How Black Women Have Been Erased from America's Race Debate

by Candace Simpson

Myriad thoughtful articles have been published about the invisibility of black women and girls in the context of police brutality. We now have sufficient resources to correct anyone who forgets black women are also killed by police. We’ve also learned that black women have led and organized solidarity actions across the country. Yet, if you read most signs at any protest or scroll through most Facebook timelines, you get the impression that black men are the only ones in the community who’ve been persecuted.

The story of Oklahoma officer Daniel Holtzclaw—who was charged with rape and sexual assault black women between 34 and 58 threatening them of arresting or harming them—reminds us that Black women are especially vulnerable in complicated ways. We must disrupt the romantic notion that we might wake up to find our sons gone and our daughters will be fine. It’s also disrespectful to deny the presence of black women, and particularly queer black Women, both in this movement and in terms of our vulnerability. I believe that the three Black queer women who started #BlackLivesMatter utilized a framework that we are not ready to adopt—intersectionality.

I still wonder. Why, after all the facts and gentle nudges, do we still choose to center the story around some black lives and exclude others? For what reason might this be convenient?

Like sweet manna from heaven, the answer fell from the sky.

First, I saw a flyer for a church program that advertised a “special prayer for all men” on #BlackLivesMatter Sunday. We thought nothing of this because of course, Black men deserve special prayers.

Then, Bill Cosby’s wife Camille expressed discontent in “attacking a victim.” She then wondered “Who is the victim?” We thought nothing of this. Because of course, Mrs. Cosby was displaying true “love and the strength of womanhood” by defending her husband.

And last week, I read the work of a black male blogger who tried to place rape culture in the context of race relations. We thought nothing of this. Because of course, white media was just out to get Bill Cosby.

It hit me. We have a hard time acknowledging that black women are victims of police violence because it completely dismantles the a priori truth we’ve been holding onto for so long—that black men are an endangered species in America.

This faulty logic knows no racial boundaries. I’ve heard it from friends, news correspondents, classmates, and politicians. President Obama shifted from “Trayvon could have been my son” to “Trayvon could have been me”. He missed that his wife could have been Rekia Boyd and his daughters could have been Aiyana Jones. Mayor Bill de Blasio has lamented over conversations with his son, but forgot to talk about his wife and daughter. Convenient amnesia is suspicious.

To be clear, black men are indeed vulnerable, especially compared to their white peers. Black men face disproportionate rates of incarceration, unemployment and poverty. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. The prison industrial complex is real, and the pain is not imaginary.

But Black men are not the only victims of structural racism: one in 111 White women will be imprisoned in her lifetime, 1 in 18 women black women will be imprisoned in hers. 26% of Black women live at or beneath the poverty line, compared to 11% of White women and 9% of White men. And after the housing crash, Black households lost 27% of their assets while whites lost 7%. These facts are not meant to distract from the realities black men face but to remember that men do not hurt in isolation. Capitalist interest in the marginalization of communities of color does not discriminate between black men and women.

Continuing reading at Quartz

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Candace Simpson is a Brooklyn native and a seminary student in New York City. She is a regular contributor at For Harriet.

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