The Whitney Museum chooses silence in an effort to displace, downplay, and negate valid public outrage regarding their policies, ethics and leadership. By Jamara Wakefield May 17th marked the start of the 79th Whitney Biennial. The Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition, featuring typically young and lesser-known artists, at the Whitney Museum of American Art […]
We Don’t Care About Black Women and Femmes, So We Need #SayHerName
Meagan Hockaday. Yvette Smith. Alexia Christian. Yvette Henderson. Shelly Fray. Sandra Bland. Charleena Lyles. Ava Barrin.
You may have heard of some of these names, but not all of them. But why exactly is that? In the last few years, members and leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement have been working tirelessly to raise awareness and action behind the injustice plaguing the Black community. But while the movement’s actions have resulted in us knowing the names of many victims of police brutality, misogynoir still plays a role in which victims are seen as worthy of our attention.
This isn’t the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement itself, which works tirelessly to fight for justice of all Black people. In fact, this is because of something much older and far more rooted within the Black community and non-Black community at large. It is the specific kinds of misogyny and hatred of Black women and femmes that center on factors beyond their Blackness.
Misogynoir is so deeply rooted within the Black community that it remains often under the surface, undetected by men who don’t have to think about its harm on a daily basis. But it remains a driving force in how victimhood and memory are played out in the Black Lives Matter movement.
#SayHerName was created as a direct response to the erasure of Black women and femmes from the mainstream Black Lives Matter movement. In a Twitter thread by Leslie Mac, she points out the ways that #SayHerName is essential for Black women and femmes who have experienced violence and/or police brutality.
— LeslieMac 🖤 (@LeslieMac) June 19, 2017
It became crystal clear to me – if you center Black Women (Trans or Cis) – don't expect anyone to show up or care. And that remains to today
— LeslieMac 🖤 (@LeslieMac) June 19, 2017
Despite Black Lives Matter being led by three Black queer women, the erasure of Black women and femmes continues. The names and legacies of Black women and femmes who find themselves victims of police brutality aren’t remembered in the same ways as Black men and boys. We don’t see them as victims and we don’t chant their names in the streets and demand justice in the same ways because society at large does not value the lives of Black women and femmes in the same ways as men.
We cannot talk about the injustices that befalls Black women and femmes without talking about transmisogyny. Of everyone, trans Black women and femmes are failed the most by our lack of dismantling and challenging our own internalized transmisogyny. Just this past Sunday, 17-year-old Ava Barrin became the 14th reported trans woman of color murdered just this year.
When Black children have been murdered, we have seen outrage and public sorrow enough to bring cities to its knees. But for trans women of color who continue to die at rates faster than the rest of any other demographic, our failure to protect them is apparent. What will it take? What will it take for #SayHerName to ring just as powerfully as Black Lives Matter?
It’s only when we begin to do the difficult work of dismantling our own internalized and structural misogynoir and transmisogyny. It begins when we recognize the work that Black women and femmes do every day to continue to keep our community and movements going forward. And it begins when Black men, boys, and masc individuals stand up against the violence directed at us. Now more than ever, the communities that we support must make a stand and rise up to protect us.
#SayHerName is only the first step. We still have a long way to go in protecting the well-being of Black women and femmes. It will take education, restructuring of systems, demolishing old ways of thinking, and lots of work that we haven’t begun exploring yet. But this work is necessary – for none of us can be free until all of us are free.
If we don’t push to ensure the safety of those most vulnerable to violence – that means centering the safety of trans Black women and femmes first – then we are still falling short.