On Accepting And Acknowledging That America Is A Uniquely Dangerous Place For Black Women » VSB

Featured, Race & Politics

On Accepting And Acknowledging That America Is A Uniquely Dangerous Place For Black Women

The two most prominent stories on my collective (Facebook and Twitter) timelines yesterday involved the death of a Black woman. One (Korryn Gaines) was shot and killed by police officers during an alleged stand-off. Her five-year-old son was also shot. He is expected to survive.

Another (Joyce Quaweay) was stripped naked, handcuffed to a bench, and beaten to death by her boyfriend (Aaron Wright). Wright was assisted by his best friend (Marquis Robinson), who helped restrain Quaweay. Both men were former Temple University police officers. Also present were the children Quaweay and Wright had together, a two-year-old and a 10-month-old. One can only shudder at the thought of how brutal (and long) that beating must have been if it resulted in her death.

Naturally, most of the reactions to these stories — at least the reactions I read — possessed the type of sadness and outrage you’d anticipate accompanying such tragic news.

There was also a collective exasperation, and a sadness and an outrage specifically derived from that exasperation. But this specific exasperation wasn’t necessarily due to the acts themselves. It came from a frustration about the reactions to these acts.

In Gaines’s case, this frustration stemmed from the observation many Black women (and some Black men) made that Gaines didn’t seem to receive the same immediate benefit of the doubt and support from Black men that Black men killed by police always seem to. In Quaweay’s case, the frustration stemmed from an acknowledgement of the role toxic patriarchy played in her death, and the reluctance of (some) Black men to acknowledge that it even exists.

Together, both of these frustrations and exasperations speak to a larger and painstakingly pervasive and consistent theme. That America is a uniquely dangerous place for Black women. Even more dangerous than it is for Black men. And that far too few people — far too few Black men, specifically — care to accept and acknowledge this.

Now, I can cite myriad statistics and studies to express why this – that America is a uniquely dangerous place for Black women — is true. Proof is not very difficult to find. Articulating the reasonings behind the disconnect between the general accepted narrative and the reality, however, is a bit more complex. So complex that the best way for me to make some sense of it is to get personal; for me to explain why this disconnect existed within me too.

As long as I can remember being aware of race, racism, and the type of violence (both racial and general) that’s featured in the news, Black men have been the faces of it. When learning at home and in school about the fight for civil rights, while I was taught that while Black women and girls definitely played a prominent role in that battle, it was Black men like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Medger Evers who were assassinated and martyred. It was Black boys like Emmett Till who were murdered by White men; Black men like Jesse Washington who were lynched.

And as a teen in the 90s, when police-involved and gang/drug-related violence dominated our news, Black men were the faces of that too. It was Black men like Rodney King who became national stories after being beaten by the police, and Black men like Jonny Gammage who were killed by them. It was (mostly) Black men killed in drive-bys and neighborhood feuds; in gang wars and tragic miscommunications. It was a Black male — a star football player named Dorian Reid — who was murdered my sophomore year of high school; an act that led to Peabody High School shutting down for an entire week. The people I graduated high school with who were murdered within a couple years of graduation? All Black males. One of whom was a friend killed by another one of my friends, also a Black male. As a young adult teaching at Wilkinsburg High School, it was Black boys like Chandler Thompson and Steven Tibbs — both of whom sat in my classroom — who were killed. It was Black men like my friend Kenneth Alford Jr (who everyone knew as “Stubbo”) who were killed as a result of senseless shit like mistaken identity. And Black men like Amir Allen, who came to a birthday slumber party my parents threw for me when I was 11, serving life sentences in prison today for killing another Black man.

Statistics — murder rates and incarceration rates, specifically — and the stories and news segments these statistics existed in reflected this idea of Black men existing as the most likely victims of violence and racism. Of course, Black women and girls were victimized by racial violence and murdered too. I was aware of historically prominent stories like the four little girls in Birmingham. And stories that weren’t as nationally prominent, but still resonated with me, like the circumstances surrounding 17-year-old Cynthia Wiggins’s death in a Buffalo suburb in 1995. And of the several students I taught who had been murdered, one (18-year-old Richiena Porter) was a Black girl.

But these instances were generally treated as anomalies — things that generally just didn’t happen to Black women very often — so I believed them to be. And internalized that. And with this internalization came the idea that, when thinking of the dangers that Black people are disproportionately affected by, murder rates and incarceration rates were the ones that mattered most.

