Chris Lebron on the invisibility of black women

Chris Lebron (Yale) has a wonderful new piece in The Boston Review on the invisibility of black women in our discussions of race and civil rights.

Over the past few years, as the mainstream media reported a seemingly endless stream of stories about black men being killed by police, one could be forgiven for thinking that black women are not victimized to the same degree. Such a contention would be tragically misguided and would be complicit in black women’s public invisibility. Though Sandra Bland’s suicide following her abusive arrest made national headlines—as did the shooting of nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride when she sought help at a white family’s door after crashing her car—few Americans have heard about the many other black women who have fallen victim to the same racist forces that choked the life out of Eric Garner: Yvette Smith, Malissa Williams, and Rekia Boyd name but a few.

And then there is the horrific fact that more than sixty thousand black women are missing in America. To put that number into perspective, black women make up roughly 8 percent of the population in the United States but nearly 37 percent of missing women. The explanation for the missing women is often unclear; it includes the typical suspects, including murder, running away, abduction, and so on. But it is clear that there are at least two problems having to do with our treatment of this full-blown crisis. First, the media tends to publicize stories of missing white women or girls so much more than it does stories of missing women of color that there is a term for it: Missing White Woman Syndrome. Second, what little bandwidth the media does have for missing black people tends to be filled with discussion of the American shame of mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects black men, cast as a metaphorical “missing.” While that phenomenon is a travesty and deserving of all the attention it receives and more, the concurrent absence of media coverage about the epidemic of missing black women renders them doubly invisible: gone and seemingly forgotten.

Prof. Lebron’s piece offers specific, pragmatic suggestions for addressing this problem. Go read the whole thing!

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