The Trayvon Martin case has remained in the nation’s conscious. Just about every news source is covering the trial and the nation is still dialoging about what should happen to the man who killed him. With the national attention this case has received, I can’t help but think back to Rekia Boyd and wonder why there was such a difference in the coverage of her murder and little to no national outrage or civil mobilization surrounding it.
For many people the Trayvon Martin Case is just another example of how racism exists in “Post- Racial America.” A young, bright, and well-intentioned black male was oversimplified to pervasive definitions on his blackness and killed because of it. I found it inspirational how quickly civil rights organizations, members of the black community, and a number of other entities mobilized on Martin’s behalf. Murdered around the same time, Rekia Boyd, however, did not receive the attention comparable to Martin. On March 22, 2012 Rekia, the young and innocent woman, was killed by an off-duty cop attempting to kill the armed Antonia Cross. Unlike Martin, Rekia received coverage from only a few news stations, most of which referred to her as an unnamed victim. Even after details were released on her name, the media’s coverage of her story was slim. Only after her family won a settlement against the city of Chicago did Boyd receive much attention.
Within the differences in national reactions and continued coverage of Trayvon Martin is a subtle narrative on the gendered experience of black women and masculinization of race issues. While the Martin case became the poster of prejudice and injustice, still quoted and referred to by many prominent black leaders and civil rights activists, Rekia Boyd was simply another black woman victimized by an inherently flawed system. Martin’s murder–that of a black male–became a defining trope on the reality of racism against blacks. On the other hand, Boyd’s murder–that of a black female–did not. This is just one of many examples on the masculinization of race issues in the black community.
The continuously ignored sexual violence against black women is yet another example. In a study done by Black Women’s Blueprint, researchers found that over 60 percent of black girls experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. According to the Department of Justice, for every black women that reports her sexual abuse, at least 15 women do not. Some naively argue that the silence surrounding sexual violence against black women is simply because many women don’t speak out, but I think we should complicate that claim. Let’s jump back to Anita Hill, a woman who was victimized because she spoke out on the sexual harassment she encountered. Instead of focusing on the actual violence Anita Hill and other women experienced, the black community instead rallied behind the black male (Clarence Thomas)-viewed as carrying the bigger burden of being black in America. This patriarchal notion forces black women into submission in order to protect black men who have historically been the more visible victims of race issues like lynchings and racial profiling. The sexual violence many black women encounter, thus, becomes a masculinized race issue in that it becomes more about protecting black men and less about black women’s experience of sexual violence.
The intention of this article is not to discount the injustice Martin received or those of black men in general. I do, however, find it saddening that the experiences of black women are always second to those of men. Black people, as a community, are quick to highlight structural and systematic inequalities, but, through this, are often perpetrators of a similar injustice against black women. This much is clear in comparing national reactions to Boyd versus Martin. Oppression can happen on a variety of scales–whether it be rooted in white privilege, patriarchy, heteronormativity, or class structure–and this fact is typically ignored. Though black men still face racism, they can still be sexist and benefit from patriarchy. The “black struggle” is not a concept specific to black men. Ultimately, the sexual violence black women encounter should not be perceived as a political attack on black men. In order to engage in a truly liberating politic, exclusively masculine racial discourse must be denounced.