Am I A Race Traitor? Trayvon Martin, Gender Talk, and Invisible Black Women

July 21, 2013
By

By j.n. salters

“Because of the continuous battle against racial erasure that black women and black men share, some black women still refuse to recognize that we are also oppressed as women, and that sexual hostility against black women is practiced not only by the white racist society, but implemented within our black communities as well. It is a disease striking the heart of black nationhood, and silence will not make it disappear.” –Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider (1984)

“Despite Audre Lorde’s call for black women to speak, there has been an even louder call from various segments of our community to remain silent, and if we persist in naming our problems  we are often labeled race traitors.”  –Johnnetta B. Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall in Gender Talk (2000)

These past few days, I have found myself questioning my blackness. My racial loyalty. My allegiance to racial progress. Every time I scroll my Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline and am met with links to articles on Trayvon Martin and the devaluation of black boys and men in America or photos of rallies and protests in honor of the slain seventeen-year-old whose unjust death was deemed well-grounded by the criminal (in)justice system, I cannot help but think, but what about black women? Each time I see the “long list of African-American men and boys whose non-black killers escaped justice in America’s courts—a list that runs from Emmett Till to Amadou Diallo to Oscar Grant to Sean Bell,” I cannot help but think, but what about Rekia Boyd, Kasandra Perkins, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Deanna Cook?

Yes, I, too, have vocalized my thoughts on America’s devaluation of black men. And, I, too, have worn dark hoodies in Travyon’s honor. And, I, too, called my little black brother upon hearing the Zimmerman verdict to tell him how much I loved him and to express my fears as to what that verdict means in terms of the (de)valuation of young black male bodies in the United States.

But, I, too, unlike the majority of America, also expressed my concerns and fears about the lives of black girls and women.

With so much talk of raceism, raceial profiling, colorblindness, and being post-race, we forget those at the intersection, those who must deal with not only race, but gender, class, sexual orientation, and a plethora of other socially constructed categories of oppression. As I encounter all these stories about Trayvon Martin and overhear conversations about the Zimmerman verdict, I cannot help but think, but what about black women? What about Rekia Boyd, Kasandra Perkins, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Deanna Cook? As I asked in a piece that I penned a month ago, “Why are black girls not ‘our daughters’ the same way that Trayvon Martin is ‘our son’?” Britni Danielle makes a similar observation when she writes: “For every Oscar Grant or Sean Bell or Trayvon Martin, there are many more Rekia Boyds, Aiyana Jones, Ashley Conaways, and Abreeya Browns that go unnoticed. Why?”

I imagine if Trayvon had been a black girl, she might have been raped and then murdered. Her story would have never made national headlines; if anything, a short blurb in a local paper’s crime section. Her family and maybe some friends and acquaintances from the community would have held a vigil in her honor. The perpetrator, if apprehended, would have claimed that she asked for it, probably citing her clothing or the way that she walked as responsible for her sexual assault. The perpetrator would have then blamed her (justified) anger and attempts at breaking free for the homicide, the combination of her “angry black woman” sass and jezebel-like hypersexuality provoking him to rape and then kill her. And that, that would have been the end. There would have been no Million Mini-Skirt March. The NAACP would not have urged the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against her attacker. She would have just been dead, and most likely forgotten, if ever remembered at all.

As Jamila Aisha Brown notes in “If Trayvon Martin had been a woman,” “If Trayvon Martin were a young black woman, we would not even know her name. A look through history proves that from lynchings, to intimate partner violence, to police brutality, the murders of black women in the United States have rarely evoked much empathy.” Black women are disproportionately victims of rape and assault, domestic violence, and mass incarceration. According to an ongoing study conducted by Black Women’s Blueprint, sixty percent of black girls have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. We are also the fastest growing segment of the criminal justice population. Yet, there are no national news stories, no marches, no collective outcry.

Rather, black women are expected to put their race before their gender, to choose between their dual identities (“black” or “woman”) at the expense of their full humanity (“black” and “woman” and “human being”). We are considered “race traitors” when we internally critique, “air dirty [colored] laundry” in public, break the silence around intracommunity issues such as the sexual hostility against black women often implemented within own black communities. We are taught to combat racism and fight for the redemption of black manhood at the expense of sexism and the liberation of black women, to worry about our husbands and sons at the expense of of daughters and ourselves. We are expected to rally for unarmed Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell, yet black men are not expected to rally for unarmed Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. And this, I cannot stand for.

