For the past several months, the national spotlight has been on racism in this country. It started with many finally acknowledging the state-sanctioned murder of unarmed black men by police and has expanded into a discussion of the racist attitudes and systematic denial of rights and privileges to the poor Black citizens of the United States.
But one group of people are still being left out of the conversation: Black women.
The President even started the My Brother's Keeper Initiative to help expand opportunities for Black men... I guess sisters can keep themselves. Black women experience the same racism as Black men, but also have to deal with sexism. And yet, because of that intersecting racism and sexism, when Black women are killed by the cops, less people show up to protest. In fact, many people never even hear about it.
So here are five stories about Black women that you haven't heard:
1. Elderly Black mothers discover that their babies were stolen from them.
Yes, you read that right. Three elderly black women have discovered that thehospital stole their newborns and put them up for adoption without their consent. In each case, the impoverished, Black mother who gave birth to a premature child was told that her child died in the hospital, the segregated Homer G. Phillips hospital of St. Louis, and was not allowed to see the body or a birth certificate. The children were adopted and told that their birth mothers gave them up. Recently, the children (who are now middle aged themselves) have found their birth mothers. The mothers are now suing to obtain medical records in hopes of determining if any more Black babies were stolen from this hospital.
It is unknown why these babies were stolen and put up for adoption without their birth mothers' consent. It's possible that it was done for financial gain, but in 1965, I can't imagine that people were paying a ton of money for Black babies. It is more likely that the babies were stolen because someone did not think that poor, Black women would make good mothers to sick children. There is a well-documented history of Black women (and other women of color) being involuntarily sterilized by the state due to the belief that they were not good mothers and should not procreate, both historically and modernly.
2. A serial killer hunted Black women from 1985-2007 before being caught, and he still has not been brought to trial.
HBO released a documentary called Tales of the Grim Sleeper from British filmmaker Nick Broomfield. Broomfield spent time in South Central Los Angeles interviewing residents about Lonnie Franklin Jr. Franklin is suspected of killing anywhere from 20 to more than 100 Black women between 1985 and 2007. His M.O. was inviting women -- many of whom were sex workers -- back to his trailer to take pornographic photos. He would ply them with drugs and alcohol, take the photos, and then torture and murder them. He was allowed to kill so many women for so long because the Los Angeles Police Department never put much effort into finding him. In fact, according the documentary, officers often referred to him as "cleaning up the streets" and declined to investigate. The term for murders of poor, drug addicts or sex workers was "NHI", or "no humans involved." Despite having eyewitnesses, sketches, and a description of Franklin's car, the police didn't investigate and didn't even alert the community that there was a serial killer targeting Black women in a small area of the city. The documentary also posits that some members of the community protected Franklin by not giving more information to police both due to a distrust in law enforcement, but also because of a devaluing of Black female life. Franklin was arrested in 2010 and still has not stood trial.
3. Unarmed Black women killed by law enforcement officers.
As much media attention as is now, finally, being paid to the unarmed Black men who have been killed by police officers, very little attention has been paid to theunarmed Black women (and Black Trans women) killed by law enforcement. They have received less media coverage and smaller, poorly attended protests. As quickly as the names Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray roll off the tongue, do you know any of these names?
- Yvette Smith
- Shelly Frey
- Darnisha Harris
- Malissa Williams
- Alesia Thomas
- Shantel Davis
- Rekia Boyd
- Shereese Francis
- Aiyana Stanley-Jones
- Tarika Wilson
- Kathryn Johnston
- Alberta Spruill
- Kendra James
Each were unarmed when murdered by a law enforcement officer. One was 92 years old. Two were young children. Three were taking care of young children, who witnessed their deaths. Two were mentally ill, and the police officers had been called to help them, but killed them instead. In our society, children, the elderly, and the mentally ill are supposed to be given special protections, but racism erases those protections from Black women, and they are seen as threats first and humans second.
4. Do you know who started the #BlackLivesMatter movement?
It's the most ubiquitous phrase to have been coined in recent years, do you know who started it? Three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. They founded #BlackLivesMatter as a way to connect activists and protestors across social media platforms, and it has worked to create the first national, civil rights movement of the 21st century. While #BlackLivesMatter has often been referred to in the media as a "leaderless movement," the movement has leaders that provide online support and travel to protests to provide medical, legal, and organizational support to protestors. The media has just chosen not to learn the leaders' names. Luckily, activists like DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie have used Twitter to tell the true story of the peaceful, well-led protests being made violent by overzealous police officers who the media has chosen to ignore in favor of a narrative of random violence and disorganization.
5. #SayHerName protests
#SayHerName has become the rallying cry for women attempting to bring more attention to the plight of Black women in America. Currently, there are protests being staged across the country to honor the lives of Black women killed by police violence. Some of the protestors stop traffic by marching topless. They are marching topless for two reasons. For one, there is a long-standing African tradition of women protesting by revealing body parts. Second, the action calls attention to the hypocritical nature of the American public forum. While Black women's bodies are a hot commodity in popular culture (it's almost impossible for a white female artist to make a music video without using some Black female bodies as props), they are nearly invisible in matters of justice. #SayHerName protestors are putting their own bodies on the line to remind us all that #BlackWomensLivesMatter, too.