I am, First, a Woman

I Will no Longer Put Race First

When black women talk about sexism, misogyny(noir), we’re told we need to put our race first, we are black before anything else. But are we really?

This morning I woke up to the news of Oluwatoyin Salau’s death and I was once again reminded that even among black people, there is no safety in my blackness. So no, I am not black before I am a woman. Toyin was a 19-year-old activist who was present at every protest she could be at, she was vocal about protecting the lives of black people, and black men failed her.

Black women are constantly degraded, dehumanised, erased, overlooked, unheard, and uncared for. Malcolm said it best when he said “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.”

Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of men than white women, and more than 90% of them are acquainted with their murderers. Black women are over-represented in cases of sexual violence, more than 20% of black women are raped in their lifetimes a higher number than any other category, 35% of black women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. I could go on and on with the stats. Black women are the subjects of several forms of violence, from other races and more devastatingly, from our own people.

Black women have been at the forefront of every protest, every demonstration, every movement. If there’s one thing we do, it’s show up, but we never get that energy back. We’re constantly questioned, shushed, spoken over; our pain is constantly disregarded, but we show up still. When is the world going to show up for us?

Black men are the face of police brutality, black women are the collateral damage. In fact, many people will argue that black women are safe from police brutality and I can only laugh. I laugh because we have casually forgotten the Abuja police raids, just as we’re forgetting Breonna Taylor, just as we’ve forgotten every other black woman who has been killed, assaulted, or brutalised by the men who are supposed to protect us.

When a black man is killed, there is media outrage, there are protests, there are paid leaves, there are arrests. When a black woman is killed, we get performative social media posts, a faux law, and 0 repercussions. When will black women’s lives matter? When will my life matter?

When a black man is murdered, it’s a sad day. When a black woman is murdered, why was she there? Why didn’t she pick a better man? Why did she take a drink from a stranger at the club? When a black woman is killed it’s a teaching moment and a talking point. It’s a reminder that we need to protect black women, but that’s all we do, remember. For all the reminders we’ve gotten, black women are still as unprotected as ever.

To be a black woman is to constantly be at war. You go out to fight, and when you come home you’re still fighting. It never ends because we’re never safe. Whatever feeling of safety we have is taken from us, seized. From the day we’re born we’re expected to fight. Young black girls are forced to sacrifice their childhoods on the altars of movements that sideline them once their faces lose the childlike appeal.

When we’re not fighters, and sometimes even while we’re fighting, we’re prey, ripe for picking. We’re victimised by the very people we stand with and when we speak up, we’re told we hate black men. We’re told we’re letting the oppressors use us as pawns to divide and conquer the movement, and you know what, they’re right. They are our oppressors. When we face racism outside, we come back home and are met with misogynoir.

The very people we raise our voices for try to silence us, and we’re expected to take it in good faith. We’re supposed to ignore the sexism in our communities and focus on saving the black man from racism. We’re supposed to recognise that we are black before anything else, and to that, I say no.

No, I am a woman before I am anything else. I am not black and then a woman, no, I am a woman who just happens to be black.

Student of law, writer. linktr.ee/emmanwosisi

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