We, too, needlessly suffer simply for being born into a world in which the color of our skin determines the degree of our humanity. We, too, are not meant to survive—amidst stray bullets, a war on blackness, and a patriarchal capitalist system built on our free labor and sexual exploitation. We, too, are victims of “the race problem,” media (in/hyper)visibility, forgottenness, temporality, and apathy. And until the killing, assault, and devaluation of black girls and women is as prominent on “the black agenda” as the murder, racial profiling, and incarceration of black boys and men, we, as a whole, will continue to suffer at the hands of one overarching structure of domination.

______________________________________

saltersj.n .salters is a black feminist doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania interested in the intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality in rights to privacy, black cultural production, identity politics, sex work, law and criminal justice, and visual culture.

 

27 Responses to Am I A Race Traitor? Trayvon Martin, Gender Talk, and Invisible Black Women

  1. Tasasha on July 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this essay. The lives of Black girls and women are just as important as the lives of Black boys and men. I’m glad that Marissa Alexander’s case has gotten more mainstream media attention because people see the injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted of murdering Trayvon while Marissa was sentenced 20 years for firing a warning shot so her husband could stop abusing her. Hopefully the media attention can be sustained and expanded to include other Black women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, and/or our racist criminal (in)justice system.

  2. Tasasha on July 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this essay. The lives of Black girls and women are just as important as the lives of Black boys and men. I’m glad that Marissa Alexander’s case has gotten more mainstream media attention because people see the injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted of murdering Trayvon while Marissa was sentenced 20 years for firing a warning shot so her husband could stop abusing her. Hopefully the media attention can be sustained and expanded to include other Black women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, and/or our racist criminal (in)justice system.

  3. Tasasha on July 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this essay. The lives of Black girls and women are just as important as the lives of Black boys and men. I’m glad that Marissa Alexander’s case has gotten more mainstream media attention because people see the injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted of murdering Trayvon while Marissa was sentenced 20 years for firing a warning shot so her husband could stop abusing her. Hopefully the media attention can be sustained and expanded to include other Black women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, and/or our racist criminal (in)justice system.

    • echo muchly on August 3, 2013 at 5:47 am

      Thank you for writing this essay. The lives of Black girls and women are just as important as the lives of Black boys and men. I’m glad that Marissa Alexander’s case has gotten more mainstream media attention because people see the injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted of murdering Trayvon while Marissa was sentenced 20 years for firing a warning shot so her husband could stop abusing her. Hopefully the media attention can be sustained and expanded to include other Black women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, and/or our racist criminal (in)justice system.

  4. Tasasha on July 21, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for writing this essay. The lives of Black girls and women are just as important as the lives of Black boys and men. I’m glad that Marissa Alexander’s case has gotten more mainstream media attention because people see the injustice of Zimmerman being acquitted of murdering Trayvon while Marissa was sentenced 20 years for firing a warning shot so her husband could stop abusing her. Hopefully the media attention can be sustained and expanded to include other Black women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, and/or our racist criminal (in)justice system.

  5. L. Michelle Odom on July 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The more we take ourselves seriously, as in the products seen here on the feministwire, or in the work of Black Women’s Blueprint (of which I am a member), the more visible Black women (and all women) will become, I do believe. Yes, we have been used, abused, maligned and dismissed, and sadly, this state of affairs, nearly as old as time, persists to this very day. If we are to be saved in any meaningful sense of the word, it will be because we saved ourselves.

    j.n., your very thoughtful essay and righteous outrage, point to a very old problem. I hope you will not find me a race traitor or self-hating woman, but will instead hear my point that in some hard to look at ways, women have been complicit in our own second class status. Our reasons are logical and understandable. Mostly, I think, we’ve been looking for a way to survive (as women and Black people), and have often calculated the safest route to doing so…dependence on a man or on a system that seeks to hold us down. It takes great, almost unimaginable courage to break these chains and the road is fraught with many perils. Our acquiescence and complicity in our own oppression is totally understandable, and has arguably allowed us to survive and progress, if only at a snail’s pace.

    But those who benefit from our oppression, be they white and/or male, will never be the ones to champion our concerns with the same vigor as they do their own. As much as we want and deserve their support…it is our work…and the load is heavy.

