By Treva Lindsey
Often, there is an alarming silence around the deaths of Black women. From the under-reported murders of Black women by their former or current partners to the vicious and specific targeting of Black trans* women, the killings of Black women rarely garner sustained media coverage, substantive rallying cries, or formidable mobilization and organizing from people other than Black women and gender non-conforming/fluid people.
Although Black women are among the first to protest and organize around the murders of Black men and boys, it is less common to see non-Black women taking a stand for fatal violence against them. To combat this, one of the many objectives of #SayHerName was to demand that we understand and fight back against state violence against Black women and girls. Even as efforts like these emerge, the continued erasure and limited visibility of Black women and girls as victims of anti-Black and heteropatriarchal violence is both infuriating and heartbreaking.
Last week, 32-year-old Ashanti Hunter was murdered in front of her children, allegedly by her boyfriend, in North Harris County, Texas. Hunter’s cousin, Myrian Rodrigues had just dropped off Hunter’s three kids at her apartment when they came running back out to car to tell Rodrigues that mommy and her boyfriend were fighting. Rodrigues immediately ran to find help, but upon her return found her cousin shot dead in the passenger seat of the car. The story is harrowing, but eerily familiar.
It is the story of Black women being killed within their relationships, families, and communities at a rate of approximately 1 Black woman every 19 hours. It is the story of Karen Smith, Joyce Quaweay, and Erika Peters. Their deaths are at the hands of the state AND our loved ones. Far too often, their perpetrators are Black men- the ones in their lives and those they have attempted to remove from their lives altogether.
These domestic and intimate partner murders are forms of intra-communal violence that demand we create new strategies for ensuring Black women survive, live, and thrive.
Without question, the push towards acknowledging and addressing the murders of Black women by Black men can quickly devolve into pathological or even hyper-criminalizing narratives of Black men. This would be an unproductive, and frankly unethical approach to a very real problem.
Black people are under siege and are slowly and spectacularly killed by state and states sanctioned violence. And yet, we can’t let white supremacy or longstanding racist stereotypes about Black men dictate how we fight back against the perniciousness of heteropatriarchal violence.
In case anyone forgot, Black women are BLACK. Therefore, the horrific killing of Hunter and intimate partner murders like hers are anti-Black violence. How many Black women must be violated or killed for more people to care and to act?
Black people rightfully contend that white supremacist structures and systemic anti-Blackness play integral roles in Black men and boys killing Black men and boys, but are hesitant to wrestle with the roles heteropatriarchy and toxic masculinity in the murders of Black women.
In September 2016, Essence ran a piece about twelve Black women killed for saying “no.” In the first two months of 2017, seven trans* women of color were murdered, six of them Black women. Keke Collier of Chicago was in the car with a man who shot her multiple times. Police found her lifeless body in the car and her murder remains “under investigation.” The murders of Black women are woefully under-reported and investigated. These murders are forms of anti-Blackness- executed through the violence of sexism, misogyny, and transphobia.
The fear of demonizing Black men coupled with our righteous indignation at the inhumanity of our criminal injustice system contribute to a collective timidity around and a deliberate downplaying of the severity of intimate partner and intra-communal violence against Black women. The failure to call out and fight against toxic masculinity and heteropatriarchy has dire consequences for Black women.
The stakes, however, are too high to not be unapologetic in our demand: STOP KILLING BLACK WOMEN.
Misogyny, and more specifically misogynoir, are anti-Black woman and anti-Black femme. Although murder is one the most painful outcomes of the dangerous interplay of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, the interconnectedness of these oppressive systems leads to crises. Pervasive sexual violence against Black women and girls as well as tens of thousands of Black women and girls missing are just two examples of this convergence.
We can’t afford to ignore the quotidian reality of intimate partner and intra-communal violence. Black women are murdered by the police, die in police custody, and are slowly killed by health, wealth, and other disparities. But, if one of the most dangerous places for Black women to exist is in our own homes and in our families,then it is time for us to expand our collective fight against anti-Blackness to include the ways in which sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia are distinctively weaponized against Black women and femmes. At the margins of the margins, Black women die at the hands of those we love(d).
Rallying around ending intra-communal murders is not a distraction from railing against police violence. It is embracing an inclusive vision of justice.
The idea that addressing intra-communal violence is a distraction wrongly, but effectively, attempts to silence calls for us to approach intimate partner and domestic violence as anti-Black violence. The reality is that all Black folks dying aren’t cis heterosexual men and boys. We can’t tear down anti-Blackness without tackling its effects on Black women and girls. White supremacy and heteropatriarchy are death-wielding, interwoven forces in the lives Black women. This means they are present in every part of our lives, even the ones we engage in for love and restoration.
Ashanti Hunter deserved a world in which her children didn’t witness their mother’s murder at the hands of her boyfriend. Her murder warrants greater media coverage- social, mainstream and independent. Hunter and the hundreds of Black women who have been and will be killed in 2017 can’t be footnotes or barely retweeted hashtags in a larger struggle against anti-Blackness.
Until we ready to tackle intra-communal murders of Black women, we fail at being about that justice life.