Natasha McKenna, Sandra Bland, Taran Burke, Krystal Dixon, Amelia Boynton Robinson, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sharon Jones, Marlene Pinnock, Tarika Wilson….and the list goes on.
These are but a few of the names of women, Black women, who have been either beaten, bloodied, assaulted, murdered by or found dead while in the custody of law enforcement. Historically, when we address the issue of African-Americans and police brutality, we collectively come to address the victim as a Black male. Black female victims become an anomaly. Still, it is worth mentioning that the founders of the Black Lives Matter organization are Black women, though many engaged in the movement itself silently (and some not so silently) identify with the primary Black male victims of police brutality.
Black women have long suffered at the hands of white supremacy in America, side by side with Black men. Black women were chained, whipped, raped, sodomized, sold, lynched, had water hoses and dogs turned on them. Black women and children were martyrs in the civil rights movement. Black domestics were often sexaully assaulted by their male employers and then physically tormented by their white female counterparts as a result, and none of it was warranted.
These are just some of the things that black women have endured over time and for most, these long sufferings are embedded in our collective memory of Black sisterhood.
The incident at Spring Valley last fall was yet another stark reminder of this reality that often goes underexamined and unchecked and stirs up this pain that goes along with being black and female. African-American women are fair-game for mistreatment by law enforcement, yet there is the assumption that somehow femininity shrouds black women in a cloak of protection from the type of brutalization suffered by black men. This a false narrative and a misnomer. Not only are black women as likely to suffer the indignity of police brutality, with it also comes the very real potential of suffering a sexual assault as well; and that is a frightening reality that no one is discussing.
The problem is that until something like what happened at Spring Valley High School happens once again and the media shines the spotlight on it, the plight of Black girls and women will again go unnoticed. We need to have meaningful dialog about the overpolicing of Black women and girls because like Elie Mystal wrote in Above Redline, “I don’t know how many ‘F.U.s’ a black girl is supposed to get before somebody feels like it’s time to flip her upside down and beat her, but I know Dakota Fanning’s number is ‘unlimited,’” and that’s not right.
We need to shift the narrative in our community and stop this ridiculous millennial jargon that “caping for black” women is “weak,” “simpin’” or emasculating because, truthfully, we haven’t time for that. The lives of Black girls and women matter, too. Our community, and white America needs to stop seeing black feminism—-womanism as the enemy because the next time this happens, there may be no cameras, no witnesses, no Facebook, no Twitter, no one; just a rogue police officer and one more dead black girl.