But while we (Black men) are more likely to get murdered or face imprisonment than Black women are, each still happens to Black women at very high rates. And the number of Black men actually affected by this is still considerably lower than the number of Black women victimized by the types of violence that doesn’t always make the news and doesn’t always have extensive data collected on. Namely, sexual assaults and partner-related violence.

Now, it’s not very difficult to conclude why (some) Black men might wish to minimize the existence and effect of this type of violence. Instead of allowing us (Black men) to exist as the primary victims, we have to share that status and also accept that, in regards to the violence Black women face, we’re the primary victimizers. “Fighting the Power” is a hollow concept if you just want to switch from a White male patriarchy to a Black male one. Accepting that is a very difficult pill to swallow. Especially after decades of considering yourself uniquely endangered.

But with me, specifically, something else happened. Something that I suspect happened (and continues to happen) with other Black men. Something that I know will sound awkward reading, because I’m still not quite sure how to articulate it.

I’ve been aware of the dangers specific to women. But it took years for me to understand it as pervasive. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it just wasn’t real to me. If you’re a person (like me) who never witnessed this type of violence in the home or his family, and never committed any acts of violence or abuse — physical, sexual, or emotional — towards women, there’s a good chance you’ve never actually seen it. You’ve read about it, seen movies about it, and perhaps even heard stories about it, but its difficult to recognize something as pervasive if it doesn’t seem to exist in your life.

Of course, doesn’t “seem” to exist is an important distinction here. If half of women have been victimized in this way at some point in their lives, it stands to reason that half of my homegirls, female classmates, girlfriends, female work colleagues, and female family members have been too. It definitely existed, despite my ignorance to it.

But it didn’t become real to me until two things happened. First, three separate women I’ve known as an adult confided in me about being assaulted — something (the confiding) that never happened to me before. Each of these were women I wouldn’t have guessed had something like that happen to them, which reinforced the pervasiveness and the idea that it can happen to anyone. And also forced me to acknowledge some problematic and inaccurate thoughts about what “victims” looked and acted like.

But also, to be quite honest, the internet happened. Namely personal blogs and digital magazines and places like Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr. Before the internet, there just weren’t this many first-person stories available for public consumption. And definitely not as much easily searchable data. But now, for anyone with a wifi connect or even a smart phone, there’s no excuse to not at least be aware. Even if you (wrongly) suspect these issues aren’t as pervasive as you’ve heard they are, ask Google. And Google will change that perception in 0.000001 seconds.

If, of course, you want it to.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • kingpinenut

    The united states of america…..aint ish for black folks…especially black womenfolk

  • mr. steal your costco samples

    Like, Americans hate nyukkas. This is clear and well-established.

    But American men HATE HATE HATE women. Despise them with all the fury in their hearts.

    Especially ones that say “no”.

    foh with that #notallmen, too

    • Ess Tee

      I wouldn’t say that this is unique to American men.

    • It is still seen as softness and by extension feminine to extend empathy to the plight of women. Machismo can be a real motha sometimes.

  • HouseOfBonnets

    Waits for continued justification despite this entire article and google at your fingertips………..

    • You know it’s coming. Enjoy the time before it starts.

  • RaeNBow

    thx Damon. Thank you for highlighting the need for Black men to cape for us like we cape for them.

  • miss t-lee

    Both of these stories are sickening.
    Even more in the case of the young lady beaten to death.

    Absolutely terrible all around.

  • RaeNBow

    Oh, and the fact that Ms. Quaweay’s assailants were former LEO’s, does not surprise me one bit. Domestic Violence perpetuated by law enforcement officers is at epidemic levels

    • Agreed. What most people don’t know is that cities have ways of tracking use of force and domestic assault incidents among their officers. I think domestic abuse is over-represented in this line of work.

      https://hhharris.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/the-blue-paper-trail/

      • LMNOP

        It is, and if you do a lethality assessment as a DV victim, that’s a factor they take into consideration as elevating risk. Police are not only more likely to abuse women, they’re more likely to kill them.

        • RaeNBow

          the stats are heartbreaking. and once again calls into question the integrity of police forces in general. it highlights their outright REFUSAL to uphold the law when one of their own has broken it.

          • LMNOP

            And how so many violent people seem drawn to careers in law enforcement.

        • Glo

          This is horrifying.

        • You are what you do. If you spend all day banging heads, you don’t automatically suspend that activity when you go home.

          https://hhharris.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/the-blue-paper-trail/

          • Mochasister

            Makes sense.

    • PinkRose

      Nuthin’ new, LEOs are notorious for having temperament issues.

    • L8Comer

      I hadn’t heard of that story until I read this article. I was truly left nauseated. I can hardly really bring myself to comment on it. I feel sick just thinking about it. I wonder if her children who had to watch will ever recover… they’re so young and kids are resilient. But they are also to young to even talk to anyone about what they experienced.

