Considering Black Women at the Intersection of Race, Gender and State Violence

The unfortunate death of Mike Brown has resurfaced a growing frustration with the mistreatment of people of color, especially African Americans, by law enforcement. Mike Brown’s lifeless body lying on the street in Ferguson, Missouri seems as the crucible moment in the contemporary, yet enduring, appeal for dignity of African Americans. The fatal result of a meeting between Mike Brown and officer Darren Wilson encapsulates the recurring reality that African Americans are overwhelmingly affected by state violence. Growing criticisms of police department’s lack of diversity, transparency and accountability casually produces a disparity of African American victims of injustices. Among the roster of victims we uplift Aiyana Jones, Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnson, and Rekia Boyd as black women affected by police mistreatment.

Black women have longed faced mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement without much avail to public response or mobilization.  Black women are not afforded a system of privilege or impunity against police brutality. The increasing authority of law enforcement, including local and state police, perpetuates instances of assault, or horrifically sexual assault against black women. Invisibility, not erasure, occurs when our community is silent about the ways in which women of color, specifically, black women exist at the intersection of state, gendered and racial violence toward the black female body. History traces the traumatic experiences of women through rapes, inappropriate body cavity searches, negligent responses to intimate partner violence calls, sexual harassment by officers, and a plethora of gendered injustices to the black female body.  Because violence against black women is not rallied behind in the same manner, the community addresses the murder of black males by the state, leaving our realities as women isolated in the broader conversation of police brutality.

Too easily, the nuances of violence against women are overlooked in the public sphere. There is no question that black men are impacted by the institutional biases in the system of punishment but that narrative is not taken seriously for black women. While black men are marked as criminal, black women are affected in gender and race-specific ways as sexual deviants, bad mothers, and attitude-prone Sapphires to name a few.  These stereotypes inevitably affect and shape our interactions with authority. If any policy were to emerge addressing a sustainable approach to eradicating police brutality, black women, women of color, and/or lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender women should be at the forefront of such construction.

State and/or sexual violence against women of color by law enforcement within prisons and in the public sphere is systematic but erased in the larger conversation of police brutality. As we publicly mourn the death of black males, organize for justice in Ferguson, and protect our children from the hands of the state, we must think critically:  why does it require a young black male body to mobilize an entire community against the ills of police brutality when black women are equally affected? How do we imagine a sustainable eradication of police brutality that calls into question all forms of violence perpetuated against the black body?

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