Most everyone has heard of the men involved in Black Lives Matter. Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin– they’ve become household names in regards to the movement. However, rarely do we hear about the women subjected to the police brutality BLM disputes; Rekia Boyd shot by an unarmed Chicago police officer in 2012, Michelle Cusseaux a 50 year-old bipolar and schizophrenic women shot in 2012 in Phoenix, Shelly Frey a 27 year-old mother shot in Houston for attempting to shoplift, and a multitude others. Most people aren’t familiar with the strong female foundation of Black Lives Matter either. #BlackLivesMatter was the revolutionary brain child of three incredible women as a result of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin. Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors helped unmask the severe institutional racism in this country and expose it for what it really is. However, the discrimination doesn’t end there. The truth of the matter is that this revolution is about black women just as much as it is about black men.
Historically, black women have been heavily targeted by police in the same ways as black men. Racial profiling, shootings, police stops as well as more gender-specific aggression like sexual harassment, assault, or strip-searching have all been commonplace occurrences. Stories of women like Fannie Lou Hamer from the 60’s civil rights movement are paralleled today with the modern-day horror stories of men such as Oklahoma’s Daniel Holtzclaw, who was arrested last August on 16 charges of sexual assault. This included stalking, assaulting, and raping 13 low-income women in the neighborhood he patrolled- an unabashed abuse of his authority. The lack of coverage by the media perpetuates the male dominance in issues of racial justice. Even in instances of murder, the same level of attention is not given to the case, even by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is an unfair and glaring flaw that our country has seemingly failed to acknowledge.
I would be at fault if I said that black women were completely unrepresented in regards to Black Lives Matter. As mentioned previously, the women who founded the movement are adamant about exposing the lack of dignity and civil rights many members of the black community endure. They’re joined by numerous prominent female leaders of other Black Lives Matter chapters. Marissa Johnson of Seattle is most notably recognized as the protestor who interrupted the speech of Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders. Johnetta Elzie, a social justice warrior from St. Louis, was heavily involved with the incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore. Minnesota’s own Nekima Levy-Pounds is a renowned lawyer, professor at the University of St. Thomas law school, and President of the Minneapolis NAACP in addition to her leadership role in Black Lives Matter. Despite the intense passion these women hold for activism, the black man is the clear face of the movement.
The subversion and rejection of women within racial controversy is nothing new. We know Rosa Parks as a quiet, motherly figure who finally decided to stand up for herself after years of being oppressed by the surrounding xenophobic society. In reality, she was a fierce activist who was heavily involved in the NAACP of Montgomery and a survivor of attempted rape. She was concerned with the treatment of women in the civil rights movement but she stayed behind the scenes, knowing that stepping out of her traditional role would take away from the task at hand. Women of later black liberation movements in the 60s and 70s also had their concerns ignored for the same reasons. It was never an option to discuss the multiple facets of racism, especially women’s issues; evidence that preserving America’s patriarchal structure is a goal that has been tactfully intertwined in the movement’s true intention, time and time again. Now we have a chance to confront all of the different levels of racism and the varied identities of those subjected to it. Black Lives Matter has proven to be a strong and lasting effort in our modern-day civil rights era. With the ability to make a substantial impact on our culture and create a much needed nation-wide dialogue in such a short period of time, there’s no question that we can’t shift the discussion to an intersectional viewpoint. The sooner we address race and gender in combination, the sooner we can come to a resolution to improve the quality of every black life.