How to Talk to Young Black Women About Trayvon Martin
In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, many are writing about how to talk to Black boys about this tragedy. But, how do we talk to young Black girls and women? With a nod to writer/comedian Touré for his “Eight talking points about the potentially fatal condition of being Black,” here, then, are seven talking points for young Black women:
1. You are not the problem, although sometimes you may be made to feel like you are. One day you will grow up and become aware of all the “research” out there that blames Black women for the ills of the Black community. You will learn about everyone from Senator Daniel Moynihan of New York (who saw the possibility of you growing up to raise a child on your own as the major cause of our community’s problems) to Life Always, (a pro-life group which insists that the most dangerous place for a Black child is in your womb).
I hope that you will recognize this for what it is: an offering of Black women as a scapegoat for a society where being Black is still one of the most dangerous things that you can be. Trayvon Martin has taught us that the most dangerous place for Black boys is not your womb or your household. The most dangerous place for Black children is still the streets of America.
2. It is okay, even wise, to nervously clutch your purse when you run into a Black man on a dark, deserted street. This is the same nervousness you should feel when you run into any man on a dark, deserted street. Do not fall prey to the characterization of Black men as inherently more dangerous than their counterparts of other races. You know better.
3. You are not safe, little sister. Just as negative stereotypes have led to the perception of 17-year-old Black boys armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles as dangerous criminals, you will have to deal with stereotypes that portray you as immoral, aggressive and hypersexual.
Since coming to this country, your body has been bartered and sold everywhere from slave auctions to popular culture. Even if you grow up to become the First Lady of the United States, people will still have no more qualms discussing your “big butt” than if you were a girl in a rap video. Be on the look out for individuals who seek to emotionally or physically harm you based on what they have “heard” about “girls like you” – i.e. Black girls.
4. Unfortunately for you, you are the daughter of two of our country’s greatest social ills – sexism and racism. You have been raised your entire life in a society that does not see you as the beautiful, intelligent, strong and worthy individual that you are. In our country’s seeming war on women and war on minorities, it is hard not to end up a POW.
Sometimes white women will not understand your loyalty to your Black brothers and sometimes Black men won’t understand the depth of your feminine pain. This is your cross to bear. While I would like to believe that this duality will soften or fade in your lifetime, I refuse to give you false hope. Being Black and a woman will not be easy, but I have faith that you will shoulder this burden with strength and grace, just like those who have come before you.
5. I know this is hard to hear but our justice system is not your knight in shining armor. Historically, African Americans have not been granted the same protection of the law as their white counterparts. Trayvon is one striking example of this. You could be the next.
The Victorian concept of "true womanhood" that characterized white women as unquestionably moral and pure, also labeled African American women as depraved and sinful. Such notions are still alive and well in the minds of many. Under these terms of engagement: no matter how dire your straights, you will never be a “damsel in distress.”
6. Being Black is going to make feminism more difficult for you. We could never belong to a movement which would turn us against our brothers but it is okay to love Black men fiercely, fight for them always and still challenge them to love and respect you just as deeply. Make their fight yours and help them make your fight theirs.
7. Most importantly: be careful, little sister. Be careful of the places that you go and of the people you are with. Be careful of what you are wearing, whether it is a mini skirt or a hoodie. And, if ever you find yourself in a dangerous situation, never assume that your civil rights are a given, never lose your cool or your dignity and never, ever forget Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon is your brother. Trayvon is you. Trayvon is us.