“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud, and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”
-Oprah Winfrey (A Black woman who be knowing)
Black women, Black women! Less than a week into the new year and so many crazy things are going on. Many of us watched that viral video of Yasmine James being yanked by a drunk White dude at a McDonald’s in Florida and we also watched her give him a McAss Whoopin’. If that wasn’t fucked up enough, many of us sat through the three night, six-part documentary, Surviving R. Kelly and all I know is, I need to heal.
With that being said, I’m ready to just drop this nourishment for your mind and this soul food for your spirit. So let’s get right into it.
Last month, I watched two documentaries that just had me so deep in my feelings that I didn’t know whether to cry or scream so I did a little of both and also decided to write. One of the documentaries is The Rape of Recy Taylor which tells the story of Recy Taylor after she was raped by seven white men in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944. The other is Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland which tells the story of the untimely death of Sandra Bland while she was in police custody in Waller County, Texas in 2015.
There were so many parallels in their stories despite the 70 year gap in these tragic events. Here are some of the exposed truths, whole truths and nothing but the truths as it pertains to these Black women that I’m sure many of us can relate to:
Black Women Ain’t the Ones.
One thing I loved and admired about both of these women is their “You ain’t finna silence me” attitude. As I listened to Recy Taylor’s brother retell her story, he states that Recy tells the men that if they let her go home to her husband and child, she won’t tell anyone what happened. And what’s the first thing you think she does? She tells her dad and everyone she knows that those trash ass white men raped her.
She not only told the neighbors, she told the judges, and made sure that people understood that she wasn’t accepting that shit. When her brother tells the story, all I could think is they got better luck making a cat bark than silencing Mrs. Recy Taylor. I can only imagine the trauma that she experienced and then to muster up the strength and courage to not only tell her daddy about those cracker ass crackers but to take it to court.
As a Black woman.
Shheeeiiitttt. She was a Badass Black Woman.
This was about more than justice for her. This was about justice for Black women. This raggedy ass justice system thrives off of silence, particularly the silence of Black women and when that doesn’t happen, all hell breaks loose.
Which brings me to Sandra Bland. In the documentary, they show Sandra being pulled over by a White cop for failing to signal. He escalates the situation once he asks a question that he’s not prepared to hear the answer to. He goes back and forth asking her for her license and registration, then asks her to put out her cigarette, then asks her what’s wrong to which she responds (and I’m paraphrasing) “You pulled me over and you’re harassing me. That’s what’s wrong with me.”
So basically, this is a test that Sandra doesn’t pass. When Whites ask a question, Black women need to either smile and make them comfortable and agree to their own subjugation or they’re supposed to STFU! Well, neither of those things happened and that is when the violence begins. This leads me to my next parallel:
Black women’s bodies are not our own and because of that we are often met with violence.
One of the most devastating lines in Recy Taylor’s story is when her sister discusses Recy’s inability to conceive children after the rape. Her exact words, and read them slowly, were,
“They played in her body.”
Read that line again.
How sick is that shit? They played in her body as if she was a thing, an object, something for sport. This is how White supremacy works. This is the idea that they are entitled to everything and literally every body to do with as they please. The psychiatrist, philosopher and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon, coined the term ‘thingification’ to emphasize the fact that Black people are simply objects in the eyes of colonizers. I think it’s safe to say that Mrs. Taylor was thingified.
When one of the boys who raped her testified, here are some of the things he said:
She undressed willingly and without protest.
She did not say anything.
We let her rest in between.
We paid her.
I literally pressed pause and began to cry at this point. Where do I begin with the fuck shit? First off, I can only imagine what was going through her mind during those moments. Seven white men are surrounding her. What are the odds that if she fought, she would win? (That was a rhetorical question.) Was she supposed to get her ass whooped and raped? Her behavior was strategic. She wanted to live to tell her story. So fuck outta here with the she-didn’t-fight-back line of logic. That don’t hold up, bruh!
Second, can we not humanize rapists? While he admitted that six of the seven men who were present “had intercourse” with her, he tries to act as though giving her a rest is part of the “It- wasn’t-that-bad” rape narrative. I had a visceral reaction. My stomach began to hurt. It was insane. There are no degrees of rape in my mind. Rape is rape is rape.
Violence and terrorism are part of our history in this country especially as it pertains to White folks terrorizing Black people. I always say, show me an instance in history where Black people wreak havoc on Whites that doesn’t include rebelling against some shitty thing White folks did to us.
Don’t worry, I can get back to you about that.
Sandra Bland understood this as well. Our voices are always met with violence. As soon as she defends her right not to put out her cigarette, not to get out of her vehicle, not to be treated like shit, the cop immediately puts hands on her. When they slow down the footage, it is revealed that he slaps her.
All Black folks know that slapping and spitting are the ultimate forms of disrespect. The only one who’s allowed to slap us is our mamas and grandmamas. So she does what anyone would do in shock and who has been violated: she threw her hands too.
The film haunts me: watching him throw her body around and putting his foot in her neck as she screams that she’s hurt. As a viewer, I’m buggin’ just like she is thinking that all of this is happening over a failure to signal. Where’s the logic in this?
Black women are always the villains in White people’s stories.
