This is the first article of the start of a series on the erasure and experiences of sexual violence against Black women while also highlighting the roles Black women have played and continue to do so in the anti-violence movement.
Black women who are raped don’t matter, at least that is what society draws us to believe due to the erasure of our narratives. Who would want to talk about the stories of Black women in the mainstream anti-violence movement when the stories and trauma of white women weigh more heavily on the hearts of the public? As much as Black women are over-sexualized in the media, they should expect this outcome, right? Over a dozen of Black women and girls accused Oklahoma officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, of sexual violence and, frankly, I’m surprised they received what society calls justice,that is if Holtzclaw is actually incarcerated according to speculation by some. These Black women are from poor communities and some have criminal histories, which, in America, makes for an easy target. The Black students sexually assaulted on HBCU and PWI campuses are not important, the women affected by R. Kelly knew what they were getting themselves into, and the young Black girls experiencing violence in K-12 schools are just acting too old for their age, so what should we expect? Those Black trans women who are sex workers and experience violence? They can’t possibly be survivors, after all they choose this occupation, they should expect sexual encounters. Aren’t they getting paid anyway? One could care less about the experiences of marginalized groups — that’s the point of being marginalized. Society has continuously reminded us that gender-based violence is violence against women, and violence against women is violence against white women — they are the “perfect survivors.”
We have the #MeToo movement, which was created by a Black woman, Tarana Burke, but even white women have some control of that narrative, such as Rose McGowan — an actress who experienced sexual violence by Harvey Weinstein. McGowan continues to profit off of the #MeToo movement, even going as far as a reality show, despite ignoring the very survivors this work is meant to empower . McGowan does not center marginalized folks in her work and, in fact, insulted Black women by asking individuals to replace the word “woman” with the N-word, begging the question “How does it feel?” — erasing Black women who experience both racism and sexism simultaneously. Instead of apologizing, she blamed the comment on smoking weed, showing her lack of commitment to the #MeToo Movement, its purpose, and protecting all survivors regardless of their identity. McGowan fails to take any type of accountability when called out on erasing Black and trans women from conversations around violence, instead McGowan continues to play the victim role. White Feminism continues to ignore the violence in some of the most vulnerable communities, it fails to recognize, find solutions, and accessible resources when identities beyond being a cisgender heterosexual white woman intersect. I understand that some organizations mention protecting marginalized survivors — Black women, queer individuals, trans women, disabled and undocumented survivors — but they are just that: mentions. There is no real action being taken when it comes to providing adequate resources for these survivors. Although marginalized survivors have told their stories within the #MeToo movement on social media, and that Black women celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Union, Viola Davis, Anita Hill, and the story of Recy Taylor have been highlighted within the media, the conversation around these stories have not been centered. Tarana Burke wrote an article about the #MeToo movement mentioning that it excludes Black and brown girls and mentioned that she started this work with the “intention of reaching young Black and Brown girls, but fully believing in its potential to move the world.” Of course #MeToo is moving the world, but only in a way that centers cisgender heterosexual white women.
The stories of Taylor Swift, Rose McGowan, and other survivors of Weinstein, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby have received more attention because they are [majority] white women. In no way am I trying to invalidate the stories of these survivors, I applaud them for coming forward and sharing their truth, however Black women matter as well; us too. I remember attending the United State Of Women Summit this year and watched Tarana Burke on stage, I was happy to see her discuss the #MeToo movement but before her moving speech she stated the words “The Real Movement” when referring to #MeToo, and that movement is centering Black and Brown folks, going beyond what society deems as important. The [real] movement is making sure those at the margins are atthe forefront when it comes to these type of conversations. We are more than just mentions, we are people — struggling for our voices to be heard.
The lack of representation and true commitment towards survivor advocacy has personally affected me, as someone who has suffered from sexual abuse as a child and rape my freshmen year of college. I’ve had many experiences dealing with anti-black spaces when it comes to speaking about my trauma. I can sit and talk about the historical context of violence against Black women and the over-sexualization of Black women and girls, but that will not change the way we are perceived in society, nor will it change the way we are erased from conversations. Too many people have heard those explanations before, and nothing has been done. At times I feel like I am still suffering in silence, the anti-violence movement wasn’t made for survivors like me to come forward. The criminal “justice” system wasn’t made for survivors like me to come forward. It’s hard to describe what justice is when I’ve never seen it myself. Within the black community we are often told to protect our own because we face so many issues within the system, one in which was never built to protect us, but to only incarcerate us and make a profit from our Black bodies. For years I’ve harbored much hatred towards Black men because a Black man sexually abused me as a child, a Black man abused me in a relationship, and a Black man raped me in college. I’ve sat with a disdain for my church because they allowed my perpetrator back into the church even after finding out what he was doing to other young Black girls. I’ve loathed my institution because they didn’t help me when I needed them the most, they only tried to silence me. I’ve harvested so much hatred towards myself because I believed it was my fault — that I could’ve done something differently to stop it. So if Black women who experience sexual violence don’t matter in the Black community, I have a hard time expecting the larger society to be any different.
Violence changed me as a person. It changed my personality, it changed the way I interacted with anybody. I felt trapped, I still do. Will things get better? If so, when? A piece of me left when I experienced abuse at 12 years old and the other when I was raped in college. Completely shattered, retraumatized, and having to start from the beginning. I have to live in a society where my story doesn’t even matter, where we’re told to keep quiet to protect our Black brothers, where we always have to carry the burden, where we always have to “show up” for a system that leaves us unprotected in return. If we truly care about Black women we would believe Black women and support them when we say we are assaulted, we would center the voices of Black women and other marginalized folks in our conversations, we would provide resources for Black women, and support organizations that have been doing the work to help Black women and girls. The women, the Black women — such as Gabrielle Union, Viola Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong’o, Simone Biles, Anita Hill, Recy Taylor, and so many more affected by sexual violence — who speak out inspire me every day to keep going, to continue to give life another try even when I feel like I should give up. I’m reminded that as Black women we are more than what happened to us. So much more, but how can we move forward in society when Black women who are raped don’t matter.