In the aftermath of #KorrynGaines, a 23-year-old women who was shot and killed in front of her 5-year-old son by Baltimore police, I am still trying to make sense of why her death hasn’t been met with the same public outrage as the other tragic murders at the hands of law enforcement.
As a New Yorker and VIBE editor, I know firsthand what the streets outside our building on 5th Avenue looked like just hours after the shootings of #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile. A mass of people from all backgrounds were boldly swimming against traffic in the name of our slain. No matter how futile the act might have seemed prior to the news, watching citizens take up collective arms against the oppressor in an act to refuse to remain silent or static almost always proves to be an inspiring and moving reminder that, yes, we can.
On Thursday (Aug. 4), President Barack Obama penned a most brilliant and necessary essay for Glamour on being a feminist, but more than that, on what it means to be a feminist and how that translates to the way we treat women—particularly of color. He went on to describe growing up without a father and how he had to decide on his own what kind of man he was going to be.
“It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man,” he wrote, later adding that “we need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear.”
He continued: “We need to keep changing the attitude that permits the routine harassment of women, whether they’re walking down the street or daring to go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that teaches men to feel threatened by the presence and success of women.”
#KorrynGaines was an activist in her own right, who dared to go online to speak out against systemic racism and the failures of militarized police. She was vocal and forthright, and refused to comply with her rights being violated, even to her last breath. Her extrajudicial execution was met with little to no passion; there were no blaring horns outside our windows because traffic had been halted in her name. Instead, timelines were flooded with rhetoric about how #KorrynGaines had been complicit in her own death because she had a gun, and because she was being “too assertive” or too “angry,” a hackneyed idea forced upon black women in particular—just ask Michelle Obama.
#KorrynGaines was doing what so many of us like to yell about: standing up and fighting for our human rights. And, yet, her cries have fallen on deaf ears, to the point where her black and brown brethren have to excuse her death, or worse, make it her own doing.
“It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too,” POTUS penned, evoking in me the thought of #KorrynGaines’ partner running off with his 1-year-old as she got shot up next to her 5-year-old. “And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
In this very moment, I hear the shuddering breath of Malcolm X, who once echoed, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
An eloquent Obama concluded with “the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free,” and it sent me over the edge knowing that #KorrynGaines’ “freedom” cost her her life. How oxymoronic is that?