Features

Black womxn deserve change too.Illustration: Christine Wang/Fulcrum

It’s been long overdue, Black female voices need to be heard

Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Nina Pop, and Oluwatoyin Salau. 

These are all Black womxn who have been victims of police brutality. But not everyone knows their names, and not all of them have received justice.

Of nearly 1.2 million Black Canadians, approximately half of them are womxn. These womxn are routinely neglected, discriminated, and underrepresented in many aspects of their lives, by both institutions and their communities.

At the cornerstone of racism and sexism, Black womxn face a harsher reality than many of their peers in the form of misogynoir. It’s difficult to achieve success in a system that isn’t designed for them. 

The death of George Floyd has sparked a resurgence of protests, petitions, and other demands of action against police brutality on a global scale. Conversations about anti-Black racism have begun and change is just beginning to happen.

Unfortunately in many Black Lives Matter movements, Black womxn victims like Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Aiyana Stanley, are often forgotten. It’s time to give Black womxn the justice they rightly deserve.

WHAT IS MISOGYNOIR?

Dictionary.com defines misogynoir as “specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed towards black women”. The term was coined by Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey in 2010 to address the misogyny against Black womxn primarily in media and pop culture.

Misogynoir is often used to address the erasure of Black womxn from the core of social movements and pop culture trends. Many people forget that the Black Lives Matter movement was created by three Black women.

Bailey claimed that it’s possible for anyone, regardless of their race or gender, to perpetuate racism and sexism designed to undermine and shame black women. 

GROWING UP TOO FAST

Many Black womxn experience discrimination before they even know it. Anti-black comments and prejudices are made on playgrounds or in classrooms – and Black girls carry these sentiments for the rest of their lives.

“At my school, people always asked me questions like ‘do you like fried chicken?’, weird questions like that,” Alison Francis, a second-year student in political science and economics recalls. “And then this kid – after taunting me and asking me a bunch of these questions – said the n-word. I didn’t know how to react or what to do, but a friend actually reported him for me.”

It’s proven that  Black girls receive harsher punishments than their white classmates, due to reports of “acting out”. This past February, a 6-year-old Florida girl was actually arrested for throwing a tantrum; Kaia Rolle was escorted from her classroom in zip ties by police officers.

One possible hypothesis for these harsher punishments and mismanagement of Black girls is a theory called “adultification bias”. It’s defined as “a stereotype in which adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, devoid of any individualized context”.

Adultification bias is harmful because it strips Black girls of their childhood and burdens them with high expectations and harsh punishments from an early age.

The adultification bias also contributes to higher rates of sexual assault and abuse for Black girls.

The American Psychology Association reports that 1 in 4 Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. The article also says that Black women also experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse than women overall, and describes intersectional oppression of race and gender as the cause.

WORKPLACE AND SCHOOL RACISM

Many dress code policies have been proven to discriminate against Black girls. A report by the National Women’s Law Centre details the problems with D.C. dress codes and how they target Black students.

“Black girls also face adults’ stereotyped perceptions that they are more sexually provocative because of their race, and thus more deserving of punishment for a low-cut shirt or short skirt,” states the report.

Along with clothing, there are instances of Black girls being ridiculed for head coverings and hairstyles. Even if it’s not school administration targeting Black culture, it’s hurtful comments from peers that follow-up and sting.

Carrie, a recent U of O graduate, recalled a number of racially insensitive experiences both in schools and their former workplaces. Their name has been changed out of personal protection.

Carrie is no stranger to experiencing microaggressions from co-workers like hair petting, or being described as “scary” or “intimidating”.

“I’ve noticed too that even in progressive, “woke” workplaces, and liberal workplaces, there are still microaggressions that happen. And I think they’re kind of blind to it.” Carrie explained. 

“They think that they’re doing the right thing, and they think that they don’t need to learn or, you know because they put themselves on a higher pedestal. But, you know the experiences that I had, were pretty negative.”

Because of a lack of representation and action from directors and company figureheads, racism and discrimination is active even in self-described “politically aware” companies. The Lily wrote an article detailing the racism occurring in feminist publications, like Refinery29.

“Across the women’s media industry, black employees and employees of color have been speaking out against the racism they’ve experienced on the job.” 

“Working for feminist lifestyle and media platforms like Refinery29, Bustle, and Ban.do — all led by white women — employees say the rhetoric of female empowerment rang hollow for women of color, who were often paid less than their white colleagues, denied promotions and pigeonholed into writing stories on beats related to race.”

Toronto-based reporter and founder of Dayo Media & Communications, Dayo Kefentse, recalls a cameraman saying he had the right to call Black people racial slurs early in her career. 

