By Jake Lawler & Ruth Samuel
I need you to think.
Take a moment and see if you recognize any of these names:
George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks. Robert Fuller. Ahmaud Arbery. Philando Castile. Trayvon Martin. Rodney King. Emmett Till.
Now do the same with these:
Eleanor Bumpers. Alberta Spruill. Rekia Boyd. Michelle Cusseaux. Breonna Taylor. TeTe Gulley. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau.
This is an updated version of the opener that Kimberlé Crenshaw gave during her Ted Talk in 2016. I’m sure, like me, you recognize every name in the first list. And I’m also sure, like me, that you don’t recognize every name in the second. Our community mourns these men in the wake of their murders with deafening calls for change, and those calls reverberate across the globe.
But the same calls for Black women barely register as whispers.
George Floyd’s murderers have all been charged and three of them are still behind bars awaiting trial. Rayshard Brook’s murderer has been charged and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers have all been charged as well.
Breonna Taylor’s murderers have not been charged and are still employed as police officers in Louisville; one of the officers, Brett Hankinson, is a known sexual predator. Michelle Cusseaux’s murderer, Percy Dupra, was only demoted. Rem’mie Fells’ murderer is still at large.
I’m aware that murder charges, especially with police officers, do not lead to convictions. I’m aware that Black men across the country are up to 3.5 times more likely to be murdered by police officers than any other group. But there’s a fact that we as a nation, we as a community, and we as Black men, continually fail to recognize.
We have perpetually failed Black women; the only women who consistently fight for and together with us.
We fail to protect them. We fail to defend them. We fail to remember them. We fail to hire them. We fail to give them proper healthcare. We fail to love them. We fail them on every single level of society.
One in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. More than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. Black women are paid 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women. In 2019, transgender Black women made up 91% of all transgender murder victims. The list of our failures is endless.
What happened to Toyin in Tallahassee is indicative of this wholesale failure. She was smart. Driven. Passionate. She cared deeply for others and fought tirelessly for the advancement of our people. And when she needed our help, we ignored her. When she found the courage to tell people that she had been sexually assaulted by the very person that is supposed to protect her, we remained silent. And when she feared for her life, we failed her. She was murdered because we didn’t listen. Her death, and that of so many other Black women, could’ve been prevented.
Black women show up for everyone. They support every group for every cause and are consistently the most vocal when people are in trouble. They advocate for the advancement and protection of everyone, especially Black men, against those that seek to halt or retract it. They are and have always been the vanguard of the revolution.
Black women have been saying this for ages, and what do we do in return?
We neglect them. We don’t listen when they are scared. We don’t help when they need it. We gaslight and antagonize them when they speak out. We criticize every aspect of their existence yet remain silent when their abusers are in our families, friend groups, teams, and schools. We try to divide them with rampant colorism and anti-Black dating “preferences,” and constantly subject them to the most detrimental forms of physical and verbal abuse. We remain complicit, standing idly by and watching as our peers engage in predatory behavior —hypersexualizing Black women, then discarding them. We treat Black women as disposable.
And when we are called out on our failures, we deny any wrongdoing. We blame our failures on Black women being too “aggressive” or “disrespectful,” feeding into the very same respectability politics we despise. We police their tone when they express any sort of grievance and claim we would date Black women “if only they weren’t so [insert trope here].” We demand them to provide proof of our failures and blame them for not educating us sooner, yet have never even bothered to look at the resources. And we never accept responsibility for the misogynoir we spew or the privilege we have as men, merely misdirect it.
However, when the blue moon shines ever so dimly on the struggles that Black women go through, when it becomes trendy to support them, we point to the “success stories.” We raise up Black women as roses that grow through concrete and pride ourselves that Black women are our mothers and aunts and sisters. We only respect Black women who fit our cookie-cutter perception of Black womanhood: lighter-skinned, conventionally attractive, perceived as objects for our pleasure. But Black women shouldn’t have to be exceptional, related to you, or considered attractive to you to be deemed worthy of life. More Black women matter than Rihanna and your mother.
If we really want to care about Black women, then we need to care about all of them. That means survivors of sexual assault. That means members of the LGBTQ+ community. That means those Black women who aren’t on the Forbes list or that make your favorite music. And we need to support them as much as they support us. We can no longer remain silent when they need our voices raised. Call out the men who don’t speak up. Call out the men who demonize, disrespect, and speak over Black women every time they feel threatened. And if a Black woman says that she has been assaulted by your friend, believe them. If we don’t reciprocate the same energy that Black women give us when we need it, then we aren’t fighting for equality. We’re just fighting for privilege.
I haven’t done nearly enough to support these women that do everything to support us, but I can no longer remain neutral in their fight, because their fight is our fight. I will do everything in my power to lift our Black women up. Will you?
“The most disrespected person 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, 1962
Words from Black women & reading resources: