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.