Top Row: Marci Ien, Jemele Hill, Maxine Waters, April Ryan; Bottom Row: Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Frederica Wilson, Lupita Nyong’o

It’s International Women’s Day, So Speak Your Truth (Unless You’re a Black Woman, Then Shut the Eff Up)

In 1994, I wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper, sharing my experiences of being a Black youth in the city.

I wrote about my lived experience of being followed around the store as I shopped. I rightfully asked:

“When will people begin to see me as an aspiring youth and not as a stereotype?”

A week later, a letter was published in response to mine.

The writers identified themselves as two white ladies in their 50s. They shared:

“Young people of whatever colour have always been regarded suspiciously by shopkeepers.”

They then doled out additional anecdotes and ended their letter with these words:

“Anyone who wants to see racism, will.”

In essence, these two nice white ladies dismissed and minimized my lived experience.

I was reminded of these letters from decades ago after seeing the reaction to two high profile Black Canadian women after they shared their lived experiences.

Television personality Marci Ien shared her frustration about being stopped three times in as many months for “driving while Black” in the neighbourhood where she lives with her family.

Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Celina Caesar-Chavannes got into a Twitter spat with Conservative MP Maxime Bernier after he complained that providing government funding to racialized groups was a divisive move and that we should be colour-blind. Caesar-Chavannes rightly tweeted that “stating colour blindness as a defence actually contributes to racism.”

Tweet from Caesar-Chavanne to Bernier

(NOTE: Caesar-Chavanne has apologized for telling Bernier to “be quiet,” an apology that Bernier has rejected.)

Both Ien and Caesar-Chavannes shared their frustrations over the lack of awareness around racism and were admonished by high ranking individuals and keyboard trolls for daring to speak their truth.

I applaud Ien and Caesar-Chavannes for speaking out.

It isn’t easy for Black women to do so as the reaction tends to be violent. Not only are Black women attacked for their gender, but they’re also attacked for their race.

Witnessing high profile Black women face the barrage of racist and sexist comments after speaking out about their lived experiences around systemic oppression is enough to silence other Black female voices.

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe.

It’s also a day to bring attention to gender inequalities women still face. Women are encouraged to speak their truth on sexism, sexual harassment, and gender-based systemic oppression. The #metoo movement is a perfect example of what happens when women come together and share their lived experiences.

Unfortunately, this freedom to express one’s truth does not extend to Black women.

When a Black woman speaks her truth, her words are demonized, dismissed, and denied.

In the United States, Black women such as former ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, former White House correspondent April Ryan, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson have all faced the wrath of keyboard trolls and high ranking politicians for daring to speak out about what is true for them.

Congresswoman Wilson was called an “empty barrel” by Vice President Mike Pence after Wilson confirmed that President Donald Trump acted without compassion in his phone call to the widow of a recently fallen Black soldier.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson looking fly in her cowboy hat

Black actresses are not exempt from what Black female journalists and politicians face. Harvey Weinstein stayed silent about the sexual harassment claims from dozen of actresses until Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o said #metoo. She was the only actress Weinstein singled out, penning a denial, through his lawyer, of Nyong’o’s recollection of events.

Social media does its part in silencing Black women.

This list doesn’t include lesser known Black women who have been censored and silenced on social media for speaking out about their lived experiences around racism, systemic oppression, white supremacy, transphobia, and other forms of hate.

A Black woman speaks her truth around being called the n-word by posting her experience on Facebook. Her post is removed by Facebook, stating that she violated community guidelines. Then, she has no access to her profile for a period of time, what some call Facebook jail. All for speaking her truth.

Another Black woman speaks her truth regarding her lived experience interacting with white women. She receives a note from Facebook stating that her post violated community guidelines and is put in Facebook jail. She then watches helplessly as eight more posts are removed from her profile. They are added back to her profile a few days later stating they were removed in error.

Yet, a white man can use the n-word to refer to Black people in a derogatory way, and although many report the post, it stays up. This inconsistency shown by Facebook and other social media websites has led DiDi Delgado to proclaim Mark Zuckerberg Hates Black People.

I asked myself why would people be triggered when a Black woman speaks her truth?

Why would senior ranking individuals in the Toronto police force use Twitter to deny what’s true for Ien?

Why would trolls on Twitter send racist comments in reaction to what’s true for Caesar-Chavannes?

Why would two nice white ladies in their 50s choose to minimize and ignore what was true for me back in 1994?

The only thing I can come up with is that if a Black woman’s words are debased, if her tears are mocked, and if her lived experience is denied, then it’s easier to not see her humanity.

When a Black woman’s humanity is not seen, then she will not receive the compassion or empathy that she deserves.

If you’re triggered when a Black woman speaks her truth, then your support for International Women’s Day is a complete farce.

Instead of denying, dismissing, demonizing, or mocking a Black woman when speaks her truth, ask yourself why her truth makes you itch. Resist the urge to type up hateful, vile, and violent comments, and instead, type up what’s true for you. Do some self-reflection and you’ll find your own truth buried deep within. Chances are, because you cannot see your own humanity, warts and all, it’s preventing you from seeing the humanity in a Black woman.

#BlackWomenSpeak #SilentNoMore