WHEN BLACK WOMEN DIE FROM STREET HARASSMENT
Who cries when black women die?
October 20, 2014
I’m not asking that as some type of rhetorical, poetic question, meant to move you toward ferocious finger snaps. I want to know. Who cries when black women die?
Further, who cries when black women are killed?
Mary Spears was killed. The man who killed her did so because she refused to give him her phone number. She told him “I have a man I can’t talk to you,” and yet he persisted. Rather than respect her wishes to be left alone, he shot her.
Who cries when black women die from street harassment?
I really do need an answer. Because Mary Spears’s right to move about freely in the world was denied to her, her life taken from her, and there are no marches. No one has broken out the bullhorns or their comfortable sneakers. There are no widespread calls to protect the autonomy of black women and their bodies. The community leaders haven’t deemed this unacceptable and a fate no one should ever face simply because they reject a man’s advances.
No, when black women die from that toxic mix of violent misogyny, male entitlement, and hypermasculine posturing, there is no movement to be born. There are condolences to be offered and “unfortunate”s to be uttered, but no tears to be cried. There is no anger that propels action.
You’ve read this piece before. You’ve read it a dozen times over. I’ve written it before. I could have written it a dozen times over. It’s the piece where someone complains about how little outrage there is surrounding something which deeply affects them, and then the reader is left to wonder, “Well, if it means that much to you, what are YOU doing about it?” You may have written that piece before. And we keep writing them because I don’t think any of us are quite sure what to do.
Where black women are concerned, we aren’t just talking about mounting the evils of misogyny, or even racism. We compete with the sacrifices black women make for their community.
I understand that there’s an impulse to not make black men the faces of street harassment, given all of the ideas that already exist around black male hypersexuality, as well as the disproportionate amount of police violence that black men face as the result of the constant criminalization of behaviors associated with black men. But black women have been allowed to suffer too much for the protection of black men. They have paid with their lives.
And here I am, writing another blog post wondering why no one seems to care.
Street harassment is vile. It makes women feel unsafe in public. But when black women die because we have failed to teach boys and men to keep their thoughts and hands to themselves, that they are not entitled to the sexual attention of any and every woman, or that their attempts at proving their masculinity through verbal and physical assaults on women are failures, the concern fades before it has a chance to actually surface. Black women are expected to keep sacrificing.
Who cries when black women die? Nobody. No damn body.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.