The deaths of Martin Luther King Jr and George Floyd have both mobilised unprecedented mass movements which aim to raise awareness of the pain caused by police brutality, racism and white supremacy; campaigns commonly known as the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter.
However, while women propose, men dispose, with the hidden secret being that both movements are androcentric, tainted by a hierarchy of control. Both campaigns reached their peak after the unsolicited execution of a leading black male; yet, as we continue to praise the male faces society associated with these movements, black women continue to be left to drown in the seas of ignorance and misogyny, their stories often forgotten.
Unsurprisingly, the history books fail to outline the names of black women we hardly know—such as Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Prathia Hall and the countless others—heroines who have confronted racist ideologies and police with honour and propriety, many of whom fell victim to violence in distinctly gendered ways, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault. These cases failed to draw half as much public attention or outrage as their male counterparts, restricting our understanding of the broader picture of racism, savagery and prejudice.
So, why is it that women remain the sacrificial victims to miscarriages of justice? Why is it that violence against black men sparks the most influential campaigns? Why is it that history is dominated by a man’s suffering? Well, the answer is hidden in the unspeakable truth- patriarchy.
Even today, it is easy to distinguish black women’s experiences from their male counterparts, an issue Mary Church Terrell famously coined the “double handicap of race and sex.” From inferior employment opportunities, segregation, and economic circumstances, Terrell stated that black women remain second-class citizens. Although, I would go further and claim black women, without a doubt, are third-class citizens, handicapped by the colour of their skin and their inherent gender in a different capacity to their white female counterparts. In an age where humankind is celebrated for technological advancements, societally - especially regarding the issues of black female racism - we remain stationary and more worryingly, appear to be taking steps backwards.
Men involved with the Civil Rights movement brazenly erased women from its ranks. At historically ground-breaking events such as the march on Washington, men forbade women from speaking to the gathered crowd, ushering women to march in their shadow. According to Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr, “It had been my great wish to march beside him… not from any desire to share the spotlight, but because I wanted the joy of being with him on this special day.”
Also, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jn led to an outpouring of anger among black Americans that opened the door for racial equality, economic justice and peace, painting a picture of success. By contrast, the shooting of Prathia Hall saw no public outcry, a shining example of the legacies of women withering away on the vine.
At protests today, a growing number of Black Lives Matter activists refuse to let the dire experiences of black women go unnoticed. Yet, one could question how successful they have been. As public figures such as Brittney Cooper, Arwa Mahdawi, and Tamika Mallory sharply point out, protests in memory of Breonna Taylor would likely never have received so much support if not for the George Floyd protests. The campaigns influenced by the shooting of Floyd looked and felt different; littered with riots, looting, and street skirmishes. However, campaigns in honour of Taylor, such as the #SayHerName campaign, which aimed to document the experiences of black women against police violence, are now remembered by many as an old trend, yet again, coated in dust.
Beyond any reasonable doubt, the media, leaders and protesters are too narrow minded. The time has come for these two movements to find a common ground, one that welcomes black men and women to the forefront. If we are to reach the desired goal of rendering police violence, racism and white supremacy extinct, we must all accept that black men and women alike have been, and continue to be, subject to racial violence; it is only through honouring the noble sacrifices of both sexes that society will be able to bring an end to racial inequality. Until this happens, black women’s equality will continue on a trajectory of doom. It is our duty to re-write history and allow women such as Breonna Taylor and Parthia Hall to take their rightful place in the halls of justice.