  6. L. Michelle Odom on July 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The more we take ourselves seriously, as in the products seen here on the feministwire, or in the work of Black Women’s Blueprint (of which I am a member), the more visible Black women (and all women) will become, I do believe. Yes, we have been used, abused, maligned and dismissed, and sadly, this state of affairs, nearly as old as time, persists to this very day. If we are to be saved in any meaningful sense of the word, it will be because we saved ourselves.

    j.n., your very thoughtful essay and righteous outrage, point to a very old problem. I hope you will not find me a race traitor or self-hating woman, but will instead hear my point that in some hard to look at ways, women have been complicit in our own second class status. Our reasons are logical and understandable. Mostly, I think, we’ve been looking for a way to survive (as women and Black people), and have often calculated the safest route to doing so…dependence on a man or on a system that seeks to hold us down. It takes great, almost unimaginable courage to break these chains and the road is fraught with many perils. Our acquiescence and complicity in our own oppression is totally understandable, and has arguably allowed us to survive and progress, if only at a snail’s pace.

    But those who benefit from our oppression, be they white and/or male, will never be the ones to champion our concerns with the same vigor as they do their own. As much as we want and deserve their support…it is our work…and the load is heavy.

  7. L. Michelle Odom on July 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The more we take ourselves seriously, as in the products seen here on the feministwire, or in the work of Black Women’s Blueprint (of which I am a member), the more visible Black women (and all women) will become, I do believe. Yes, we have been used, abused, maligned and dismissed, and sadly, this state of affairs, nearly as old as time, persists to this very day. If we are to be saved in any meaningful sense of the word, it will be because we saved ourselves.

    j.n., your very thoughtful essay and righteous outrage, point to a very old problem. I hope you will not find me a race traitor or self-hating woman, but will instead hear my point that in some hard to look at ways, women have been complicit in our own second class status. Our reasons are logical and understandable. Mostly, I think, we’ve been looking for a way to survive (as women and Black people), and have often calculated the safest route to doing so…dependence on a man or on a system that seeks to hold us down. It takes great, almost unimaginable courage to break these chains and the road is fraught with many perils. Our acquiescence and complicity in our own oppression is totally understandable, and has arguably allowed us to survive and progress, if only at a snail’s pace.

    But those who benefit from our oppression, be they white and/or male, will never be the ones to champion our concerns with the same vigor as they do their own. As much as we want and deserve their support…it is our work…and the load is heavy.

  8. L. Michelle Odom on July 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The more we take ourselves seriously, as in the products seen here on the feministwire, or in the work of Black Women’s Blueprint (of which I am a member), the more visible Black women (and all women) will become, I do believe. Yes, we have been used, abused, maligned and dismissed, and sadly, this state of affairs, nearly as old as time, persists to this very day. If we are to be saved in any meaningful sense of the word, it will be because we saved ourselves.

    j.n., your very thoughtful essay and righteous outrage, point to a very old problem. I hope you will not find me a race traitor or self-hating woman, but will instead hear my point that in some hard to look at ways, women have been complicit in our own second class status. Our reasons are logical and understandable. Mostly, I think, we’ve been looking for a way to survive (as women and Black people), and have often calculated the safest route to doing so…dependence on a man or on a system that seeks to hold us down. It takes great, almost unimaginable courage to break these chains and the road is fraught with many perils. Our acquiescence and complicity in our own oppression is totally understandable, and has arguably allowed us to survive and progress, if only at a snail’s pace.

    But those who benefit from our oppression, be they white and/or male, will never be the ones to champion our concerns with the same vigor as they do their own. As much as we want and deserve their support…it is our work…and the load is heavy.

  9. Carrie Hathorn on July 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Great article, I appreciate your perspective and contribution to the conversation.

  10. Carrie Hathorn on July 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Great article, I appreciate your perspective and contribution to the conversation.

  11. Carrie Hathorn on July 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Great article, I appreciate your perspective and contribution to the conversation.

  12. Carrie Hathorn on July 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Great article, I appreciate your perspective and contribution to the conversation.

  13. Rachel on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    This is such an important addition to this conversation. Thank you for writing it.

  14. Rachel on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    This is such an important addition to this conversation. Thank you for writing it.

  15. Rachel on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    This is such an important addition to this conversation. Thank you for writing it.

