Breonna Taylor was shot and killed on March 13th, 2020 when three police officers raided her home in the middle of the night in search of a man who was already in custody elsewhere. On September 23rd, one of the officers (who had been terminated earlier) was charged with “wanton endangerment” for firing into the apartment without having a clear line of sight on his target. There were no other charges, and no one was charged with causing Taylor’s death.
The protests that have arisen in response to the (lack of) charges are not only about what is seen by many as a miscarriage of justice. They are also about the mistreatment of Black women throughout American history, beginning with the physical and sexual abuse of female slaves by white slaveowners and continuing to this day. Black women are more likely to be abused by their intimate partners than women in other racial groups. They are also at significantly higher risk of being raped or murdered. To that point, Taylor’s residence was targeted by police not because they believed she was involved in illegal activities but because her ex-boyfriend was suspected of selling drugs.
The societal mistreatment of Black women also exists in more subtle, pernicious ways. A 2019 research study conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality explored how Black girls aged 5-19 experience “adultification bias”, i.e. the tendency to see them as more sexually experienced and less in need of nurturing than White girls. This bias was linked to harsher disciplinary methods taken against Black girls by schools. The perception of Black women as being more sexual than their white counterparts continues into adulthood, as the historical stereotype of the black Jezebel demonstrates.
Black women are also more likely be seen as loud and prone to emasculating anger—the Angry Black Woman stereotype. Both of these stereotypes are exemplified by the treatment of Meghan Markle, the mixed race American woman who married Prince Harry in 2018. Among other instances, Markle has been described by media outlets as having “exotic DNA” and “(almost) straight outta Compton”. This racially based mistreatment has continued since she and her husband exited the monarchy. After Markle and Prince Harry released a video earlier this week encouraging Americans to vote, President Trump said at a White House press briefing: “I’m not a fan of [Markle’s]. . . . I would say this – and she probably has heard that – I wish a lot of luck to Harry, because he’s going to need it.” This is a clear reference to the emasculating effect Black women supposedly have on the men in their lives.
Much of this can be tied to intersectionality, a term coined by lawyer (and creator of the #SayHerName online movement) Kimbelé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how Black women experience both racial and gender-based inequality. In a 2017 interview, Crenshaw described intersectionality as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” Looking at how Black women are oppressed—through their intimate relationships, their sexuality, and the perception that they do not conform to the supposed norm of a quiet, calm woman—one can see how both their gender and their race play significant roles.
Remembering Breonna Taylor’s life and legacy on her 27th birthday and the mission to get more people to #SayHerName. @debrobertsabc has more. https://t.co/i9rZzYvW4s pic.twitter.com/iDeWQihrap
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 5, 2020
The following is a list of resources available through UT Libraries on the experiences of Black women, intersectionality, and the role of protests in advancing racial justice. The vast majority of these works were written by Black female authors.
Black Women Authors and Experiences
Cooper, B., Morris, S., & Boylorn, R. (2017). The Crunk Feminist Collection. The Feminist Press.
This is a collection of essays that appeared in The Crunk Feminist Collective, an online group that aims to create a “space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without.”
Gay, R. (2014). Bad Feminist : Essays. Harper Perennial.
Gay’s 2014 widely praised collection of essays approaches pop culture through a Black feminist lens.
hooks, b. (1989). Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Routledge.
In this seminal work, hooks explores what it means to “talk back” to oppressive authority as an equal.
Taylor, K., Smith, B., Smith, B., Frazier, D., Garza, A., & Ransby, B. (eds) (2017). How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Haymarket Books.
The Combahee River Collective, which was active from 1974 to 1980, was a group of queer Black feminists who sought to empower Black feminism as something that was separate from the (often racist) mainstream feminist movement. Their 1977 statement of beliefs can be found here.
Tinsley, O. (2019). Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism. University of Texas Press.
In her memoir, UT Professor Omise’eke Tinsley traces her experiences as a Black woman in America through the lens of Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade.
Davis, A. (2017). Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Haymarket Books.
World-renowned scholar Angela Davis traces the commonalities and differences in the experience of oppression throughout history across the world.
Eric-Udorie, J. (ed.) (2018). Can We All Be Feminists?: New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism. Penguin Publishing Group.
This recent collection of essays by some of the top voices in feminist scholarship looks at the role of intersectionality in twenty-first century American culture.
Nash, J. (2020). Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Duke University Press.
Nash critiques how intersectionality has been coopted and altered by shifting norms in feminist scholarship.
Cobbina, J. (2020). Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter, and How They Changed America. New York University Press.
Cobbina interviewed over two hundred residents in Ferguson and Baltimore in order to place their individual experiences of the protests (and of the events that led to the unrest) within the broader context of American culture.
Ward, J. (ed.) (2017). The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race. Scribner.
Jesmyn Ward edited this book of essays about how the themes and ideas in James Baldwin’s famous 1963 book apply to today’s world.