“He wasn’t particularly directly calling me that (slur). He was talking about what he felt he could do despite what I was trying to explain to him about it being inappropriate. It didn’t matter to him. And that was fairly demoralizing (…)” She said.

TRANSMISOGYNY

While facing racism within the LGBTQ+ community and transphobia from Black communities, Black trans women – who have been cultural pioneers – face a different reality than most other black women do. Thanks to COVID-19, trans people are struggling economically with much of the population facing barriers to health care and housing.

According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, Black trans women faced an unemployment rate of 26 per cent. This was twice the percentage of the transgender population and four times the general population. This was reported prior to COVID-19, which brought unprecedented rates of unemployment.

As these systemic obstacles pile up, along with the constant threat of violence, trans women of colour have an unfortunate life expectancy of 35. At least 21 trans people have died in the United States this year, many of them overwhelmingly people of colour and some at the hands of police officers. 

In nine days, six Black trans women were murdered in the United States. 

The Black community has to start having conversations about transphobia, to assure the protection of our trans friends, neighbours, and family. They’ve contributed valuable amounts to Black culture and cannot be ignored in their communities.

“First off, I believe that there are so many different viewpoints, in our own race; in their own different ethnicities, different religions and I think being mindful of how we’re not just one narrow type of people. Like we have to start from our own and educate each other,” Francis said. 

“I think starting (evaluating our biases) from within and extrapolating it, and then expanding on that, and then educating everybody else on what it means, what privilege it is to be a cis-gendered person or a person that doesn’t understand what gender, sexuality is and I think it definitely starts with educating.”

Mercy Okusanya, a second-year history, and political science student suggests that we can effectively protect Black trans women.

“Just remember at the end of the day, we are all black and we are all human and we all deserve life. We all deserve freedom, we all deserve respect because I feel like the transphobia kind of exists. It’s implicit, it’s personal, that’s an individual thing. And to fix that is normalizing different histories, different experiences, different persons because everyone is deserving of respect.” 

HOW WE CAN PROTECT OUR WOMEN

When it comes to the protection of Black womxn, we must discuss resolutions in three different ways: figuring out what the Black community can do, what institutions and local communities can do, and how Black womxn can preserve their mental health.

The Black community must take greater steps to protect Black womxn. Too many are ignored, brushed off, and not taken seriously, which comes with a mental toll.

“It’s kind of hard to like bring up black trans women or black women (because) it’s always getting ignored without people feeling like we’re fighting or we’re, you know, going against men or we’re like, in competition,” Carrie said.

“It’s not a competition but just elevating everybody, not just, you know, Black cis-gendered men and whatnot. Elevating all black people and, you know, I think just like listening – really and really listening.”

Despite diversity and inclusivity programs a company or school may practice, their intentions ring hollow when there’s little representation or respect among leadership roles. Institutions must treat all members equally and assist those who need help feeling included.

When Black womxn face microaggressions and stereotypical comments regularly in institutions they dedicate themselves to, they feel undervalued.

There have also been many calls for action to the University of Ottawa administration, which included hiring more Black professors and creating anti-racism courses. Instead, the few steps that were taken, have been backwards.

“Train security guards or people who are supposed to be protecting the students to not attack students or make them uncomfortable,” Okusanya suggested. “Because no, we’re paying to be here, sir, I’m supposed to be here.”

Kefentse suggests re-analyzing policies to allow for more flexibility and inclusion for people of colour, like examining what’s available to them to be a part of the decision-making process.

“I would say that policy change is the most critical change that needs to happen in order for protection,” she says. “Along with that would be education and awareness as well. So that people understand where their biases are, where their blind spots are, so they can be more inclusive in their decisions.”

In regards to mental health, it can be difficult for BIPOC folks to find medical professionals who truly understand and advise them.

Francis recalls waking every morning and checking the news on her phone, first thing in the morning.

“There’s so much I want to do, but it was kind of actually taking a toll on me. So I kind of just started focusing on my own education, my own mental health, and what my direct needs are.”

She cited online resources like the UOSU’s collection of Resources for/from the Black Community as aides to her mental health.

WORDS TO YOUNG BLACK WOMXN

“What I’m going to advise young black children is to look up to those who are the first (of their kind) and be inspired. Whether it is in person, or through the media, really get advice from your parents as to which black individuals to look up to,” Okusanya said.

“Your experiences, everything you’re going through is valid and correct, period. You don’t need to be looking to other people for your self-esteem, or to find your self-worth and know your truth. No, it’s like, my hair is beautiful. My skin color is beautiful, know that truth.”

Kefentse cites ownership as a means to freedom for young Black womxn.

“I think it’s important for young women especially to have something of their own. Because when things are being taken from us like life, as we’ve been watching or other things. We have somewhere to go for rest and that’s ours, right, that can’t be taken.”