Just two months before the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a whirlwind of public outrage, the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency medical technician, quietly made the rounds on Kentucky state news.
Police stormed the sleeping 26-year-old’s home, just after midnight, and fired at least eight rounds into her body. Despite the insidious nature of her death, Breonna’s name later faded out of public discussion after a few days. Her spirit went on to join those of the 1,251 other Black Americans who had met their ends at the hands of police in the last half-decade.
Thankfully, Breonna’s tragic story gained more traction in the wake of George Floyd – though one officer involved has been fired, none have been criminally charged. In the midst of this, I’ve been left wondering why it took Floyd’s murder to stoke this kind of public interest into Breonna’s.
Here, we have an example of just how anti-Black racism plays out in mainstream discourse. As a society, we perpetuate a trickle-down structure where the most privileged of an oppressed group become the face of the whole collective. Their stories and realities become the default, by virtue of their proximity to the white heterosexual male norm. In the case of Black people, it’s Black men. In the case of women, it’s white women.
Why are British people so eager to look to American Black women to comprehend their own collusion in white supremacy?
Even when the spotlight finally shines on Black women, our experiences are typically expressed and consumed through an America-centric lens. The current haste to engage in ‘anti-racist’ work has thrust Black women such as Angela Davis, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker into the limelight. But why are British people so eager to look to American Black women to comprehend their own collusion in white supremacy, when some of the greatest Black female radical thinkers were – and still are – present here in Britain?
It’s with this understanding that I consider how I’ve been marginalised, as a Black woman in the UK, due to the sheer audacity of my existence. In high school, I will never forget being taunted for my afro-textured hair by peers at my predominantly white school. I recall a Year 10 maths lesson where two white boys spent the entire class insulting my hair, while I spent the rest of the time in class holding back tears. The other white students heard every single thing, and largely did nothing. The white female teacher heard every single thing that was said too, and did nothing either.
These simultaneously racialised and gendered situations are something neither a Black boy nor a white girl would go through. Whenever I tell this story to other Black women, I find my experience proves to be a shared one. These narratives are, in fact, so frequent they extend beyond the anecdotal to the realm of systemic. Multiple studies indicate that Black boys assimilate better into predominantly white schools than Black girls, with Black girls themselves citing the duality of gendered and racialised subordination as a critical reason for why they felt more ostracised by their peers.
White supremacy is a multifaceted system of persecution... This rings especially true for Black women, who shoulder the full burden of white patriarchy.
These findings would have resonated with me during my teen years as much as they do now. The only Black girl in my year, I not only endured alienation from white students but was also treated as a pariah by my fellow Black male peer. He would continually go out of his way to distance himself from me, going so far as to ignore my presence among other (non-Black) people. I cannot imagine going through this type of side-lining if I was not both Black and a woman in a white space.
This dichotomy of hyper-surveillance and invisibility is the common reality for many women like me, both in media and in our lived experience. Breonna Taylor’s is one of the most corrupt examples of this phenomenon: she became the target of violence by the white state, only to be later shunned into obscurity. It may seem outrageous to align my circumstances with Taylor’s, but they both fall under the same system of misogynoir, which serves to chastise those who occupy a space in Black womanhood.
Reflectively, it is interesting that I now see white people, even one of my aforementioned tormentors, posting Black squares and #BlackOutTuesday on their Instagram profiles. This is, of course, to show that they are part of the solution and not the problem. These are less than empty gestures which achieve absolutely nothing.
Your ‘allyship’ is performative at best, and institutionally violent at worst, when you take no steps to address your own complicity in anti-Black racism. Both non-Black people and Black people need to understand intersectionality and realise that not every Black or non-Black person of colour navigates racism the same way. White supremacy is a multifaceted system of persecution, which intersects many other dominating structures. This rings especially true for Black women, who shoulder the full burden of white patriarchy.
We hear you saying Black lives matter today. But did they matter yesterday? Will they matter tomorrow? The power is in your hands.
Hannah Uguru is a freelance writer
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