  16. Rachel on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    This is such an important addition to this conversation. Thank you for writing it.

  17. D. Rembert on July 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    First of all, don’t use the phrase, “race traitor”, this is a made up notion that implicitly supports the idea of Race, and loyalty to the baggage that comes with this disastrous, misleading,social construct. “Race” has been used for a couple of centuries as a way to organize society and structure a hierarchy that is oppressive or disadvantageous to all that are not part of the organizing elites who author policies and laws to govern.

    As for gender, YES, there is a problem, but it resides in part in the minds of those who grew up under patriarchy centered governments and those that are trying to emerge from that same patriarchy. Gender differences are real but just like “race” they can be misunderstood and exaggerated. The bottom line is we are ALL HUMANS and like every other species, we can be differentiated by gender. As regards to the message of the article, I agree with the author’s perpective.

  18. D. Rembert on July 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    First of all, don’t use the phrase, “race traitor”, this is a made up notion that implicitly supports the idea of Race, and loyalty to the baggage that comes with this disastrous, misleading,social construct. “Race” has been used for a couple of centuries as a way to organize society and structure a hierarchy that is oppressive or disadvantageous to all that are not part of the organizing elites who author policies and laws to govern.

    As for gender, YES, there is a problem, but it resides in part in the minds of those who grew up under patriarchy centered governments and those that are trying to emerge from that same patriarchy. Gender differences are real but just like “race” they can be misunderstood and exaggerated. The bottom line is we are ALL HUMANS and like every other species, we can be differentiated by gender. As regards to the message of the article, I agree with the author’s perpective.

  19. D. Rembert on July 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    First of all, don’t use the phrase, “race traitor”, this is a made up notion that implicitly supports the idea of Race, and loyalty to the baggage that comes with this disastrous, misleading,social construct. “Race” has been used for a couple of centuries as a way to organize society and structure a hierarchy that is oppressive or disadvantageous to all that are not part of the organizing elites who author policies and laws to govern.

    As for gender, YES, there is a problem, but it resides in part in the minds of those who grew up under patriarchy centered governments and those that are trying to emerge from that same patriarchy. Gender differences are real but just like “race” they can be misunderstood and exaggerated. The bottom line is we are ALL HUMANS and like every other species, we can be differentiated by gender. As regards to the message of the article, I agree with the author’s perpective.

  20. D. Rembert on July 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    First of all, don’t use the phrase, “race traitor”, this is a made up notion that implicitly supports the idea of Race, and loyalty to the baggage that comes with this disastrous, misleading,social construct. “Race” has been used for a couple of centuries as a way to organize society and structure a hierarchy that is oppressive or disadvantageous to all that are not part of the organizing elites who author policies and laws to govern.

    As for gender, YES, there is a problem, but it resides in part in the minds of those who grew up under patriarchy centered governments and those that are trying to emerge from that same patriarchy. Gender differences are real but just like “race” they can be misunderstood and exaggerated. The bottom line is we are ALL HUMANS and like every other species, we can be differentiated by gender. As regards to the message of the article, I agree with the author’s perpective.

  21. HD on July 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Thank you so much for this article. Each time there’s a Trayvon Martin or a Troy Davis I think about all of the black women and girls who never had anyone stand up for them, who never had people across the country making t-shirts with their faces on them and risking arrest to protest their treatment.

  22. HD on July 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Thank you so much for this article. Each time there’s a Trayvon Martin or a Troy Davis I think about all of the black women and girls who never had anyone stand up for them, who never had people across the country making t-shirts with their faces on them and risking arrest to protest their treatment.

  23. HD on July 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Thank you so much for this article. Each time there’s a Trayvon Martin or a Troy Davis I think about all of the black women and girls who never had anyone stand up for them, who never had people across the country making t-shirts with their faces on them and risking arrest to protest their treatment.

  24. HD on July 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Thank you so much for this article. Each time there’s a Trayvon Martin or a Troy Davis I think about all of the black women and girls who never had anyone stand up for them, who never had people across the country making t-shirts with their faces on them and risking arrest to protest their treatment.

  25. [...] “Am I a Race Traitor? Trayvon Martin, Gender Talk, and Invisible Black Women,” by j.n. salters [...]

  26. Facepalm on August 2, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Two words: Crystal Mangum.

    That is all.

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