Journalism in the service of society

Most disrespected person in America is the black woman

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi

TOO often, stories of black women who have been abused by the systemic racism in our country go ignored, not only by the majority, but by our black male counterparts.As a young black woman and first generation American, I have dealt with the burdens of racial injustice, sexism, colourism and nationalism. 

Earlier this year, Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police department, knelt on George Floyd’s neck, preventing him from breathing and killing him. This murder resulted in outrage, and a wave of protests all around the country. It unearthed years of trauma and pain experienced by the black community, not only in the United States but all around the world.

However, two months before Floyd’s death on March 13, 2020, a young black woman was shot and killed by police officers while sleeping in her apartment. Breonna Taylor’s death received little to no coverage until after George Floyd’s death received worldwide recognition.

Taylor became a martyr and yet another victim of police brutality who did not receive proper justice. A grand jury indicted officer Brett Hanksion on three separate counts of first-degree wanton endangerment as he put the lives of Taylor’s neighbours in danger by firing shots that reached their apartments.

On September 15, 2020, Taylor’s family received $12 million in a wrongful death settlement that included a host of police reforms. In the settlement, the city agreed to an incentive to hire officers who live in the areas in which they wish to serve, and required more review for search warrants among many other changes. Still none of the officers involved with Taylor’s death was charged with her death. Protests have continued to surge in response to this verdict as the justice system placed property over Taylor’s personhood.

These protests have resulted in a large cultural shift, consequently bringing to the forefront the importance of inclusivity and allyship in the black community. They promote conversations about what we can do to create equality, equity and understanding in a tumultuous and often hurtful society.As Taylor’s story reached the media, there were stark differences in how the public received her story versus Floyd’s. 

Taylor was made out to be a caricature — to sell products and memified. This showed the lack of value for the personhood of black women in America. 

Tiktok users co-opted a cry for justice “Arrest the Killers of Breonna Taylor” into a TikTok trend on the social media website. The meme is usually preceded by a completely unrelated theme to police brutality and ends with “Arrest the Killers of Breonna Taylor.” 

Thisreception, dissemination and performative activism associated with Taylor’s story  is indicative of the erasure of black women’s intersectional experiences and reflective of the stories of so many cis and trans black women who have been harmed by the police and by their own community. Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, black women have been champions of change. 

The BLM movement was created in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. As we protect and act as mothers of our community, I often wonder who will stand on the front lines and fight for us. The idea of the “strong black women” or the “superwoman schema” explains the internal conflict experienced by many Black women. They are expected to be emotionless, strong, superwomen, and to act as a voice for their people. 

Black women have fought for the lives of black men to be valued and respected, yet when the lives of black women enter the conversation, the narrative transforms into something else. Nineteen years old Oluwatoyin Salau was sexually assaulted and murdered by black male Aaron Glee Jr. Glee offered Salau a ride and a place to stay following a protest for Floyd. 

When her story reached the media, people, specifically black men, blamed her. Questions like “Why would she go with him?” or “She owed him” appeared on Twitter threads about her. Iyanna Dior, a trans woman, was beaten brutally by a group of 20-30 black men at a gas station. Transphobia bled into all of the conversations concerning the brutal attack. 

A 15 seconds video from the Long Island Herald captured Wynta Amor, a seven years old black girl, chanting “Black Lives Matter”. The video of Amor and many other young black girls being propped up as activists went viral on all social media websites.

Thereis no age limit to carrying the burden of your community and country as a Black girl in America. Black women are carrying the weight of validating the worth of their lives not only as a black person but as women. 

The overwhelming sentiment of not being able to feel that your experience is real or validated has and will continue to contribute to trauma and of young black girls who are often forced to grow up too fast. Blackness and womanhood are intersectional identities that cannot be separated from one another. Black women exist at the crossroads of institutional racism and institutional sexism.

If we erase the fact that black women experience multiple different marginalised identities, we are simultaneously invalidating them as people and their experiences.So many stereotypes have contributed to the way that the world relates to black women. The “Mammy” stereotype began with blackenslaved women who were expected to be obedient and loyal despite experiencing an insurmountable amount of pain. 

The craze to objectify black women began when enslaved women were raped. The “angry black women” stereotype invalidates the anger and pain experienced as a result of the injustices they face as a community.

It is important that we see black women not as warriors for the cause or victims but simply as people with depth, purpose and personality.

WhenI look at pictures of Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, Sandra Bland, Iyanna Dior, Elanor Bumper, Alberta Spruill and so many more black women failed by the system, I see a reflection of myself. I see people who were valuable before death and not because of death. These black women were and are activists, EMT workers, mothers, sisters and friends. 

Black women deserve better. They deserve justice while they are living and breathing and they deserve validation when the systems in place to protect them fail them. 

This is a painful time for so many people around the world. It is like a period of mourning that will never end until we receive proper justice. 

In our process of healing, we lean on our allies and each other. We must educate and love one another, challenge our beliefs, and continue the quest for knowledge. We must recognise how our different intersections impact our experiences. The process of education and understanding continues as long as we exist on this earth.

Oreoluwa Ojewuyi, a reporter with The Egyptian, can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi


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