For Karen Smith And Other Black Women Who Seek Freedom When The Misogynoir Is Enough
On an average day in an average month, the presence of misogynoir, even if frequent, is little more than irritating. The typical manifestations—mainly incidents in which a man of virtually any racial background gives disparaging remarks about Black women à la Bill O’Reilly—often make for an interesting, yet brief, groupchat-worthy discussion chock full of eyerolls. But in the last three weeks, the violent displays of misogynoir have become overwhelming and fear-inducing.
Every day, Black women navigate the harsh reality that our fates could easily become that of Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd as much as Karen Smith’s, the San Bernardino teacher who, along with her student, was murdered by her husband—a so-called ”Man of God”—simply for having the audacity to attempt to break free from his abuse.
Such violent displays of masculinity continued into the Easter weekend when Steve Stephens unleashed chaos on the city of Cleveland after he walked up to 74 year-old Robert Goodwin Sr. and shot him point-blank. Stephens uploaded the murder to his Facebook page, and can be heard blaming his ex-girlfriend as the reason for this cold-blooded attack.
Women have long understood that saying no could cost us our lives, but now we must confront the fact that it could result in the slaying of others as well.
And while women all over the world are subject to harm under patriarchal systems, the violence committed upon Black women—especially those who are trans—takes a peculiar form. It comes from outside and within, and the perpetrators are just as likely to be white male supremacists and officers of the state as they are our own intimate partners and community members.
On March 19th, a 15 year-old girl was reported missing from the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, increasing anxieties surrounding the recent disappearances—and subsequent lack of national media attention—of young Black girls. This particular incident took a repulsive turn when, just a day later, the girl was identified as the victim in a gang rape recorded on Facebook Live.
Six teenage boys, also Black, could be seen in the livestream taking turns violating her. At least forty people watched. None called the authorities or pursued any other type of action to help the young girl. After initial arrests were made in the case, the girl’s family began reporting threats, and are currently being relocated by the Chicago Police Department.
Just a few days before this attack, a similar incident was reported: an 18 year-old girl–this time white–purported she was kidnapped by three young Black men and raped in the woods. Breana Talbott’s small-town community immediately began taking measures to seek justice and prevent other vulnerable young women from such attacks in the future.
However, it was later revealed that Talbott lied. She cried wolf in the most dangerous way, and by doing so manipulated the same white racial anxieties about Black men and sex that were responsible for a large number of lynchings throughout the Jim Crow South and many places in the north.
But what is most striking about the contrast between these two incidents, aside from the absence of truth, is the blatant apathy towards harm done to Black girls and women—even when that harm is broadcast to a large audience in real time.
One community immediately rallied together to support a girl to whom nothing happened, while the other community subjected a girl to threats even after she was unequivocally violated.
And while we can recognize the injustice in large-scale manifestations of misogynoir and violent masculinity, we struggle to identify it in all its other forms.
The likes of Tyrese Gibson, Rev Run, and Steve Harvey make millions from convincing Black women to shrink and contort themselves in order to attract attention from men. All the while, nary a soul has sought to question whether or not these men deserve them in the first place. For some unknown reason, the need to improve and rectify the Black man’s portrayal within American society has not been uncoupled from harm inflicted upon Black women.
We laugh at men like Tyrese, drag them even, but at the root of their message is the same disdain for Black women that has resulted in countless acts of violence.
The contempt within our own community is so profound that we have to beg and twist arms just to have our experiences at the hands of police acknowledged within movements oriented towards justice, even if only for a moment. Toxic obsessions with masculinity have resulted in an ever-rising death toll for Black trans women and no one else besides those directly affected (and sometimes not even them) so much as bats an eye.
Collectively, we can’t even feel outraged when we see a 15-year-old girl being raped live on social media.
As much as we loved the box office hit Get Out, we have yet to realize that Black women in America have long been in our own sunken place, with every incident of intimate partner violence, police violence, and sexual violence pushing us deeper.
We are way past the need to “say her name.” The word “saying” is too calm of a verb to use in the midst of what is truly a full-blown crisis. Rather in these times, we should be yelling and screaming them from the top of our lungs.
Don’t just say Karen Smith’s name.
Or Rekia Boyd’s.
Or Sandra Bland’s.
Or Ciara McElveen’s.
Or Jojo Striker’s.
For their sake, my sake, and even yours, shout them.