Naledi Atari, "The Lives of Black Women"
The Lives of Black women
It’s been 4 years since the hashtag #blacklivesmatter gained popularity worldwide. Many know the names of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and Philando; yet few know the names of Aiyanna Stanley Jones, Rekia Boyd, or Renisha Mcbride.People know of Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines yet did we march for them? I question the movement for black lives that was coined by three black queer women :Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Even so here’s rarely any public outrage about the unarmed murders of black female identifying people.
When my friend Jacquelynne Causey asked me how I would feel if I saw a film dedicated to the lives of the black women who were murdered by the police, I was ecstatic. A few days later she sent me the link to Al Jazeera’s video, “The Lives of Black Women”. I watched the video, withheld any reservations, and took time to gather my thoughts. During the film, I thought of the #SayHerName campaign in response to the lack of awareness, news coverage or public outcries about the extrajudicial murders of black women, girls,and femmes. The #SayHerName campaign launched last year to uplift the names we forgot. Many people have co-opted the hashtag completely decontextualizing the initial motive. When you say #sayhisname to uplift male victims of police you are erasing black women and girls. Black women and girls are rarely acknowledged in news coverage of police brutality.
As a person who lives in the identities of black and assigned female, I always question my navigation. In school I do not feel safe; I am either too loud or too black in my class both hypervisible and invisible. In general society I feel like I have to play up my femininity so that I am not deemed threatening, a routine many black women adhere to. When the Charleston shooting happened I was saddened, the 6 women murdered were just like my aunties, grandmas, and female cousins. I know what it’s like to trapeze on awareness and racial fatigue. I appreciate the dialogue about Black Lives Matter in my classrooms, but it’s troubling when so many don’t know the names of Rekiya Boyd, Shantell Davis, and Bettie Jones. Where is the space for Black women, girls, and femmes? So many of us are the pillars of our community, yet there is a debilitating silence that surrounds us when we are harmed by those in our community and outside of it.
Rekiya Boyd, for those who are not familiar, was a young black woman killed by an off duty cop in a neighborhood in Chicago. “The Lives of Black Women,” profiles Martinez Sutton, the brother of Rekiya Boyd. He talks about how important she was to him and his continuous fight for justice.
"People don't care about black women, they just don't. We're in the way in the case of Rekia Boyd. We're angry black women. Or we're just too angry and too black and too womanly in the case of Sandra Bland. We're either too x or we're invisible," says Page May, teacher and organiser of Assata's Daughters, May continues,"At best we're taken for granted, at worst we're abused. And we see the manifestation of that on the mainstream, in the erasure of our deaths, our suffering, and of our resistance,"
A quote from the film that resonated with me personally -- Why does it resonate? Do you understand what she’s talking about when she says ‘we’re either too x or we’re invisible?’ expand on this and then add something to tie these together
As the film continues, we learn about the shooting of Bettie Jones, a 55 year old mother and grandmother. We are shown her families who share their memories of her. This was a humanizing moment for me; too often we forget the families of the people we uplift in this vital movement. These families lost someone and are ultimately seeking not only justice but solace too. A lot of the ground work seen in Black Lives Matter is by black women, femmes, and girls. We’ve seen Lesley MsSpadden, Sabrina Fulton, and Gwen Carr all grieving for the lives of their sons. In a movement for black lives, we have to recognize the intersections of blackness and how white supremacy targets them.
While I am thankful for both the movement and the film, there's much more work to be done in regards to the #sayhername campaign.
To be both black and woman is to be tired. A thread to be pulled and pulled and pulled. All in all. I really wanna hold a space for black femmes to be human. We are not clasped hands for prayer. We are expected to be everything and everybody top anyone but ourselves. Our deaths go erased, we are shamed countlessly on social media , and ostracized for existing. I want to raise awareness of the things that hurt us. I say #blackmindsmatter and #blacklivesmatter because both are true. We never talk about mental health, or in this case the constant erasure. The black femme identity is not tied to trauma. However it would be disingenuous of me to not account for the ways this country pushes us to the very edges . i often ask myself who is watching the backs of Black women. I watch my mother, my friends, and my sister work tirelessly often without complaint. For survival they have to to try to disguise the inner turmoil, this process was something we were taught at an early age. You never wanted to be a distraction or be deemed an angry black woman. As someone who has spent 5 years at a higher education institution, the amount of code switching I have to undergo is exhausting. Most recently I began work at a very white office space,I currently have extensions but I am worried that if i remove my extensions my bosses will think lesser of me. I know to the person reading this essay it may seem like a nuance but that's something that living in a black femme body feels likes. Always lessening yourself to appease other people. I can recall the numerous amount of times that someone has guided a microaggression towards me in regards. If it’s not my perceived niceness or attractiveness, it’s in regards to the choices I make to my hair. People feel so entitled to your space and body. The lives of black women are tied to capitalist consumption; which means that are good enough to imitate. Yet you are simultaneously but not good enough to be visible. Your voice neither matters, you are berated for having an opinion. Blackness is something that is readily commodified by affluent white celebs. With that being said I am exhausted, always ready to put my battle armor on. Though it’s not easy as a writer and advocate I often catch myself mid-fire. Trying to make sense of the world; it is easy to become jaded and bitter. Both feelings are valid however I know that I am doing my part to raise awareness of narratives not highlighted. I know that the lives of black women are not e asy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.