Black Girls Aren't Abused, Raped, or Murdered Because They're "Rebellious" or "Fast"

by Inda Lauryn 

“My baby had a demon that has been riding her for about five or six years,” said [Kenisha] Martin-Nelson. “This is what happens when you don’t listen… I told my child two weeks ago God is going to put his hands on you and he’s going to sit you down.”

The mother of Kaylan Ward, who is believed to have been struck by a vehicle and her body later recovered on I-10 in New Orleans, said these words to local news outlet WGNO when her daughter’s remains were found. While it is possible Martin-Nelson spoke out of grief, it is still difficult to hear a victim characterized this way. Martin-Nelson also said that her child was “rebellious” but later added her daughter did not deserve to die like this.

Martin-Nelson believes her daughter was murdered and speaks in a religious rhetoric that frames her daughter’s death as penance from God. Essentially, she walks a thin line of blaming her daughter for her own death while contending that her daughter did not deserve to die in such a horrible way. Martin-Nelson is not the only one who exemplifies this contradiction.

Just as when other Black women and girls are victims of crimes, many turn to the question always asked of the victim: what did she do? If Ward was murdered, then what did she do to deserve it? While Martin-Nelson called her daughter rebellious, others in social media outlets like Twitter labeled Ward as a fast-tailed girl, indicating that she got what she deserved.

Sadly, Black women have to deal with this type of response whenever we find ourselves victimized. We have to go on the defensive and remind everyone, including other Black women and men, that we do not have to be perfect to deserve safety. Yet we find so many willing to accept when our bodies are abused, raped or murdered because Black women and girls’ bodies are devalued.

Part of the reason we see Black women blamed when we are victims is respectability politics. As Ward’s mother shows, we believe Black girls who act out or do not conform to respectable lifestyles are simply waiting for something bad to happen and punishment is inevitable. However, this ignores the way we sexualize and deny Black girls childhoods from an early age in order to justify violence against them.

Furthermore, as we sadly found with Arnesha Bowers, respectability does not save us. It does not prevent us from becoming victims. What Bowers’ situation tells us is that we are often victimized by the ones closest to us and trust the most. The horrific crime against her points to an ugly reality in which Black women and girls are preyed upon, especially when we know that perpetrators are likely to get away with or face minimum punishment for victimizing Black women and girls.

This was definitely the terrifying reality when Daniel Holtzclaw’s crimes came to light. As an officer of the law, he intentionally sought out older Black women as his victims because he knew they were less likely to be believed. This is especially terrifying when we consider that Holtzclaw directly represents the institutional victimization of Black women.

Knowing these things makes it even more painful when we hear that question, “What did she do?” whenever we find that a Black woman or girl has been victimized. We are moving out of that question of respectability when we hear the name of a Black male who has been the victim of violence, but we still look to Black women and girls to be an ideal of perfect femininity before we can say she did not deserve to die or be a victim. This occurs more so for trans Black women, who are even more likely to be victims, than cisgender Black women.

When discussing violence against Black women it is important to remember two things: Black women experience race in a sexualized way and experience gender in a racialized way. Of course, other factors such as class and sexual orientation affect experiences differently, but Black women and girls are always perceived as having sexualized bodies at any age, which means we essentially get victim blamed for having bodies. Mikki Kendall has demonstrated this when starting Twitter discussions with hashtags focusing on fast-tailed girls (#FastTailedGirls) and the age many Black girls were when we first experienced street harassment (#FirstHarassed).

How awesome would it be to flip that question “what did she do” to “why did her attacker believe she deserved to be a victim?” Is this person so aware that we care so little about Black women and girls that they feel free to make us victims with little or no fear of repercussions? And will we ever take to heart that ALL Black girls’ lives matter whether we are valedictorians, college graduates, middle class and cishet or working class, sex workers, atheist and LGBTQ, categories that are not always mutually exclusive by the way.

Kaylan Ward did not deserve to die whether her death was an accident or a homicide. Rebellion in teens is nothing new and her death is not a punishment from God for her rebellious phase. Kaylan Ward was a victim of violence. Her life should be respected. All Black girls matter and deserve love and protection no matter their station in life. Black girls do not get abused, raped or murdered because they are “rebellious” or “fast.” They are victims and should not be blamed for crimes committed against them.

Photo: Shutterstock

Inda Lauryn has previously been published in Blackberry, A Magazine, Interfictions, The Toast, and Callaloo, as well as had her work featured on blogs such as Black Girl Nerds, Bitch Flicks, and AfroPunk. She is currently working on a novel and countless other unfinished writing projects, occasionally blogs at Corner Store Press and shares music playlists at MixCloud.

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