Say Her Name: The New Historical Erasure
I recently watched a documentary discussing the history of recurring police brutality and dominance in the United States. There are countless documentaries, studies, books, websites and information dedicated to exposing the injustices and corruption in the American justice system, yet the narrative seems to be structured equally throughout: Men of Color--specifically black men, are the main focus of the national conversation concerning police violence. While at first this is not regarded as inherently a problem, there is deep-rooted sexism in the national conversation concerning police brutality.
The little exposure Black Women get in the media highlights the importance of namesake by illustrating the erasure of identities of Black Women who have fallen victim to police violence in the United States. Sandra Bland, a 28-year old Black woman from Illinois was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer and days later found dead in a jail cell; her death and infamous mugshot ignited a fury and deep mourning across the nation. Black women are routinely beaten, raped, and killed by police forces in the United States.
The conversation about police brutality targeted towards Communities of Color has been brought to the forefront in the last decade by organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Me Too Movement, and especially via the media. Yet, what the media fails to recognize and expose is the inclusion of the black female body in their fight against racism. Black women are left unheard, unrepresented, and unseen in the national conversation involving police brutality.
Kimberle Crenshaw, a feminist-scholar who coined the term “intersectionality,” an analytical feminist framework that identifies discrimination rooted in the overlapping of gender, race, and class, states, “yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives, and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.” Black Women’s narratives and accounts of violence have been erased throughout history--with the narrative of all-male lynchings in a post-abolition society, up until the narrative of police brutality, with an emphasis on Rodney King and Trayvon Martin. What the media fails to endorse is that alongside Rodney King, there was Latasha Harlins, and alongside Trayvon Martin there is Sandra Bland.
The history of violence targeted toward black women can be traced back to the times of a post-abolition South, yet there is a reason why the racial justice movement prioritizes the development of a gender inclusive lens. “Including Black women and girls in the narrative broadens the scope of the debate, enhancing our overall understanding of the structural relationships between Black communities and law-enforcement agencies. In order to comprehend the root causes and full scope of state violence against Black communities, we must consider and illuminate all the ways in which Black people in the US are routinely targeted for state violence.” Of course, it is virtually impossible to document a comprehensive catalog of police gendered violence against Black women as there is no accurate data on nationwide police killings, and if there is, it is exclusively the media’s focus on documenting those misfortunes of Black men.
In honor of Bland and of the numerous Black Women who have lost their lives, the list provided below is intended to serve as a resource for the mass media, organizers, scholars, and policy makers to better understand and address Black women’s experiences of criminalization and racial profiling. Additionally, it should serve to highlight how lynching has been systematically institutionalized in American law enforcement in order to achieve a gender-inclusive analysis of racialized state violence.
I write as a Queer Person of Color, as the eldest daughter of immigrants, as a child living with a mixed-documented family, and especially as a White-Passing Latina. I am aware of the privilege I have, and I will continue to use my white-passing privilege for the betterment of Communities of Color---specifically those inhabited by Black Women. I write for other white-passing minorities when I ask, please use your privilege accordingly.