John Lennon and Yoko Ono had a song titled, “Woman is the N*gger of the World” in 1972. The duo expressed they were using the n-word to mean an oppressed person. Given the historical context of the word typically being used as a racial slur against blacks, what is your reality when you are not just a woman, but a black woman?
For women who face this dual reality – of being oppressed because of their race AND being oppressed because of their gender, there is a constant struggle to be heard, validated and supported. Adding additional complexity to the situation are other classes of oppression such as being a member of the LGBT community, being disabled, having a mental illness, or being poor.
Recently, there has been much attention focused on the deaths of unarmed black men, but the violence against black women has seen little media attention, little acknowledgement as an issue of brutality and the victims who have been forgotten have been killed twice – once through physical death and the killing of their story. Despite the continuous posting about female victims of police brutality and misconduct, the cries for justice by the victims’ families are often unheard and fail to gain traction even in the realm of social media.
On May 21st, women in cities across the country came together under the campaign, #SayHerName which was launched by the African American Policy Forum and Black Youth Project 100. The rallies in cities like San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Baltimore and Oakland focused on shining a spotlight on the stories of black women who have died senselessly and before their time – often at the hands of police. Women in San Francisco stood topless in the street, a tradition which finds its roots in African culture as a way to shame men. As news coverage of the events is featured on mainstream news outlets, the coverage is just a small blip on the radar screen and shows that much more is needed to keep the stories of black female victims elevated.
In a country where racism is very real and misogyny is still alive and well, we are challenged in finding supporters in the cause of saving our daughters. Even as people discuss the issue of police brutality, it’s men who become the focal point. The narrative that has been elevated has left out black women and as the cries of black women are exclaimed, it becomes more challenging to refocus it on the stories of both men and women.
As people proclaim, “Black Lives Matter” we must all remember that those are the lives of women and men. Not only is it the lives of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Rumain Brisbon, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, but it’s the lives of Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Malissa Williams, Shereese Francis, Aiyana Jones, Tarika Wilson and Kathryn Johnston that matter. Black women are the nurturers of our community. The role of the black woman is not only that of the giver of life, but often times the provider, the comforter, the teacher, the friend and the supporter. When we allow anyone to silence these stories, we are allowing them to erase the significance of black women. When we don’t find the stories of black women to be just as tragic and important to protest about, we are saying that black women’s lives are less important than black men. We cannot allow black women to be forgotten and ignored. We must continue to lift up the fact that we face this together, as a community and as we fight for the protections of black lives, that black women are included.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.