      • grownandsexy2

        This story broke in the city Friday night and hit the paper yesterday. I didn’t really learn of the details until then. My niece and I were discussing it yesterday both wishing the death penalty on this man and his friend. To die in such a horrific way. What kind of animal does this and gets a friend to help? She didn’t submit to his authority was his story. He wanted to break her. My thoughts were of those poor kids, especially the 8 and 10 year old. Bad enough to lose your mom, and to lose her in such a horrific way and witness it. This is sad on so many levels.

        • L8Comer

          truly barbaric. How are these even humans? Who can do something like this? I feel like they’ve left the human world and transcended to something darker.

          • grownandsexy2

            This is the one time I wish to be called for jury duty.

        • La Bandita

          10 month old.

          • grownandsexy2

            According to the daily paper here, there were 4 kids present, 10 months, 2, 8, and 10 years old.

            • La Bandita

              Correct. The 10 month is her baby. She was 24 and he was in his fourties. The other two kids were his from his 1st wife.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      I think they commit more DV than any other job on the planet, and yet they ask for more funding so they can “understand it” and “be trained in it”. They understand it better than anyone.

    • Gibbous

      I also just read a statistic that said that 23% of LEO deaths on the job were related to DV events. And yet DV in police families is 2 to 4 times greater than the general public.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/

      • L8Comer

        I did hear those are the most dangerous situations to respond to before too

        • LMNOP

          And then people want to be like “well just up and leave,” like this is not an incredibly dangerous situation.

          • L8Comer

            it’s true. and it make sense. as soon as they know they’re about to lose control over u, they lose it.

  • Junegirl627

    Black women as a group are on our own to advocate and protect ourselves against everything. Feminists will not march for us period and it wasn’t that long ago that groups supporting and uplifting black people focused solely on black males and would only support “perfect victim scenarios” when it came to black women. A black woman always “brought it on herserlf” for being “mouthy” or “fast” or “brash/abbrassive” “combative”. We are always doubted, bashed, and looked down upon. We are always being accused of being nags, golddiggers, uppity, too strong, too weak, too independent, too dependent, too everything.

    So at the end of the day it’s always our fault. As a black woman we know that if we stand up, we will more than likely stand alone. So we are always the easiest target.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      A black man argued me down on twitter and told me that black women and LGBT should actually stop fighting/protesting/standing up for them because while advocating for them is great by adding in our issues we “stifle” them……and it’s because of that reasoning that I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

      • Ess Tee

        Funny how those particular Black men expect Black women to “turn off” our womanness. Yet, there’s no expectation that they “turn off” or “disregard” their gender.

      • I’ve heard this argument before. It’s the favorite line of reasoning of Black men that love patriarchy.

      • Junegirl627

        It got to the point where i took being called a “mouthy” B!TC’H as a compliment. Oh and the day that my 80 year old union rep told me to stop acting so uppity was a real eye opener.

        • HouseOfBonnets

          It’s a shame many see having a voice and a determent.

        • Blueberry01

          God forbid you actually have morals and standards like massa’s wife. ?

      • LadyJay?

        We stifle them, yet they look for our support during a major crisis. Phakk ourra here (not you, him)

        • Junegirl627

          Hence my love/hate relationship with activists and movements

          • LadyJay?

            I don’t have a problem whatsoever with activism. That was just NONSENSE! Not activism.

            • Junegirl627

              I meant that it is hard for me to go out and March or put myself out there to protest when I don’t believe I will ever get that same support.

              • LadyJay?

                Gotcha.

              • grownandsexy2

                I won’t march. Call me callous if you want to. There is no reciprocity for BW. We are on our own.

                • Junegirl627

                  That’s where my apprehension stems from

                • Mochasister

                  We really do seem to be the mules of the world.

                  • La Bandita

                    Don’t be. You don’t have to be. Be a nerd or an athlete anything but a mule.

                    • Mochasister

                      Oh no, I wasn’t say that I or any other Black woman is a mule. I don’t believe that for one second. I think that’s how the world views us.

                • One sided loyalty is for suckers like breukelen bleu said. And i ain’t no sucker. Have never matched and never will. But I’m a spoilt African and not re according to some. So be it.

                • La Bandita

                  I march right into the beauty salon and get my hair blown out.

        • Kas

          Y’all hold us back except when you birth us, support us, and uplift us.

          • LadyJay?

            The fuck?

            • Kas

              Sarcasm

              • LadyJay?

