You have probably never heard of Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau. She was a 19-year-old activist who did grassroots organizing in Tallahassee, Florida. She was also homeless, sexually assaulted, then murdered after fleeing a place she thought she could seek refuge. Her body discarded as if she did not matter in this world.
It hurts to type that. What is even more hurtful, is realizing that for a lot of us, the likelihood of Black girls and women being mistreated, abused, raped, and even murdered by those who look like us is high.
For weeks, there have been discussions and debates surrounding the topic of protection when it comes to Black women. What does it mean to truly protect us? Mostly, the conversation goes a few ways: You have the indignant Black men who ask how they can protect us, only to dismiss us. Some are willing to listen, but only if they can argue their personal examples of how they do protect us. The rest? Well, they remain silent.
I get that no one wants to feel personally attacked, but at the same time, being combative and dismissive to our thoughts and feelings ain’t gone make us free either.
I have had many conversations regarding the liberation of ALL Black people. In case anyone forgot, that includes Black girls and women as well as those who are queer, disabled, poor, uneducated, etc. ALL of us. Many people who spearhead these movements overlook the fact that while we are marginalized due to race, our identities can also make us even more of a target for violence. So yes, even the oppressed can play the role of an oppressor.
With that being said, here are some ways to protect Black women. Kudos to you if you already do these things, but if not, it is never too late to start. And for those of you that are actively trying, I acknowledge you also.
- LISTEN TO US – It is frustrating when you are trying to explain something, and someone either cuts you off mid-sentence or attempts to reduce you to being dramatic simply because they do not agree. Protecting us means to listen to us, amplify our voices, do not over talk us, empathize with us. Not just the girls and women who are near you but even the ones you do not know.
- EDUCATE YOURSELF & REMAIN TEACHABLE – Some of you want to be educated on women’s experiences, which is cool, but please understand that we are NOT your teachers. Most requests to be taught are facetious at best and do not come from a genuine place. I recommend doing your own research, actively listening, and remaining teachable even when you think you know enough because the truth is– you do not.
- Check yourself & your friends too – This is possibly the most important. To do this, though, you must have a level of self-awareness that many do not have. It is not enough to be one of the good guys — you must make sure everyone around you is kind too. You cannot be afraid to speak up and call out things, question someone, or reprimand them if need be. Too many of us are dying or getting abused, and far too many remain silent about it. We live in a society that creates safe havens for abusers, and that must stop.
- NURTURE US – Black girls and women are never given a room just to be. We are expected to be strong for everyone, rarely is the nurture we crave reciprocated back to us. The load is heavy, being both black and female. Our identities are not ones we can take off whenever we feel like it. Whether it is in friendship or romantic partnership, nurture us. Ask how we would like to be supported. Hold our hands, hug us, let us cry.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope it helps someone start. What happened to Toyin should have never happened. Protect Black women better—the end.
Kia Smith is a Writer, Blogger, Journalist, and Author. Find her online at kiasmithwrites.com.