White folks never cease to amaze me. They stay doing some inhumane shit and then making up a completely different narrative. I always say that white folks are so fucking creative yet so basic at the same time; you gotta be for this system to exist.
How do you justify six men raping a Black woman while another man who doesn’t participate stands there and watches? (No this is not the beginning of a joke)
Answer: You say she’s a whore.
It’s cheap. It’s easy and it plays into stereotypes about Black women’s sexuality. Oh, you ain’t know? We all whores apparently. We’re so hypersexual that obviously, it’s impossible to rape us.
Mrs. Taylor was actually on her way home from church that evening and she was a devout Christian. I don’t care if she was a devil worshipper who was playing with her vag on the side of the road- rape is rape is rape. I’m tired of this idea that if we can reduce someone’s worth, we can somehow justify horrific things happening to them. Somehow she was deserving of her rape. Say it with me: I caaaan’t.
After Sandra Bland died in her cell, the narrative became, she had a lot of weed in her system and she had had suicidal thoughts at some point in her life so she must’ve committed suicide. Let’s dissect this.
1. I know mad potheads and never has the weed been that powerful that they just want to tie a noose around their necks.
2. Who hasn’t had a suicidal thought in their life? Whether they reached out for help about it or not, we’ve all had a rough time in our lives and that thought has crossed our minds.
3. If she was being held on bail, the assumption is she would have been released soon. She hadn’t been convicted of anything yet. Why would she be desperate to the point of suicide?
So y’all just gonna ignore the fact that there weren’t any cameras in her cell?
So y’all gonna act like she wasn’t headed to a new job and was probably very optimistic up until the point where this racist ass dude pulled her over?
So y’all really gonna act like you missed the fact that her fingerprints weren’t on the bag that she supposedly used to kill herself?
You can actually miss me with that bullshit.
One thing I know is that white folks are more than allergic to the truth- they are deathly afraid of it, especially when it’s spoken from a Black woman’s lips. It’s like garlic and a rosary to a vampire and let’s face it- we are in a vampiric system that sucks the life out of Black bodies.
But it ain’t all bad. Here are some hopeful truths that came out of these documentaries that I hope, better yet I know, we as Black women will continue to do:
Black women show the fuck up for each other (insert hand clap as you read.)
Recy Taylor didn’t fight this issue on her own. She had the backing of the one and only Ms. Rosa Parks. This is pre-Montgomery-bus-boycott Rosa Parks. Ms. Parks had been an activist and community organizer and she brought national attention to Recy Taylor’s story. Do not underestimate the danger that Ms. Parks was in by speaking up and calling attention to these White men. She was physically thrown out of town by the sheriff after visiting Recy Taylor.
Again, the threats and physical violence that Black women experience are not rare and isolated incidents. This is the American way. But that didn’t deter Ms. Parks because she continued to show up and brought in the NAACP. Mrs. Taylor’s story was in the papers and made its way to American living rooms. This is how we support one another- by making noise.
Speaking of noise, ain’t nothing quiet about the support of Sandra Bland. One of the most inspiring things in the documentary was seeing the strength of Sandra’s mom, Ms. Geneva Reed-Veal. After burying her daughter, she immediately fights the system.
Black women ain’t fragile. We hurt AND we fight. And her mother’s courage, her battle with the courts and her activism is something that can’t be ignored. Sandra’s sisters, through their tears, still make sure that they fight for Sandra’s message and the way she loved Black people. They also refuse to believe and admit that their sister killed herself which I completely understand.
They call out the fact that there were no cameras in her cell, that the officer who stopped and arrested Sandra used excessive force and the fact that their sister was not only treated unfairly, but treated inhumanely. Watching the footage, there’s no way that a trash ass cop like that should be policing anyone or anything.
Let’s not forget the countless protestors who still want to see justice for Sandra. Black women continue to fight because this is about more than accountability. This absolutely needs to stop because we are dying out here or living with the scars of a barely missed death.
Black Women Matter and they are loved.
The last point I want to make is the one that should be obvious but I guess some people missed the memo. Black women are people. We love and we are loved. The documentary made the point loud and clear, “Rape of a Black Woman is a Crime!”
I was like Say it louder for the people in the back, for the people in the courtroom and for the people at the grocery store. I find it absolutely ridiculous that we even need to insert the phrase “of a Black woman.” But you know what, it makes complete sense if Black woman aren’t even considered women. Sojourner Truth knew what she was talking bout. She had to ask the question outright- Ain’t I A Woman?
Recy Taylor was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a caretaker of her younger siblings, a Christian, a HUMAN BEING!
Sandra Bland was also loved and loved Black folks. When we see her videos in Sandy Speaks, she begins with greeting us as Kings and Queens. She was a Queen and she could’ve been so much more. The message: The Killing of a Black Woman is a Crime!
Despite my sadness, I feel even more compelled to tell my own truths no matter how big or small. I honor all of the women refusing to let injustice against Black women be the status quo. I hope this is a validating and healing space and if you feel moved to drop a comment about the Surviving R. Kelly documentary or the Yasmine James’ incident in addition to the content of this post, please do so. We gotta speak truth, speak light and speak words that serve as salve for our wounds.
So speak truth.
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.