                Lawd. Thanks for clarifying. I was ready to come thru the screen.

                • L8Comer

                  lolol i saw that coming

                • Adrian

                  This is the attitude that they peg us with my sister. We need to control this. Honestly, before I scrolled down to read those comments after your expletive, my thought was, “calm down my sister, he was being facetious, but not disrespectfuly” In other words, he was trying to be cute, while being supportive. Let us not take offense at what people say…even if they were being rude, flippant, or offensive. That’s how we are deemed. We don’t have to play the hand they deal us. Sisters, we have work to do (shed the image that they drew of us, and so many of us adopted), not for them…for us.

                  • LadyJay?

                    They are able to express themselves with a full range of emotions without being pegged in a stereotypical manner. We now, as you stated have to work to shed down the very same stereotypes that they made up….no thanks.

                    I wasn’t in any way disrespectful towards him. I found the statement ridamndiculous and he offered insight. We good.

            • LMNOP

              I think he’s trying to say how supportive women are, what with literally birthing and raising boys into men

            • Junegirl627

              I’m seriously jealous of your ability to curse on here.

              • LadyJay?

                Giiirl I think disqus sensed the heat and decided to step aside and let the curse word come through. They didn’t want to be in the midst of the ‘crossfire’ lol.

      • Darlyn

        Black women probably do need to back off, and let Black men do their thing. I completely agree. We spend too much time worrying about them…defending them… fighting for them. Many interpret it as being “combative”, and “manly”.

        • La Bandita

          Or smothering.

      • La Bandita

        I agree. Let Black men fight for themselves, march for themselves etc.,

    • miss t-lee

      Loved your whole statement, but this, sentence? Whew.

      “Black women as a group are on our own to advocate and protect ourselves against everything.”

      • Tiarajreed3

        <<a:y. ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????:::::::!!bx325a:….,

    • QueenRaven23

      Thank you. I cannot respond how I would like to due to being at work. But you said a mouthful

      • Junegirl627

        your welcome ;)

    • Ghettoprincess

      Fuck

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Powerful.

    • Janelle Doe

      have you rwad the firebrand and the first lady? it is a very telling book about Black women’s story during the time of FDR. and yes, we have mostly ourselves because our tears our scars and our pain are dismissed or diminished at every turn

    • Monique

      well said.

    • Adrian

      {{dropped the mic, brushing hands off; walking away}}

    • Solidarity is for white women hashtag ala black power is for black men. Yuppers

      • La Bandita

        We need feminism to reshape or image, to heal etc., We need girl power.

    • La Bandita

      Black and Brown women have to own feminism. It helps reshape our image. It keeps our issues on the table.

    • Your Mama

      it hurts at how true this is… i am expecting and the thought of having a girl and how this world will treat her is utterly terrifying.

    • Blueberry01

      Preach this truth, JG!

  • grownandsexy2

    The murder of Ms. Quaweay was witnessed by an 8 and 10 year old also.

    • miss t-lee

      Disgusting.

    • LMNOP

      Those poor kids… that’s horrific.

    • brothaskeeper

      There’s a special place in he!! for them.

  • LMNOP

    You just distilled some pure truth in that title there. It is dangerous to be Black in America. It is dangerous to be a woman in America. And it is uniquely dangerous to be a Black woman in America.

    There’s so much to say here, and I have a lot of thoughts on Korryn Gaines. I also really appreciate you sharing your perspective on how violence against women didn’t seem “real” to you. I think there are a lot of people who feel that way about all kinds of issues, and that is why stories are so important, to make it real.

  • I unfortunately know entirely too many women that have been abused in some shape, form, or fashion. I got to actually see my mom physically assaulted by my younger sisters mother when I 8 (in our church parking lot of all places). My best friend (and her sister) in high school was repeatedly raped by her own damb crackhead father. Countless others of my female friends and girlfriends have told me stories of abuse at the hands of their boyfriends/male family members/STRANGERS. I feel like I’m not only hyper aware of it, but hyper sensitive as well. On one of my facebook pages, I recently reached out to a follower that frequently posted inspiring and empowering status updates, images, and her own paintings. Based on their content, you could tell she’d been violated in some type of way. Hearing her story was just another sad, unfortunate example of the struggle that black and brown women face in this country. And it usually goes unspoken about and swept under the rug unfortunately. I can’t speak for anyone else on here, but it sickens me that women face so much and more, usually in silence.

    • Tambra

      We have not left the plantation. We insist on carrying the violence which we have endured on it forward. It seems as if our fallback is violence.

      • Kas

        We are human after all.

More Like This