For centuries, Black women have been at the forefront of the fight for justice and equality, and yet they have been consistently mistreated, ignored, and discredited—including by Black people.
It’s happened again in recent weeks, as the calls to arrest the officers who killed Breonna Taylor have been treated differently online, and elsewhere, than similar calls in cases involving Black men.
Google search traffic shows that the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks gained significantly more immediate attention than Taylor's killing. While searches for Arbery peaked almost immediately after the release of the video of his murder, searches for Taylor didn't peak for two weeks after news of the horrific no-knock invasion that took her life. That peak coincided with the killing, 10 weeks after Taylor had been killed, of George Floyd.
In news outlets, Taylor’s death has been a smaller story as well. As of Monday, The Washington Post, for example, has run about 25 pieces of original reporting on Arbery, compared with 10 on Taylor. And there are 11 already on Brooks. (While the stories about Arbery and Brooks include some regarding criminal charges against the officers involved, which have not yet come in Taylor’s case, the earlier news coverage likely helped spur those charges.)
The same pattern has appeared at The Daily Beast, which has published 10 pieces with original reporting about Arbery, six about Brooks and not one about Taylor, just an opinion piece and summaries of breaking news from other outlets.
While Taylor’s case is the only one of the four without accompanying video—which may have contributed to the discrepancy—it’s still striking that her story has been relatively under-covered, and has now become trivialized in a mainstream meme in which celebrities and others attach Taylor’s name or a phrase like “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” to posts that are completely unrelated in a misguided “bait-and-switch” attempt to draw attention to the case.
But honestly, it's easy to ignore the plight of Black women when even within the Black community the outcry is too often muted.
The nationwide unrest and cries for justice that rightfully surround racist killings of Black men never seem to reach the same magnitude for Black cis and trans women who are also victims of hate-based violence.
Sometimes it feels like even Black people too easily forget about Black women. Actually, “forget” is doing a lot of work here: Too many people just don’t care. At least not enough.
Of course, there are Black people who never hesitate to stand up for Black women, and yes there are non-Black people who ignore us as well, but it’s the ever-present silence from within the community that speaks loudest.
When comedian Dave Chappelle spoke on the murder of George Floyd and other Black men in a 30-minute video that’s been viewed many millions of times, he never once said Breonna Taylor’s name.
Black women are up against a seemingly impenetrable wall at the intersection of racism and sexism, a corner known as misogynoir, a term coined by scholar Moya Bailey. In a world that already devalues Black life, to be a woman adds another layer of struggle.
But even that concept isn’t cut and dry because while Black women are often disregarded for both their skin and gender, they are also denied the femininity that affords white female victims sympathy.
And when this plays out within the Black community, it hits that much harder.
The misogyny that takes place within the Black community is what makes cishet Black men the cishet white men of Black people. The privilege they exert within the community is enough to crush the efforts Black women make to be heard, protected and cared for and it’s even led to internalized misogyny for some women. It’s part of the reason R.Kelly got away with abusing Black women for so long while many Black people opted against calling the same attention to him, and alleged sexual predators like hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, as others did to Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who were named by white accusers.
Too many Black people refused to let go of “Bump n’ Grind” or pick a new wedding song besides “Step in the Name of Love” even when they knew that music came at the expense of the innocence and safety of Black girls.
And let’s not forget the hoteps. (Oh yes, we’re going there.)
A hotep (coming from an Egyptian word for “peace”) has its own special brand of misogyny among a select portion of the Black community. It’s rooted in the assertion that Black men are the leaders of the Black household and Black women should stand by them no matter the costs because Black men already have the cards of racism stacked against them.
The concept is essentially conspiracy-laden, Black male patriarchy wrapped up in a “pro-Black” facade that only seeks to uplift cishet Black men (and, as the archetype goes, they are often partnered with white women). But don’t be fooled, Black women can get caught up in the doctrine too and serve to strengthen the oppression of other “queens.”
That same misogyny also makes Black women disproportionate victims of violence (not to be confused with the misconception of “Black on Black” crime) often perpetrated by Black men themselves and too frequently ignored by the community at large.
Despite, or because of, stereotypes that seek to paint Black women as “strong” figures who can either handle any tough situation or need to be forced into submission, it’s often overlooked that Black women experience some of the highest rates of homicide from domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and 29 percent are harmed by a partner in their lifetime. While combating racism is often prioritized, sexism and the violence it encourages can be disregarded. Black women are also less likely to report incidents of domestic violence. Alexia Norton Jones, who was allegedly raped by Russell Simmons, explained that Black women “are conditioned and condemned to protect Black men to the detriment of our own lives.”
Unfortunately, no matter how heinous the crime, when the victims are Black women, the attention is lost.
Between 1970 to 2005, serial killer Samuel Little killed at least 93, mostly Black, females (he even drew chilling portraits of his victims), yet the deaths failed to gain the same attention as those of Charles Manson, who ordered the killing of seven white women or Jeffrey Dahmer who killed 17 men and boys.
In 2019, an analyst with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program said “for many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims.”
This month, a D.C. girl was thrown into a dumpster by a group of Black boys who laughed hysterically as she cried from the trash-filled heap. On video, the boys can be seen shoving the woman, who may have been under the influence or otherwise atypical, into the bushes and calling her ugly and a “crackhead bitch” and shouting “whoop her ass.” Of course, they posted it to social media.
And in the trans community, Black women like Iyanna Dior and Islan Nettles are attacked or killed by cisgender Black men at alarming rates due to toxic masculinity and transphobia.
It’s possible you may not have heard about these cases and that’s not surprising. These gut-wrenching crimes against Black women often float under the radar of media attention.
Think about it, how often do you hear a media frenzy about missing Black girls compared to their white counterparts? It’s not because they aren’t victims of kidnapping or sex trafficking. They actually accounted for 37 percent of all missing women under the age of 18 in 2018.
Malcolm X identified the problem when he said “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Nearly 50 years later, the pain Black women experience in the United States remains normalized and, to an extent, simply accepted.
We will see steps toward justice for Breonna Taylor and others like her when the Black community recognizes the humanity and value of Taylor and all Black women, cis and trans, setting an example for the rest of the country that truly echoes the undeniable fact that #AllBlackLivesMatter.