Sex & Gender

black girls go missing from the focus of our movements long before they go missing from our streets

March 23, 2017

“What happens when Black girls look clear in the moonlight, daylight, sunset?” – Makayla Posley, NY-based Poet.

Last week, the D.C. metropolitan police department tweeted about the disappearance of 10 teenagers considered “critically missing,” all of whom were Black or Brown. Usually (and horrifically), these type of developments fly under the radar, but when Twitter user @BlackGirlMarvel retweeted the images out to her 15,000 followers, the case of the missing Black girls went viral. As of Thursday, multiple outlets were reporting on how there were over a dozen teenagers missing in the district.

D.C. officials quickly pointed out that 95% of the cases of disappearing girls and women in the area have been resolved, and one ten-year-old girl was found safe today. But as The Huffington Post reported, of the 5% that haven’t, all 37 of the girls and women are Black and Latina, following trends across the country showing that Black women and girls constitute a ridiculous disproportionate percentage of the number of people missing in the U.S., with little promise of change on the horizon.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Contributor

It’s not news that the way we consider women’s issues has historically been raced for the benefit of white women. Even popular crime shows like Law & Order will sometimes casually remark on how the little pretty white girl commands more media attention, resources, and a drive to protect her than does her Black counterpart. This deeply entrenched pattern of disregard seeps its violence even into feminist movements, which is why Black women have created new lanes for themselves in the form of womanism and intersectional feminism, necessarily propelling the voice of those who are all too often silenced, even by other women.

Similarly, the issues plaguing Black communities are gendered in a way that erases Black women, and Black trans women specifically. Black men, the popular story goes, bear the brunt of anti-Blackness and therefore require the most attention (a la Barack Obama’s controversial My Brother’s Keeper program). Black men are the ones who come to mind when talking about overpolicing and hypercriminalizing. They are uniquely struggling in school systems designed as a pipeline to prison. They are the ones who are actually missing, which is the misnomer we’ve given imprisonment.

Where is the place of Black women? In the case of D.C. and far too many others, this question is literal.

It is also a question that has been asked time and time again, seemingly into a deafening wind. We have yet to devise a viable solution to the literal erasure of Black women–cis and trans–in even our intersectional movements and work. When a Black woman is missing or murdered, we are only now learning, albeit slowly, to #SayHerName, but more importantly, we haven’t yet learned how to act in productive ways upon hearing it. Black girls go missing from our movements long before they go missing from our streets.

Though the power of raising awareness should not be downplayed, too many people are content to retweet a story or post a status as if the problem stops and starts there. While media attention is undoubtedly an important aspect, if we are serious about protecting Black women we need to also demand from our community significant resources and labor to go into building infrastructure to make protection happen. This means not only supporting organizations that do this work financially or on a volunteer basis as often as possible, but also doing more practical, day to day activities in your everyday life.

Some ideas to consider: provide mace or other legal (or even illegal) defenses to the women and femmes in your circle. In addition to financially supporting organizations, consider donating even small amounts to the individual gofundme accounts. If you can, physically ensure the women in your life get home safely, or commit to check-ins to make sure they do when you cannot. Become familiar with warning signs for child abuse, and always listen to Black children. This list is not exhaustive, and most importantly, ask women and girls directly in your community what you can do to continue this conversation for as long as necessary.

It’s great that we are getting to the point where some (and still too few) are finally talking about the violence our sisters experience. But real change demands that we also recognize our role in that violence and our responsibility to stopping it before it can even be experienced. Shedding light onto the plight of folks can only work if we have fully committed to not letting it pierce right through them.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.