We Need to Do Better by Black Girls and Women in 2015

by Ariel C. Williams 

2014 was a progressive year for Black women. We gushed as Lupita Nyong’o became Glamour’s Woman of the Year. We couldn’t contain our excitement as Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Viola Davis, and Nicole Beharie landed leading roles on popular television shows -- two of these shows having been executive produced by trailblazer Shonda Rhimes. Ava DuVernay wowed us with her Golden Globe nomination for Best Director of Selma -- the first African-American to ever be nominated in the category. And Keke Palmer made us proud when she became the world’s youngest talk show host and Broadway’s first Black Cinderella.

History-making moments like these will encourage our daughters and remind us of how far we’ve come. However, outside of Hollywood, every day Black women have faced life-threatening challenges -- like domestic violence, police brutality, street harassment, and rape -- that we can no longer afford to ignore. Fortunately, social media has kept us informed and united amid dreadful occurrences like the rape of Houston teen Jada, which prompted the #IAmJada campaign; and the #YouOKSis movement, created by Feminista Jones, with the intent to discuss and develop solutions for street harassment against Black women.

The responses to these online movements, and others like it, made headlines and provided a much needed voice for the victims in our communities. Combined with the fact that bringing awareness to these issues can prevent future attacks and/or preserve the lives of Black women, these reasons alone are why we should continuously focus on them in 2015. Additionally, a plethora of issues that should have been given the same level of importance were overlooked during many of last year’s protests, leaving victims to feel alone and helpless.

Here’s a list of social issues specifically targeting Black women that need to be fully addressed this year as we work to find solutions to them.

Dismissing the Black Women Victims of Police Brutality

Last year’s murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford reminded us that Black men are in as much danger now as they were in the 1950s. Like with the #YouOKSis movement, social media helped to provide many of our youth day-to-day coverage to these crimes as well as information on where to protest, support, and donate to the victims’ families. While it’s been heartwarming to be among millions of people representing for our slain men, it is important that we give the same energy to the unarmed Black women and girls who’ve been killed by police.

Since 2012, Yvette Smith, 37; Malissa Williams, 30; Rekia Boyd, 22; Renisha McBride, 19; Tanesha Anderson, 37; Michelle Cusseaux, 50; Vernicia Woodard, 26; Sheneque Proctor, 18; and Aura Rosser, 40 were unarmed Black women who’ve been snuffed out by police.

Deaths and Unfair Treatment of Black Queer and Trans Women

In 2011, Black trans woman CeCe McDonald, then 23, was convicted of second degree manslaughter for defending herself in Minneapolis from a drugged and drunken attacker. While CeCe did not lose her life, her 19 month prison stay brought awareness to the increasing number of deaths against trans women of color. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Just two years later, a similar report proved that 72 percent of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide were transgender women, with 89 percent of victims being people of color. In 2014 alone, these hate crimes claimed the lives of Mia Henderson, 26; Kandy Hall, 40; Deoni Jones, 22, and many more who haven’t been given justice. Since CeCe’s release in 2014, she’s become an activist for transgender women and hopes to encourage trans people to be who they are.

Harsh Punishment of Black Girls in Schools

Recent studies have shown that Black girls with darker skin tones receive harsher discipline in school than girls with lighter skin, regardless of if they’re Black or White. According to the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education, “black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity.”

The New York Times told the story of Mikia Hutchings, a 12-year-old Black girl from Georgia, who’d partnered with her White friend to write graffiti on their school gym’s bathroom walls. Both students were suspended from school and their families were ordered to pay a $100 fine for the crime. When Mikia’s family could not pay restitution, she had a school disciplinary hearing and was served with papers accusing her of a trespassing misdemeanor. In an effort to have charges removed, Mikia admitted to the allegations of trespassing -- even though she’d only written the word “Hi” on the bathroom’s wall -- and was placed on probation. The other student didn’t face any other penalties once her family paid her fine.

Debunking the Myth of the “Strong Black Woman” 

For centuries, Black women have always been seen as overtly strong beings who can handle anything that’s thrown at them. This ideology of who we’re supposed to be has crippled us, causing us to ignore our need to separate from stressful environments and neglect ourselves of self-preservation and care. George Leary, M.S. speaks candidly on this issue in a Black Women’s Mental Health article saying that Black women minimize the seriousness of our problems believing that they’re “just the blues,” causing them to seek mental health care less than White women. Leary writes that, “part of the explanation for this is the poor service they often receive from mental health professionals who, historically, have consistently under-diagnosed disorders like depression and over-diagnosed disorders like schizophrenia in the African American community.” To improve mental health, Leary notes the need for spirituality and names it as the necessary concept in healing.

Keeping silent on the challenges that we face as Black women can have an adverse affect on our health and survival. This year, let’s focus on discussing uncomfortable issues and finding solutions to enhance our lives.

Photo: Tanesha Anderson, Mia Henderson

Ariel C. Williams is a creative writer, author, and social media manager whose mission is to help women thrive in life, love, and goals. She uses her blog and book, The Girl Talk Chronicles: Advice on How to Manage Love, Lust & Situations, to connect with women and inspire them to achieve self-love. She’s on Twitter as @ArielSaysNow.

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