Black Lives Matter—Yes, that Includes Black Women Too!
As a Black woman subject to an intersectionality of oppressions that dehumanize and hypersexualize Black female bodies, the Daniel Holtzclaw trial was one that I identified with on an intimate level.
Stemming from the slavery era, crewmembers on the transatlantic voyage, and slave owners would rape female slaves without repercussions, because they were perceived as impure. Essentially, the rape of a Black woman was not considered a punishable crime because they “deserved it”.
While the institution of slavery “ended”, the blatant disregard for Black women continued. In 1965, a white man by the name of Norman Cannon was found guilty of raping a 15-year-old Black girl named Rosa Lee Coates. Despite the substantial evidence found, the all white jury refused to accept that a Black woman could be raped.
More recently, a study conducted by the Department of Justice showed that for every white woman that reports rape, at least 5 white women do not report theirs. But for every Black women that reports rape, at least 15 Black women do not report theirs. This is often tied to the fact that the criminal justice system is defiant in serving and protecting black women.
Jackie Iyamah at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Oakland. Credit: @SyndiSlaps 2014
So when I first heard about this case, where a white man had sexually assaulted 13 Black women, I sat in my room and cried for an hour. This man preyed on these specific individuals because the criminal justice system has long tolerated the rape and sexual assault of Black women. A part of him felt that he could get away with it. And honestly, when I learned that the entire jury was white, and 8 out of 12 of them were men, a part of me felt that he would too.
The lack of representation of the jury was disheartening. It is often stated that a court case should include a “jury of one’s peers”. While the term “peer” does not mean that the jury should represent the defendant’s race or gender, it does mean that the jury should be equal to the defendant. And the reality is that Black women are not treated as equals to whites, let alone white men in America.
I asked myself, who would believe women whose identities are constantly perceived as inferior, wanting, and immoral?
To my surprise, on December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty. But for me to have even felt surprised illustrates the perversity of the criminal justice system. I shouldn’t have to feel like the system could allow the abuse of marginalized identities to occur in the first place.
But I did, because that is the type of culture that the system has cultivated over centuries. It is time that we dismantle this culture, and begin reimagining a society where safety means holding people accountable to each other and not to an inherently corrupt system.