By MaLaysia Mitchell
What’s the deal?
Over the past couple of weeks, the phrase “protect Black women” has been trending all over social media and on various news outlets. This has been a summer of heightened racial awareness, and Intersected is pressing into this moment.
With Black Lives Matter signs plastered across storefronts, television screens, and streets, why are Black women still being called out in particular — especially when Black men experience high rates of incarceration, and Blacks in general are dying at higher rates from COVID-19? (See my previous post.) Are Black women really so unprotected compared to everyone else?
To be concise, yes.
Megan Thee Stallion, rapper known for the hit song “Savage,” was injured during a shooting a couple weeks ago, and the public response was a microcosm of society’s level of concern and care when it comes to Black women and violence. The internet mocked, created memes, and joked at the incident.
Megan countered, emotionally sharing her trauma, and was persistent in making it clear that she didn’t do anything to deserve such an act of violence. She stated, “Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own.”
In the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor, there is a stark disconnect between a society that staunchly stands up for Black women and one that’s entertained by the violence against us. The desensitization and apathy towards violence against women of color is unnerving.
Here are a few figures to ponder:
- Black women have an homicide rate of 4.4 per 100,000, higher than any other ethnic group.
- 35% of Black women experience sexual violence, and 20% have been raped (higher than other ethnic groups).
- For every Black woman who reports being raped, at least 15 don’t.
- Black women experience higher rates of psychological abuse (humiliation, coercion, and name-calling) than women of other races and ethnicities.
The internet mocked, created memes, and joked at the incident.
Fighting for Survival
The implications of a society that does not value the safety and wellbeing of Black women are devastating. When left unprotected, we are stymied in the ability to self-actualize and in the opportunity to live. The damage is holistic: physical, mental, and emotional.
To begin with, it is common knowledge that minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than the white population. However, women incarceration rates tell a grim narrative. Almost 60% of the female prison population experienced some form of abuse, according to the ACLU.
Many women are arrested or imprisoned for defending themselves, failing to protect a child at the hands of an abusive partner, or engaging in criminal activity due to coercion of an abusive partner. Familiarity with the cycle of domestic violence and psychological abuse is a key starting point. Much of the justice system has historically failed to understand these things, lending itself to victim-blaming frameworks.
The domestic and sexual abuse to incarceration pipeline disproportionately imprisons low income women of color. Black women, especially girls, endure further challenges due to not being viewed as victims needing protection. This is a result of a series of factors: hyper-sexualization, being seen as deserving of violence or a perpetrator of harm, and characterization as impenetrable to abuse.
It’s no wonder why rape and any other form of abuse may go underreported and why some may tolerate abuse in secret. For Black women, it could be a choice between survival and imprisonment.
This is a result of a series of factors: hyper-sexualization, being seen as deserving of violence or a perpetrator of harm, and characterization as impenetrable to abuse.
Furthermore, Black women tend to suffer in silence under the guise of strength, being labeled as the “strong Black woman.” This characterization is not without truth, since we Black women are resilient, capable, and powerful. However, the stereotype does not give permission for us to be nuanced human beings.
Black women feel pain, experience stress, and grieve just like everyone else. When society does not acknowledge this humanity, it denies us our basic human rights. As seen with Megan Thee Stallion, Black women often have to plead or convince the world that we are completely innocent of any assumption of guilt in lieu of having the right to live an abuse-free life.
How Can I Help?
You now may be wondering about what you can do to help support Black women and aid in our protection.
The challenge is to identify how we have collectively perpetuated structures that harm Black women and actively transform those structures.
The first place to start is to believe us. Current culture allows for Karens and Coopers to unjustly make false claims of fear without any evidence, but as Black women, we are not believed for our truthful claims even when we produce the receipts. Believe us and amplify our voices by advocating for change on our terms.
Secondly, I’m a proponent for policy change, so I would encourage reviewing policies in your state and laws in your jurisdiction. As someone who has been through the Chicago domestic violence court, my biggest qualm is the sentencing policy for crimes that can result in a fatality. A perpetuator can walk away with a year of anger management and a protective order while remaining free to abuse others. Become informed and vote for leaders that would implement effective policy.
(Curious about voting in the national election as well? This article shares how to vote by mail.)
Finally, some of you may not be proximate to Black women or anyone who is experiencing violence. Maybe policy is just not your avenue for advocating for social change. That’s okay! I have listed some other practical steps and resources at the end of the post.
I have focused mainly on blatant forms of violence for this week’s read, but there are insidious forms of violence experienced in schools, workplaces, and social media as well. The challenge is to identify how we have collectively perpetuated structures that harm Black women and their wellbeing and actively transform those structures.
Four Practical Steps
- Examine how faith informs the treatment of Black women. Critique your own faith narratives and seek to understand Scripture from the perspective of the most vulnerable. Engage with perspectives of Black women theologians. If you’re a woman of color, this Facebook group is for you!
- Have conversations within your circle of influence regarding the challenges Black women experience, especially those with differing opinions than your own. Create safe spaces for authentic and vulnerable dialogue.
- Read, watch, and highlight Black feminist works and media that explores the experiences of Black women. Specifically seek perspectives on the Black experience from Black people as opposed to white creators. Here are a few I particularly love:
- For the Colored Girls by Ntozake Shange (Book/Movie)
- I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Book/Movie)
- Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability by Stephanie Y. Evans, Kanika Bell, and Nsenga K. Burton
4. If you are facing abuse, surf thehotline.org for resources or call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
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