A few months ago, I watched this Ted Talk on intersectionality from the woman who coined the term, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. She opened my eyes to #SayHerName and the total silence about Black women who’ve been murdered by law enforcement. We know George Floyd. We know Tamir Rice. We know Philando Castile. But can we name any Black women who’ve died so unjustly?
I want to note the importance of knowing, saying, and sharing their names. This isn’t about Black trauma porn (i.e. think about why you’re watching and sharing videos of seeing Black folks die violent deaths). This is simply knowing that Black women die at the hands of law enforcement as well.
This is merely one woman’s name. This is merely one example of the abuse of power toward Black women (and the examples are all triggering as fuck). This is merely one case of so many ways in which the stigma against mental illness leads to unnecessary death.
There are more. Take the time to learn and say her name.
The oldest will not hesitate to tell you what he thinks, just like his mom, like me, like his grandfather. He lives and works in Minneapolis with his dad. He’s an adult now with his fro and his snarky smile. He is a sensitive soul. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t hurt anyone unless they hurt the people he loves.
The youngest looks just like his White dad. He’s always trying to outwit everyone. As a toddler, he had the biggest head on the tiniest body. Watching him literally toddle down the hall was one of the last times I saw my grandmother laugh. He probably won’t remember her. He probably doesn’t know how much closer to our abducted ancestors she made us.
The middle nephew struggles because, far too often, he’s been told he isn’t wanted. He’s incredibly smart, witty as fuck, philosophical, funny, and determined. He’s also argumentative and a typical teenaged boy who doesn’t realize how much he’s suffered. He likes shoes, looking good, cars, and driving too fast.
Every night, I check a local Twitter account that reports what’s said on the police scanner. I’ve accepted that one of those tweets will be about my middle nephew. He’s already been pulled over at least once. He’s not even eighteen yet. Will he make it? Will the next officer know the difference between a taser and a gun? Will the next officer recognize him as the grandchild of a retired policeman? Will it make a difference?
Every day, I read the news. I worry one of the stories out of Minnesota will end up being my eldest nephew who knows he’s “the Blackest looking of the family.” My dad, the retired officer, taught us to comply. We’ve also been taught not to take any shit. What will my eldest nephew pick when he’s pulled over? What thing will the officer say to piss off my nephew? Will that kid able to keep his mouth shut? Will he fight for what’s right and for himself? Will either save his life?
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Since the Black Lives Matter protests began, two sayings floated around: “Silence is violence” and “Silence means you’re complicit.” I want to add one.
Since June 1st, I’ve sent emails, Instagram direct messages, and texts asking my friends, loved ones, and colleagues to speak up, if they haven’t already. Some of those people gave nothing.
It’s not merely the silence that hurts. It’s the disregard. None of them have asked if I’m safe. None have asked if my family is safe. None have expressed shock or outrage over how George Floyd and countless other Black Americans have died. None have even said, “All lives matter” or “Make America Great Again,” which would at least let me know where they stand.
It’s total silence.
I know some are pretending the world is fine. Some don’t know what to say. But saying anything is better than silence. What’s wrong with saying, “I don’t know what to say”?
Sometimes, people need time to reflect, and I respect that. Though it feels like we’re into our fifth year of 2020, it’s only been seven days since I sent my first request for something other than silence. I and people like me have felt every emotion in those seven days. We’ve screamed louder than ever. We’ve shared resources, ideas, thoughts, tears . . . and yet, silence.
I woke up this morning feeling nothing but hurt. I am safe in my home. I am loved and protected. I am comfortable.
But all I wanted was for those folks to break that silence.