Our Communities are Still MIA on the Epidemic of Violence Against Black Women and Girls

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Ashantee with sign

By Sikivu Hutchinson from An Injustice magazine

Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial politics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us, and still does not allow most Black women, to look more deeply into our own experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.” Combahee River Collective, 1977.

Combahee dropped their wisdom nearly fifty years ago in the midst of a Second Wave women’s movement torpedoed by white women’s allegiance to white supremacy. Flash forward to neoliberal dystopic, Amerikkka of 2024, and many Black feminists and womanists still feel “crazy” and gaslighted in the face of radio silence on the state of Black women and girls in Los Angeles and beyond. This Women’s History Month has blazed a grim trail. It marks the one-year anniversary of the City of Los Angeles’ Civil and Human Rights and Equity Department report documenting increases in sexual and domestic violence against Black women. The first paragraph of the document states: “This report recognizes the growing epidemic of violence against women — specifically against women of color and Black women — and acknowledges that there is opportunity to bolster safety and stability measures for communities most impacted by violence.”

Yet, there hasn’t been a peep from elected officials to the community on concrete action steps to redress this “epidemic of violence”. Over the past year, Black women in L.A. and across the nation have reeled from mounting intimate partner and domestic violence deaths and police murders. In September of last year, two Black female models were found dead in downtown L.A. apartments under mysterious circumstances (it was subsequently revealed that one of the women, 31 year-old Maleesa Mooney, was brutally murdered by a male friend). In December, young Black mother Niani Finlayson was murdered by an L.A. County Sheriffs’ deputy after calling for help during a domestic violence incident. Several weeks ago, horrific images and reports of the torture, sexual assault, and murder of 20 year-old Mahogany Jackson by a group of Black men and women in Alabama made national headlines. Last week in Florida, a sixteen-year-old Black girl was stabbed and killed by a fifteen-year-old boy, while a second teen girl was injured in the same attack. On March 21st, 19 year old Samyia Spain was stabbed to death by a street harasser in Park Slope Brooklyn (her twin sister was also injured in the attack). Every week a new story of unconscionable violence against Black women and girls surfaces, underscoring the peril we exist in our own homes and communities. The weaponization of social media against Black women and girls has never been more deadly and insidious, as videos of rape, torture, and murder of Black women appear to be on the rise.

On the first day of Women’s History Month, the #Standing4BlackGirls coalition gave public comment at the L.A. City Council meeting challenging Mayor Karen Bass’ failure to follow up on the conclusions of the Human Rights and Equity report. Sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Project, the #Standing4BlackGirls coalition leads and develops rallies, advocacy campaigns, policy engagement, mental health resources, and prevention education for the empowerment of Black girls. The report found that Black women comprise 25%-33% of all female sexual and domestic violence victims in the city despite representing approximately 4% of the population. The levels of apathy among elected officials about these issuse is an enraging reflection of the normalized violence Black women endure on the home front.

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#Standing4BlackGirls 2021 rally against rape culture and sexual violence, photo by Bluegreen

This silence and erasure is buttressed by the ongoing atrocity of Black girls being trafficked right under our collective noses. In her groundbreaking 2016 book Pushout, educator Monique Morris discusses how normalized sexual violence imperils and criminalizes Black girls in our school communities: “It has become commonplace to talk about truancy, discipline, and bullying as ways that children are pushed out of school, but quite often ignored is how sexual violence can also become a pathway to confinement.”

#Standing4BlackGirls Missing and Murdered 2023 rally, photo by Bluegreen

In our Women’s Leadership Project sexual violence prevention education workshops for high school students, we discuss the threat sex trafficking poses for Black girls and how it is informed by rape culture. Nationwide, Black women and girls continue to have the highest rates of commercial sexual exploitation victimization (while Black people comprise over 40% of prostitution arrests) among all vulnerable groups. Hence, our workshop curriculum identifies the ways in which Black girls are specifically targeted for trafficking. We explore the dominant culture’s hypersexualization and demonization of Black girls with respect to victim blaming, shaming, and gaslighting that is steeped in misogynoir. Recent sexual assault cases against music moguls R Kelly, Russell Simmons, (allegations made against Simmons by former hip hop producer and activist Drew Dixon were documented in the excellent film On the Record) and Sean P Diddy Combs have foregrounded the prevalence of sexual violence against Black women in the recording industry as a whole and in R&B and hip hop in particular. Thus, a key part of our work involves having students analyze the toxic impact of hip hop and rap lyrics that glamorize violence against Black girls and women. As a counterweight, we also challenge students to identify healthy, affirming examples of hip hop and rap by Black female-identified and queer artists that amplify self-love, critical consciousness, and empowerment. Unfortunately, mainstream representations of abusive, co-dependent relationships in reality TV (our Gen Z students consistently identify such shows as “Love and Hip Hop”, and the disturbing reality TV spectacle of the relationship between rappers Blueface/Chrisean, as negative influences which normalize abusive cisgender relationships between Black men and women) have become popular with some Black and BIPOC youth. Hence, a key aspect of our prevention outreach centers on the role corporate media play in shaping these images; utilizing them as cultural propaganda that reinforces heteronormative, anti-queer messaging.

This kind of programming has the potential to save lives by reducing the record rates of depression, suicidal ideation, suicide, and sexual and domestic violence victimization among Black girls and gender expansive youth. Yet, far too often, Black and BIPOC feminist-aligned violence prevention educators and organizers are vilified for unapologetically prioritizing Black girls and Black gender expansive youth. Despite showing up for everyone else in our communities — be it to protest police violence against Black men or hate crimes against Black folks in general — Black girls and women continue to be the least protected when it comes to the femicide and violence we experience within our own families and communities. Women’s History Month should be yet another wake up call to Combahee’s declaration that “the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us”.

The next #Standing4BlackGirls Missing and Murdered rally will be held in May in Leimert Park.

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