Online spaces have become almost a portfolio in which people can display what seems to be the best of intention visible acts of solidarity for various marginalized groups. Recently this has been shown online with the current uprisings for the movement for Black Lives. Some have used the hashtag, Black Lives Matter, in their bio to now, streets painted with the saying ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Other forms of solidarity have surfaced, such as phrases including ‘Protect Black women, ‘ used, regardless if people attempt to do it in real life. One could be skeptical because many topics or specific calls to action seem to fall flat after the attention is gone online. What does it even mean when people say ‘protect Black women’? Which Black women are you thinking about protecting? I ask this in an almost rhetorical sense but also curious about the response. Can we even imagine and attempt to create a world or even a small scale, a community that protects Black women? We are currently in a new wave of uprisings, and many things are shifting and changing. During these uprisings, unsurprising but unfortunate, there have been the many accounts of harm that Black cis and trans women and girls have experienced online and in physical spaces. The terms ‘protection’ or ‘protect’ have several connotations. What are our intentions in saying ‘protect Black women’?
To ‘protect Black women,’ we need to dismantle misogynoir, colorism, fatphobia, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, and any other oppressive system.
Further, I do not believe this statement is enough by just stating it, and there is a need for an explanation that moves beyond the term. ‘Protection’ essentially needs to address the root of what you need to protect Black women from in the first place. We need to understand the intersections of blackness and gender to ‘protect Black women.’ To ‘protect Black women,’ we need to dismantle misogynoir, colorism, fatphobia, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, and any other oppressive system. We erase these experiences of oppression when we do not address the various ways blackness is not protected and targeted. People on social media have morphed, transform messages, theories, and now calls to action to some bite-sized, digestible hot take. We consume all the day’s information to tweets and Instagram posts. Now, this is not to say it is all ill-informed or lacks good intentions. It is debatable that much of the movement could not exist if it were not for online spaces. Yet, the point in which online spaces are hard to navigate is due to the constant urge to perform for online clout. Mainly, online clout out of the expense of something bigger than us, a movement. What makes this worse is this then cultivates an environment that lacks consistency. It was already odd when people were name dropping and memes of Breonna Taylor every two minutes to build up their social capital. Regardless if they thought to themselves, this would bring ‘justice’ to Breonna Taylor. Yet, now it seems people are back to their consistent ‘jokes’ directed towards Black women and girls. These acts of harassment and degradation seem not to end while knowing that Black women and girls are being killed and harmed. Not surprisingly, and once again, some of you are telling on yourself in these internet streets.
Recently, Meghan thee Stallion addressed an incident in which she was assaulted. Meghan’s traumatic experience did not stop the internet from creating what they defined as “humor” out of her experience. The exploitation of Black women for the sake of entertainment continues to be a cyclical punching line. Through the ‘jokes’ towards Meghan thee Stallion, it was also not surprising to see transphobic remarks about her body as ‘justification’ of her assault. The dehumanization of Black women and girls is not a modern tool and has a historical lineage. Even while the world is burning, recognizing Black women’s and girls’ humanity is where a lot of people’s ‘activism’ ends. How have we said for years to listen to us, and now it seems people have taken a left turn? There is a facade of listening to Black women, but people are regurgitating things they have heard to be ‘seen’ as aware and raising their social capital. Even worse, some are more concerned about gaslighting Black women when an issue is being addressed, such as colorism. We have recently seen Talib Kweli using his online presence to harass dark-skinned Black women who started a conversation about perpetual colorism in which many rappers participate. It is interesting that in the same physical spaces and online spaces, we shout, ‘protect black women,’ and then double down on Black women’s degradation. Unfortunately, even other Black women have or are participating in the degradation and oppressive behavior due to internalized misogynoir.
On May 22, 1962, Malcolm X delivered his infamous speech in which he states, “The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman”. That quote has garnered Beyonce’s attention, including this excerpt in her last visual album and tour for Lemonade to it being a widely shared quote. In this quote, we must acknowledge that Malcolm X understands how the intersections of blackness and gender play a role in the marginalization of Black women in the United States. Which honestly was at the time and still is contested even within our movements. We are still in 2020 believing that racism only exists (or matters) towards Black straight cis men. Some are furthering the narrative that Black women and other Black marginalized folks do not experience police violence as if to ignore the various ways police violence exists.
Meanwhile, Malcolm X, widely referenced and cited as an influence for Black liberation movements in the 70s,80s—stated within his speech that as a collective of people, we need to be concerned about the oppression of Black women. Yet, instead, we have ignored that call to action while sharing his quote online. Malcolm X did not create these conclusions about his voiced concerns about Black women by himself. If it was not for the Black women who influenced him in his life, I am not sure we would even have such a quote.
Throughout Malcolm X’s life, many Black women changed and developed his political and intellectual growth. Women such as Audly “Queen Mother” Moore, Vicki Garvin, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Graham Du Bois. Even women closest to him, such as his mother Louis Little, sister, Ella Little-Collins, and wife, Dr. Betty Shabazz influenced his politics. His mother Louis Little was involved in activism and became an organizer in 1917 for the black nationalist organization, Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In an interview with Ella Little-Collins, who is the sister of Malcolm X, asked what he (Malcolm) as a figure was in her life. In the interview, she mentions how “Malcolm had great respect for womanhood,” Their overall admiration for him and their relationship was shaped by care and respect for each other. Malcolm X’s friendships with women also developed his black radicalism in connection to a global struggle.
Ella Little-Collins an activist herself is most notable for paying for Malcolm X’s Hajj in Mecca, which shaped his understanding of a global struggle in connection to the Black struggle in the United States. These examples throughout Malcolm X’s life give more insight into his growth and development when it came to learning and unlearning ideas about women and gender. In contextualizing this famous quote, each of us can reflect on our ideas about gender and women. Now let’s be clear Back women do not ‘need protection’ as if to say we are docile subjects or damsels in distress waiting for a savior. We need to eradicate oppressive systems such as misogynoir, colorism, transphobia, homophobia, fatphobia, and more if we all agree to the statement that ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Let us move beyond just the phrase ‘protect Black women’ and ‘the most disrespected person is the black woman.’ We recognize that now what? Let us move beyond only reciting these quotes and start asking ourselves these questions: ‘What is our investment in the oppression of Black women and all Black peoples? And further, “How are we actively divesting from such oppressive behavior and rhetoric?” Another world is possible, and I believe each of us can create that world where we all protect and care for each other.
Malcolm X photo credit: Source: NPR