Trigger Warning: This piece contains material on racism, xenophobia and violence.
Written by: Angèle Griffin
Edited By: Anna Mohan, Associate Editor
“The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.” — Malcolm X
The conversation about the importance of black women in civil rights issues predates the Civil Rights Era; since black women were forcefully taken from their native villages in sub-Saharan Africa and sentenced to a lifetime of being field slaves, house slaves, and “breeding slaves,” they were, and continue to be, the backbone of minority populations’ liberations throughout the nation.
We recall the heroic deeds of Harriet Tubman who freed thousands of slaves through her creation and implementation of the Underground Railroad. We recall the remarkable bravery of Sojourner Truth, the first non-white citizen to not only win a lawsuit against a white man and regain custody of her son after the passage of the New York Anti-Slavery Law in 1827. She also used her momentum to advocate for the abolition of slavery and the passage of women’s rights for all women in collaboration with Susan B. Anthony. We recall the heroic stunts pulled by Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin: before Rosa Parks defied the Jim Crow laws by sitting in the front of a Montgomery bus in 1955, Colvin did the same exact thing nine months prior at the young age of 15, stating that she:
“felt as though Harriet Tubman's hands were pushing [her] down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth's hands were pushing [her] down on the other shoulder”
We recall the solidarity works, actions, and literary works done by Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur during the Black Power Movement as members of the Black Panther Party between the 80s and the 90s that were so astounding, all three of them were blacklisted in the United States and placed on the FBI watch list. And finally, we recall the foundation of the Black Lives Matter movement by three black, queer women in 2013 by the names of Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors in response to the death of Trayvon Martin; their call to action to bring justice to the deaths of innocent black men and women in the hands of the police spearheaded an international movement that aims to bring all positions of power into question in regards to suppressing minority voices and bodies.
As of 2020, these women have spearheaded marches from the local level to the international level— advocating for justice and retributions to innocent black people who have either been wrongfully incarcerated or died by the hands of the police. Currently, one of the BLM co-founders, Patrisse Cullor, started a non-profit in Los Angeles called Justice-LA where she and her team aim to stop the “$3.5 billion jail expansion plan” meant to be invested into prisons, instead, they intend to reallocate the money to public education, access to employment, and access to housing in the area. Additionally, a group of four black moms in Oakland, California, spearheaded the march for affordable housing in the Bay Area when they decided to settle with their children in a vacant house on Magnolia Street to draw attention to the Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis. Although they were forcefully evicted on January 14 by “heavily armed Alameda police,” their actions not only inspired them to form their nonprofit Moms 4 Housing, but their bold activism snowballed into a national movement calling for housing rights and affordability — garnering attention from large companies like Wedgewood Properties who promised to purchase the area so that they could “purchase the property for a market price and to rehabilitate it,” therefore allowing the woman to legally occupy the house once again.
However, with all this taken into consideration, black women — to this day — still do not receive the recognition, nor the protection, from other racial demographics, including the members of their own race. According to CNN, black kids, especially black girls, go missing at a higher rate than white kids in the United States, yet there is far less media coverage focussed on them. Moreover, between March 19 and March 24 of 2017, activists from the Washington DC area relaunched the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls after a dozen black and Latina girls were declared missing by the police with Twitter users even saying, “All these missing black girls coming from DC and Maryland!! Where is the public outcry??” As of now, there are still no leads of where and what happened to the dozen girls kidnapped in the DMV area.
Even when it comes to the coverage of injustices towards black women, the attention they receive is little to nothing in comparison to the coverage of injustices towards black men. This can be exemplified by the death of George Floyd in May, earlier this year; the news of his death reverberated internationally — even receiving attention from the United Nations, the Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International who all agreed that his death was unjust and a violation of his human rights; moreover, the death of George Floyd sparked and inspired protests across the globe with France calling for justice for the death of Adama Traoré, led by his sister Asssa Traoré, and with the UK standing in solidarity in the US while also highlighting the racial oppression they face by the hands of the UK police and their unresponsive parliament. Meanwhile, the death of Breonna Taylor that occurred two months prior to the death of George Floyd in which she was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in a "botched raid” only garnered national attention several months after her death. All three officers were not charged for homicide, however, charged for the shots that missed ended up in other residents’ homes.
Even in instances where there are no deaths involved and instead just bodily harm, black women are the least likely to be taken seriously. This instance can be exemplified by the recent shooting of rising hip hop artist Megan Pete, also known by her stage name Megan Thee Stallion. In July 2020, Megan Thee Stallion was shot in both feet by former friend and artist Tory Lanez due to an altercation that we still do not know the full story. Initially, Megan received appraisals and support from the media and blogs, taking her side in the situation. However, as time moved by, it eventually devolved into an accusatory manner. Megan stated in her Op-Ed in New York Times “Megan Thee Stallion: Why I Speak Up for Black Women,” the issue of violence against black women is “even more intense” compared to other races because black women “ struggle against stereotypes and are seen as angry or threatening when [they] try to stand up for [themselves] and [their] sisters,” and because of that, “there’s not much room for passionate advocacy if you are a Black woman.”
Megan Thee Stallion wrote in the beginning of her article that black women “are expected once again to deliver victory for Democratic candidates.” And in that instance, she is correct; Georgia politician Stacy Abrams single-handedly registered over 800,000 African Americans to vote, playing a large part on why Joe Biden flipped the state blue. More than 90 percent of Black women voted for the Democratic candidates from the 2016 presidential election to the Senate special election in Alabama in 2017 and the 2018 midterm election, and 9 out of 10 black women voting for Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, they are seen as the “a collective power” that “takes it upon themselves” to uplift their communities outside of political institutions – much like what’s currently happening with Justice-LA and Moms 4 Housing in California. In the Washington Post Op-Ed “Black women saved the Democrats. Don’t make us do it again,” written by Taylor Crumpton, she said that black women, “[marched, organised, and cried.] We screamed… We went above and beyond, and what did we get in return? Numerous reminders that 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and that we’d better replicate our previous voting behaviours if we wanted to head off another disaster.” In other words, black women are expected to carry the United States during times of racial and social tensions – even when it comes to our voting patterns.
To this day, black women are considered as the epicentre of important social movements. We march, we organise, and we also serve as the backbone for the male activists that garner the attention for these movements. And yet, with all this taken into consideration, black women in the US feel as though we do not receive equal positive nor supportive attention that is given to other marginalised groups, including black men. From the constant bashing Megan Pete received from admitting she was shot by a famous male rapper to Breonna Taylor becoming a meme and apparel, the question now lies that in spite of all our hard work, when will we be promised the protection and support we’ve been giving the rest of America for centuries?