Picture it: Dallas, 2001. I was settling into my singleness and adjusting to the demands of working and raising my then-toddler son. Slowly dealing, but still feeling the weight of it all, but I sought solace in my friends, my family and my go-to elixir of choice, music. Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” and Tamia’s “Stranger In My House” were played repeatedly, no doubt, but the first song opening Faith Evans’ “Alone In This World,” spoke to me the most: “I never thought you’d turn your back, and walk away from love like that/When I was holding on to you, all you did was let me go. I never thought I would regret/the way I felt when we first met, and now I’m standing alone in this world.”
Today, as a remarried mother to three, I’m hardly ever alone, so to speak. But those words certainly echo how I feel when I contemplate how often victimized Black girls and Black women are mistreated, or even maligned, by our community. We’re ‘sisters’ and ‘queens’ when we pour our time, energy and resources into causes regarding wronged Black men. but when we have become injured or killed, then….well….refer to the aforementioned chorus, rewind and repeat.
Unfortunately it isn’t a new dilemma— women of color being forced to prove their worth as human beings and as women while also working to fight racism and sustain ourselves and our loved ones. Sojourner Truth, a slave turned-orator-and activist, channeled the struggle in her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” during Akron OH’s Women’s Convention in 1851. More than a century later, Black women found themselves subjugated to the agendas of black men even while mutually fighting the aftermath of slavery and for Civil Rights. In the words of author and social activist, bell hooks, the subjugation of the sisters has more than one source: “White women and black men have it both ways…. Black men may be victimized by racism, but sexism allows them to act as exploiters and oppressors of women.. White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of black people.” She says that as long as these groups or any group define liberation as gaining social equality with white men, they have an interest in exploiting and oppressing others.
The differences in how brutalities and fatalities are treated in the African-American community when it’s men vs. women, boys vs. girls are stark. nearly everyone is familiar with the names Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. But the black girls and women who have been innocent casualties to the same types of violence—Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Aiyanna Jones and most recently, Korryn Gaines—receive less attention and more judgment regarding their own deaths. Statistics of the deaths of black men are often discussed, but the fact that black women are victims of intra-racial violence every 19 hours, according to research by the Violence Policy Center, is all but overlooked.
It’s a common issue with complex origins, according to Misty Hook, a licensed psychologist who blogs about such topics at thepsychologicalhook.com. “it’s sexism, plain and simple,” she says, “Men are viewed as more important and according to their idea of traditional femininity, women should listen, be compliant and comply to authority. If women [come to harm] while being ‘nontraditional,’ it assaults their viewpoint of what we’re ‘supposed to be like’ and becomes their problem.”
In order to undo this unhealthy dynamic, Hook says the causes should be dealt with—-an ‘authoritarian upbringing, or religion’—-and women need to take a stand. “It was Frederick Douglass who once said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand,’ so more women are going to have to step forward and say, ‘I will not accept this,'” she says. “Only when things become uncomfortable to people in power will the status quo begin to change.”