What Janese Talton-Jackson’s Death Teaches Us about Black Women’s Lives

Last week, I faced the most consistent street harassment that I've experienced in a long time. There was the man at the metro who invaded my personal space to ask if I was on the cover of Ebony magazine. Needless to say, his weak pickup line and one-way exchange lasted way beyond the point of compliment. Then there were the two men who felt it necessary to comment on my “dark skin” and sexiness as they each passed. And I can’t forget the man who said, with a tinge of disappointment, that I looked “too good” to be standing outside alone. In just two hours, I was objectified, touched, judged and lusted after by complete strangers.

As a Black woman living in an urban environment, street harassment isn’t new. But last week it felt different. Maybe the quick succession left me feeling extra exposed or maybe I was really tired after a long day, but the fear from facing my own vulnerability made me want to cry.
Instead of crying, I walked into my building, unlocked my front door and forced myself to smile when I saw my partner’s face. I let her assume work had me down because in that moment I couldn’t describe the weight of being both black and female. I couldn’t unload my burden and make her’s heavier. As women, we’re both forced to navigate the same toxic waters, feeling powerless to protect each other.

I thought about my day from street-harassment hell when reading news of Janese Talton-Jackson's death. The 29-year old mother of two was murdered last week after turning a man down in a Pittsburgh bar.

According to news reports, Charles McKinney approached Janese early Friday morning and she rejected his advances. He approached her again as she prepared to leave and after turning him down a second time, he shot her in the chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Janese's murder has thickened the cloak of fear that surrounds Black women’s daily lives. It’s a heavy garment, stitched together by fragile masculinity and rank with the assaults and murders of our sisters.
I’d bet my life that Friday night wasn't the first time Janese was harassed at a bar. Whether running to the corner store to get a loaf of bread as a preteen or moving across a dimly lit dance floor as an adult, Black women learning how to navigate male privilege and violence is a rite of passage. Before Janese was senselessly murdered, she spent her life navigating the restraints on Black womanhood.

She probably crossed the street when she saw a group of men, afraid to walk by and suffer the stares and unwanted advances. She was probably forced to dress, sit, talk and walk a certain way by her elders as she transitioned through puberty, learning how to repel the sting of slut shaming like Wonder Woman. She may have been one of the 60% of Black girls who've suffered sexual abuse and been left to deal with the trauma alone. She may have been struggling to achieve financial security as one of the nearly 50% of black women who have zero or negative wealth.
However, despite the struggles Janese may have faced, I’m sure she shined beyond any element of victimization. We often do. As she prepared to go out on Friday night, I bet her hair was laid, eyebrows were fleekin and waist was snatched. She likely walked in the bar and blessed the room with her Black girl magic. It shouldn’t have been the last time.

Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. The constant physical threats Black women face are terroristic – they’re essential components of our systemic oppression that’s propelled by interpersonal acts. We’ll never know what made Janese’s murderer pull the trigger, but we do know he was a Black man raised in a society that taught him Black women’s lives don’t matter. As poet Nayyirah Waheed says, “what massacre happens to my son between him living within my skin. drinking my cells. my water. my organs. and his soft psyche turning cruel. does he not remember he is half woman.”

Janese Talton-Jackson. We must all say her name.

Tashira Halyard is a lawyer and activist living in Washington, DC. She loves art, fashion, trap music and stationary. You can find her in an independent bookstore eating an over-priced pastry.

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