We sometimes forget that aggressive policing doesn’t solely impact black boys and men.
There is a popular misconception that aggressive policing is a form of oppression that only happens to black men. But police brutality does not only happen to black men, but black girls and women, as well. This misconception hurts those girls and women whose names are usually not splashed across mainstream media headlines.
When we think about aggressive policing, we think of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner, but we rarely discuss the missing piece of the equation. If aggressive policing oppresses all black lives, why aren’t there more chants with the names of slain black women or black women who are members of the LGBTQ community at protests? It was this exact observation that led to the foundation of the Say Her Name campaign, started in 2015 by the African-American Policy Forum (AAPF) to shed light on black femmes oppressed by police violence.
Cofounder of the AAPF and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School, Kimberlé Crenshaw — who also coined the term “intersectionality,” for the idea that an individual can be affected by overlapping social categories — recalls being at a protest in New York in 2014 for Eric Garner. Along with other marchers, she carried a poster with the faces of numerous black women and girls killed by police violence. She recalls that the reaction to the act of inclusivity was not warm, but indignant. Fellow protestors were not pleased to hear the names of black women, including members of the LGBTQ community, being mourned and chanted.
“There were people who felt like we were interloping, that police brutality was an issue faced only by black men. That to insist that names of women are lifted up, interferes with a narrative that needs to be told,” says Crenshaw to Teen Vogue. “We just insisted that this was a space protesting against violence against black bodies, and that women and femmes are included in that narrative. The hashtag came out of that insistence that black women matter too.”
I believe that we don’t hear the names of black women, girls, and femmes at protests because people don’t know their names, and not because it isn’t the right setting for them to be said, and not because our trauma isn’t entitled to that space as well. We cannot fix an issue we don’t realize exists. History shows that black women have been disproportionately affected by violence since we were brought to this country, both physically and emotionally. Black women have been dehumanized through sexual exploitation, and invalidated through stereotypes that portray us as angry and feisty. Such bias can all too often find its ways into the classroom. Black girls are disproportionately suspended compared to white girls, compromising their education. Beyond the classroom, racial stereotypes and biases play a part in interactions between people and law enforcement, according to the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice.