Malcolm X once said that the most discriminated persons in America were Black women. His statement still rings true today. Black women experience discrimination on many levels: racial discrimination for the color of their skin or ethnicity and gender discrimination for their identity and physical appearance. However, each individual Black woman faces other forms of discrimination depending on their personal characteristics. For example, a trans-Black woman may experience transphobia, or a poor Black woman may face classism. This concept of multiple identities is called intersectionality, where multiple personal characteristics compose a person’s identity and forms how they interact with the world.
These concepts are especially important when we talk about violence and abuse against Black women. Here at Hopeful Horizons we serve victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. According to several studies, these are all types of violence that Black women experience at a higher rate than white women:
National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community:
One in four black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
One in five black women are survivors of rape.
For every black woman who reports rape, at least 15 black women do not report.
Institute for Women’s Policy Research:
More than 20 percent of black women are raped during their lifetimes.
Black women were two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than their white counterparts.
Black women experience significantly higher rates of psychological abuse—including humiliation, insults, name-calling, and coercive control—than do women overall.
While black women experience these forms of violence at higher rates than their white counterparts, it is also important to note that the systems designed to support these women can also provide an additional barrier to prevention, protection, and justice.
What we need now more than ever is to recognize the way discrimination and violence has affected the daily lives of black Americans. Black Lives Matter is not about saying that a black person’s experience of discrimination matters more than a white person’s. It is about saying that the numbers are disproportionately higher for black people in America.
Most importantly, we need to recognize that black survivors have been and will continue to be the leaders of social justice movements. We should be amplifying their voices as we move into a new inclusive and just decade. Recy Taylor’s sexual assault galvanized the Civil Rights movement as the black community pushed to protect black women. Maya Angelou’s child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence became part of her narrative in her award-winning book I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings as well as her profound poetry. Tarana Burke used social media to start the #MeToo movement that inspired millions of survivors to share their stories.
It is my hope that as our culture continues to face significant changes, we will find ways to amplify the voices of black survivors. They have already made profound progress towards a more equitable society through their stories. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, let us “scream to heavens, loudly scream, as we try to change our nightmares into dreams.”