Disrespected. Unprotected. Neglected.
By Shereá Denise
There is a rather interesting conundrum that continues to impact the Black Community. While we advocate against the wrongful incarceration of Black men, we also cannot overlook how frequently Black women are losing their lives at the hands of Black men. We continue to talk about how gun violence is ravaging the Black Community and – whether you believe the issue is police brutality, Black-on-Black crime, or the accessibility of guns – it continues to be argued that the stress that many Black women are under is exacerbated by the fact that they are being left to carry on after burying their sons, their fathers, their partners, and their cousins. But Black men are not the only ones being ripped from the Black Community by gun violence. Too often Black men are using the same violence that kills and cripples them to take the lives of their romantic, intimate, or sexual partners. I would argue that a portion of the stress that many Black women struggle with is not from burying their loved ones, but from facing day-to-day interactions and relationships where they are being victimized or could lose their lives because their partner “lost their temper” or because they refused to give a random man on the street their phone number. Perhaps one way to summarize the stress that many Black women are facing is by saying that the world that we are fighting for is rarely fighting for us. It continues to seem that it is Black women against the world or – rather – the world against Black women.
Disrespected. Have you ever considered how violent the language used to describe Black women is? We all know that the “rap music is misogynistic” argument seems to lack credibility solely because most of us heard Black women called out of their names by a Black man long before we listened to our first cassette tape, CD, or streaming app. Some of the most brutal words used against Black women have become standard vernacular in everyday conversations between Black women and their partners as well as Black women and their friends. The fact that we have chosen to reclaim the word b*tch does not change the fact that – historically – it was a term used to disrespect women and – based on my own experience – typically Black women.
Unprotected. The statistics about violence against Black women are staggering. According to the Bureau of Justice, “Black females historically have experienced intimate partner violence at rates higher than white females.” Maya Finoh and Jasmine Sankofa wrote about this in a January 2019 ACLU blog post. Per that article, studies show that “about 22% of Black women in the United States have experienced rape[, that] 40% will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime[, and that] Black women are killed at a higher rate than any other group of women. A 2015 survey of Black Trans and Non-Binary individuals found that 53% have experienced sexual violence and 56% have experienced domestic violence.” When seeing these numbers, I cannot only think of the victims. I have to also think about the people that perpetrated these acts against these women and the women that are not reporting that they have been harmed. Too often the sons, fathers, partners, and cousins that we are not burying, we are fearing because of the manners in which they have violated us or other women in our family.
Neglected. I often wonder how Black women can continue to advocate for Black men, especially when we can clearly see the current and historical mistreatment that Black women have suffered at the hands of our men. We have been generationally bound to so many roles that prove difficult to juggle. How can we discuss the abuse that we have suffered and seek prosecution and healing when we have always been told that family business stays within the family and that we are our brothers’ keepers? Shall I continue to be my brother’s keeper when I see him cause harm to another Black woman? Should I tell her to wear a longer skirt or to not provoke him as a way to justify or excuse his actions?
In or around 1962, Malcolm X (also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) 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.” It is my opinion that he said this with the intent to bring to our attention how the disrespect by some of our men coupled with the lack of protection of and neglect from others continued to allow the greater world to harm Black women. Here we have someone bringing this to our attention over fifty years ago to only be faced with the aforementioned statistics about the abuse that Black women continue to face.
The irony that so many Black men quote everything else that Malcolm X said, except that quote from 1962, is not lost on me. It is also not lost on me that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter reiterated this sentiment in 2016. Yet, here we are. Still setting record statistics, still grieving for the men we buried, and still losing our sisters at the hands of those meant to respect, protect, and care for them. I think it is long past time for Black women to stop respecting and protecting those who do not protect us. Let us challenge ourselves and our sisters to no longer wait on other people to stop neglecting us, but – rather – for us to make sure that we are no longer neglecting ourselves.
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline
at 1-800-799-7233 or visit https://www.thehotline.org/help/.