Most people reading this probably know the name Michael Brown. Perhaps also Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Tony Robinson, Akai Gurley, or John Crawford III.
The increased attention in the past several months on police brutality and its impacts on communities of color has been crucial and long overdue. More people are beginning to understand the fear that parents of black boys face sending them out into the word every day, and the fraught relationship that black men have with the police force that is ostensibly there to protect their communities. But as Tasha Fierce writes in the latest issue of Bitch Magazine, women are also victims of police brutality and their plight deserves far more attention than it’s getting.
While media attention has focused on the tragic loss of Black cisgender men, it seems like we’ve forgotten that Black women are subjected to the same state-sponsored violence. Black women are also on the front lines of #BlackLivesMatter protests across the country. They are holding it down. They are daughters in the spirit of the Black women who fought in the Black liberation and feminist movements of the past, whose contributions have been minimized in the interest of maintaining the patriarchal, white supremacist status quo. Fannie Lou Hamer didn’t see the narrative on police brutality shift during her time on this earth, but these Black women are intent on ensuring the narrative is shifted during their own.
After discussing the horrific treatment faced by Fannie Lou Hamer and four other black women faced while working to register voters in the 1960s, Fierce delves into the complex intersections of oppression that keep women’s stories from the spotlight. Many of the female activists at the center of the #BlackLivesMatter movement have seen their work coopted or their concerns pushed aside.
Black women who continue to center Black men are effectively forced to participate in their own erasure. Patriarchy has conditioned Black women to fear racist exploitation more so than sexist exploitation, and any perceived racist threat to Black men provokes a circling of the wagons. But Black men, and only Black men, benefit from the prioritizing of racism over sexism when it comes to activism in the Black community. While Eromosele’s particular lived experiences may leave her with the feeling that Black women are “privileged” and should act as “allies” of Black men, the reality is that Black women occupy a social status lower than that of white men, Black men, and white women. We are in no way privileged over Black men in regards to police brutality, and we have just as much to lose in escalating an altercation with law enforcement. To believe anything less is dangerous.
Simply put, it is not selfish of us to demand that our experience of racism and the incidents of brutality against us be addressed along with the experience of Black men.
As Fierce writes, a “divide-and-conquer strategy” keeps oppressed people fighting amongst themselves instead of saving energy to fight shared enemies. Go read the whole article, and commit to making sure you seek out and pay attention to the role of black women’s voices in this movement.