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Paul Becker/Becker 1999/Flickr
Saying ‘All Black Lives Matter’ Matters
Inclusivity within justice movements isn't just the right thing to do, it's the only way to create real change.
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Black Lives Matter. Full stop. Recently, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has fueled massive protests in many U.S. cities and around the world. Black people in the U.S. are killed by police while asleep in bed, reading in a car, playing video games, or standing at a bus stop. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has become ubiquitous on social media and within contemporary culture. Although the hashtag is only one element of a larger Black Lives Matter Movement, many different individuals and organizations use #BlackLivesMatter online and off-line in protesting racialized violence and other forms of racial injustice. The relative lack of attention to the mistreatment, assault, and killing of Black people who are not cisgender heterosexual (cishet) men has led to more specific hashtags and slogans. These and other calls for #AllBlackLivesMatter are necessary reminders that our collective struggle for freedom and justice must be inclusive.
Black women have played an integral part of every Black freedom struggle in the U.S. Yet, even as they fight against racial injustice, Black women have argued for the need to address multiple forms of oppression simultaneously. In “The Status of Woman in America” (1892), educator and author Anna Julia Cooper speaks of how neither white women nor Black men address the particular concerns of Black women. Cooper wrote, “She [the Black woman] is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem, and is as yet an unknown or an unacknowledged factor in both.” Consistently, Black women have denounced gender-specific and race-specific efforts to construct a hierarchy of oppressive forces. The 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement explained, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” Black women have resisted racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression not as separate entities but as interlocking systems. Today, we would call this an intersectional approach, but this type of work existed prior to the development of the term by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Founded by Crenshaw, the African American Policy Forum along with the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies designed and launched the #SayHerName campaign in 2014. It focuses on bringing awareness to experiences that Black women and girls have with racialized police violence and supporting victims and their families. Black men are at highest risk for being killed by police, but dominant narratives about police brutality, mass incarceration, and the school-to-prison pipeline focus on Black men and boys without acknowledging the disproportionate effect of police violence on Black women and girls. Thus, while the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner are probably familiar to many people, the names of Tanisha Anderson and Natasha McKenna are much less well known. In her 2016 TED Talk, Crenshaw contends, “Without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation.” A larger framework permits us to acknowledge and address the particular burdens of those who may be marginalized even within marginalized communities. #SayHerName does not disregard the crisis facing Black men and boys but calls for more resources to be deployed in combating gender-based, racialized police violence.
Despite the clear mandate of the #SayHerName campaign, it has been co-opted by those who use #SayHisName or #SayTheirNames. Such hashtags are a form of misogynoir as they erase Black women’s labor and blatantly counter the stated purpose of #SayHerName. For instance, Janelle Monáe’s 2015 protest anthem “Hell You Talmbout” addresses police violence but includes both “say her name” and “say his name” in its spoken litany. Also, used as the cover for the June 22, 2020 edition of The New Yorker, the painting “Say Their Names” by Kadir Nelson focuses largely on Black men. Certainly, some may be unaware of origins and purpose of the #SayHerName campaign. They may intend to use these hashtags to emphasize the importance of speaking the names of the deceased. Still, #SayHisName and #SayTheirNames trample on and undermine the #SayHerName campaign.
As a cishet Black woman, I appreciate and value #SayHerName’s call for gender-inclusive advocacy. Likewise, I support #BlackLivesMatter-derived hashtags and their related advocacy efforts. For example, #BlackQueerLivesMatter and #BlackTransLivesMatter demand greater awareness of the needs and concerns of those who are often marginalized within the larger movement against racial injustice. These more specific hashtags, actions, marches, and organizations are not sowing division within Black communities but calling for greater inclusion. Despite the importance of Black queer women in founding #BlackLivesMatter and the subsequent movement, Black LGBTQ persons tend to receive less media attention and less outrage when they are assaulted or killed whether by police or by other assailants as in the cases of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton. In a June 3rd Instagram post, writer and activist Janet Mock spoke out regarding the videotaped brutal assault of Black trans woman Iyanna Dior. Mock wrote, “We must stop centering cisgender heterosexual men and their needs… If Black lives matter then Black trans lives should matter as well.” Such calls to action force us to reconsider language and intention in how we position and prioritize Black lives.
Likewise, Black disabled people have called for greater inclusivity in addressing racial injustice with #BlackDisabledLivesMatter and similar hashtags. Particularly within the COVID-19 pandemic, Black disabled activists have argued that race and disability compound discrimination within employment, housing, and health care. As well, they point out that the concerns of white disabled people often overshadow the concerns of others within the disability community. In “White Fragility Makes Calls for True Disability Inclusion Ring Hollow,” writer and activist Imani Barbarin explains, “It would seem as though white disabled people demanding inclusion appear to be advocating for it so long as disabled people of color are quiet about their experiences and exist only to bolster the numbers behind their argument.” Those who are marginalized within marginalized groups are fighting for justice even as they seek to combat the silencing of their voices and the erasure of their experiences. The greater specificity of their calls for recognition and action is not harmful to the larger group but a valuable reminder of our mutual accountability. The aim is not to exclude but to emphasize.
#AllBlackLivesMatter is a type of umbrella for more specific #BlackLivesMatter hashtags and actions. Some may oppose #AllBlackLivesMatter because they confuse it with #AllLivesMatter. Yet, #AllLivesMatter is used as a rebuttal to #BlackLivesMatter in defense of the status quo. It belittles cries for racial justice and disrupts the needed focus on Black lives due to the unique threats facing Black people. It is insensitive, disrespectful, and racist. In contrast, the purpose of #AllBlackLivesMatter or modifiers to #BlackLivesMatter that come from within the Black community are not to damage or dilute the power of the overall #BlackLivesMatter movement. Advocates are asking that those who labor in support of cishet Black men and boys keep that same energy in petitions, marches, vigils, crowdfunding, and other advocacy efforts for other Black people, especially those who are among the most vulnerable. Although, it may feel unwieldy to speak of the varied and overlapping positionalities of Black people, the fight against injustice requires that we not ask any specific group to sit on the sideline or to wait their turn. Our diversity is a strength. Such hashtags and the work undergirding them calls on all of us to be vigilant in seeking to dismantle all forms of oppression.
Activists and artists created a giant “All Black Lives Matter” mural at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles as part of the June 14th All Black Lives Matter solidarity march. The mural incorporates the colors of the pride flag and the trans flag. As a cishet, able-bodied, Black woman, I strive to educate myself, to listen, to advocate for, and to stand with all those who are working toward a world in which all Black lives matter. Activist Fannie Lou Hamer declared, “Until I am free, you are not either.” “All Black Lives Matter” is a reminder that we all must be intentionally and radically inclusive. And sometimes that means being specific.
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