Black Lives Matter: Black Women In Revolution
Though there has been a recent frenzy of media coverage surrounding police violence against black men in America, the murder of black bodies by this society is not a new issue. Beyond police brutality, black and brown bodies have found themselves the targets of various forms of systemic oppression since before slavery. Yet it seems we are currently experiencing a political war between those who choose to be color-blind, to declare that America is post-racial, and those that understand the pervasive, racialized reailty of our modern patriarchy. However, especially considering recent events (such as those that unfolded in Ferguson), it's crucial that we critically examine how to foster a comprehensive dialogue about racism in America.
On November 1st, I attended a conference sponsored by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia’s Center of Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies called In Plain Sight: Towards Engendering the Fight for Racial Justice in the 21st Century. As described on the pamphlet, the event “aims to bring together racial and gender justice advocates in order to build a comprehensive and inclusive racial justice agenda through elevating the lived experiences of Women of Color.” The conference began as a hearing and ended with discussion and action planning.
In Plain Sight crucially assessed the ways in which the American media still prioritizes the injustices done to male black and brown bodies in America and discredits the murders and abuse of black women. What about Renisha McBride? Marissa Alexander? Kimani Gray? These women, as well as so many others, often go unmentioned in this country's mainstream dialogue. While the American public must be aware of the ways in which the "threatening black male" trope is problematic and directly affects the lives of black men and women, they must also be aware of the ways in which black women are abused, murdered and incarcerated at equal if not higher rates than men. For example, according to The Sentencing Project the number of women in prison rose from 15,118 in 1980 to 112,797 in 2010 -- an increase of 646% (1.5 times the rate of men at 419%). If women in local jails are included, that number rises to 205,000.
We have been disillusioned into believing that black men somehow have it harder than black women in America. This is made evident in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which strives to give more opportunities and access to education and jobs for black men and boys. But where is the initiative to help black women, who not only face race-based shame but gender-based obstacles as well? Black women are sexualized, objectified and subjected to stereotypes that position them as more violent, more promiscuous, more likely to marry for money or have more children in order to receive welfare benefits, more likely be angry, etc. than their white female counterparts? The oppression of black women is no less pervasive than that of black men, and that’s only when speaking within the gender binary: this conversation often leaves out transpeople, queer people, and those that generally choose to ignore the binaries normally ascribed. Just as Johnetta Elzie said at the #InPlainSight conference, “Just because being black and a man seems to be a couplet, doesn’t make my black less dangerous, less powerful, less important.”
This recent wave of media attention on racism in America needs to better represent the entire black community. It needs to address the fact that violence does not only take the form of police brutality. Terry Dotson, who struggled to put a roof over her daughter’s head and food in her mouth for years, admitted she was afraid to file for bankruptcy or file that she was homeless for fear of having her child taken from her. She would lose the right to her own child in the context of a system that tells women their sole purpose is motherhood. She knew that asking for help would only rob her of her family and her daughter of her mother. Dotson's story reveals how systems that are put in place to supposedly help us often work only to oppress us further and are a form of violence in and of themselves. Despite being tried and tested at every corner, Terry Dotson raised her daughter, Kristie Dotson, through high school, college and on to acquire advanced degrees. Kristie Dotson is now a professor who describes herself as a “Black Feminist Epistomologist.” What would have happened if she was taken away from her mother? The foster care system is an oppressive and strenuous one that many children never escape.
We need more events like In Plain Sight to shed light on all the ways in which all black people are oppressed in modern America. We keep telling ourselves that we have come so far and that the fight is almost won, a sentiment that seems to prompt some to ask why people of color are always "making it a race issue." The simple truth is that we don't make issues about race, but rather many issues still are about race: recent events clearly indicate that this country has much farther to go when it comes to racial equality.
As Kristie Dotson said “successes cannot be counted like we exist in a vacuum.” We need to take into account the multifaceted nature of the oppression that black people experience. It is not enough to talk about the violence black men continue to face, but must further open the conversation to include the liberation of all black and brown bodies, because we are all affected by patriarchal oppression.
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