black men, as an afterthought.
It is understandable, though not acceptable, that Black women often find ourselves on the fringes of these conversations. Even when we are front and center it is usually to prove our fidelity to Black men and their unique struggles. Very seldom is the violence inflicted upon Black, female bodies by law enforcement positioned as pivotal to justice movements; rather our lived experiences as victims of the state tend to be peripheral and anecdotal.
This invisibilizing of Black women is systemic. That uncomfortable truth is evident in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative that leaves sisters out in the cold and equally clear in the vitriol hurled at those of us who insist that the institutionalized needs of Black women must be addressed in tandem with the needs of Black men.
It becomes even more clear when Black people becomes Black men by default.
In at least one article, which blatantly cherry-picked names from “Operation Ghetto Storm,” a comprehensive report created by researcher Arlene Eisen and published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a list was compiled of 20 victims of police murder and not one woman was listed.
According to Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, an assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University, this kind of gender-exclusive narrative is all too common. “Prevailing narratives around Black violability and anti-Black racial violence pivot around Black men and boys,” said Dr. Lindsey. “Both historically and contemporarily, when many people working towards racial justice around the issue of racial violence, the presumptive victim is a Black male. From lynching to police brutality, the presumed victim is a Black male. Therefore, Black women and girls are viewed as exceptional victims as opposed to perpetual victims of anti-Black racial violence. Our narratives around racial violence, unfortunately, have yet to evolve into ones that are gender inclusive. Black Victim=Black Male.”
Yes, we must have justice for John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. But we cannot forget about Yvette Smith, Eleanor Bumpurs, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tarika Wilson, and so many others whose stories hover on the edges of obscurity.
Police departments across the country serve as enforcement for White supremacy and the criminalization of Blackness is not reserved for Black men. This is not so much a call for intraracial, gender reciprocity as it is a call of nuanced racial awareness. We must be aware of the ways in which we legitimize that only Black men’s pain matters. We, especially those of us with platforms, must be purposeful in speaking the names of Black women who have been victims of police brutality. We must be cognizant of the devaluation of Black women’s lives and how internalized patriarchy informs our own prioritization of the Black male victim.
My love and my rage remain in Ferguson and Los Angeles and Staten Island and Beavercreek, Ohio, as we fight this full frontal assault against Black men. But we must all do our part to amplify the stories of Black women whose lives have been taken, then swiftly forgotten.
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