Missing Black Women And The Sound Of Absence

January 27, 2023

‘What happened to Keisha wasn’t an accident.’ That’s what all this boils down to. I’m tired of hearing why Black girls go missing. I know why’ 

The premise for Erin E. Adam’s debut, Jackal is familiar. The case of Liz Rocher’s missing goddaughter highlights something insidious but ignored. Black girls have been missing and killed every summer for over 30 years. A connection made only by the community of Black women in a small town rustic neighborhood. Adams does well to highlight the inequalities that bring about this find. The failure of law enforcement from taking evidence to treating the cases with respect. The failure of the town to notice a pattern. A failed system that lets down everyone considered other. An awareness of how these girls are somehow all the wrong type of victims, all connected by their blackness, the latest made different by the presence of a white mother who still sees no color. 

In April 2014, nearly 300 girls aged 12-17 were kidnapped from Chibok in Northern Nigeria. Across the years, some 80 girls were released as part of the exchange. As of July 2022, 2 more girls were found and over 100 girls still remain missing. The missing girls were found with babies and recounted being married off and birthing children. In June 2020, Toyin Salau was kidnapped. Tweets plastered her face asking for help in locating her whereabouts. Her body was found a week later. She was vocal in the lives and pain of her people, vocal in her suffering and her voice was snuffed out. More recently, Shanquella Robinson’s death is still being investigated. A case her mother attributes to the efforts of Black Twitter. Such cases often lie on the backs of Black women, championing and advocating for the safety of others.

There is a brazenness that comes to mind when Black girls go missing. The missing is almost a lazy term, bypassing the intentionality of being taken. A confidence that Black girls, Black women globally, are perfect victims in their imperfection. There will always be a way to lay blame for the violence committed against us that absolves the perpetrators, be they of our community or outside it. Labels and stereotypes contribute to these images of what Black girls and women are and why we exist outside the margins of respect. 

A quick Google search on missing Black women brings up a range of articles and organizations dedicated to highlighting these absences globally. Every few days it seems, a new face does the rounds. A missing young teen here, last seen walking home there. Pleas for more information, and quiet prayers, let them be found and let them be found safely. Clayton and Beckett write of Black women homicides as an ‘unspoken epidemic’ in the United States with numbers on the rise. In reality, it’s a pandemic. Black women are not being cared for and our deaths are not being investigated in the ways they can and should be. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a Black woman goes missing and is murdered, does her absence make a sound?

When protesting the murder of Tony McDade, Toyin Salau said ‘I’m looked at whether I like it or not… Look at my hair, look at my skin… I can’t take this shit off so guess what? Imma die about it…You cannot take my blackness away from me.’ Similarly, we cannot separate the intricacies of Blackness and Black identity from those robbed of life. We will continue to be vocal about those who should be here and why they’re not.

Photo credit: Marvin Joseph – The Washington Post/ Getty Images