Black women constantly face both subtle and explicit messages that we are valued less than women of other races — messages that are especially damaging to Black girls. Only a narrow range of Black characters or personalities ever makes it onto America’s television screens. Reality tv show producers routinely green light content that reinforce ugly stereotypes about Black women — that we’re hypersexual, combative and unfit to parent our children. And predominantly white newsrooms (an estimated 83 percent) continue to churn out content that depict Black women ranging from Rep. Maxine Waters to Serena Williams to Jemele Hill as unreasonable, uncivil and even unhinged.
Social media has provided the digital oxygen necessary to uplift the stories and voices of those too often silenced. Now, more than ever, we are able to challenge in real time harmful narratives pushed by mainstream media. Yet as we see with women like Leslie Jones- who became the target of vile online trolls- and journalist, activist and producer dream hampton, it is also an unmonitored space that allows for more dehumanizing and sexually violent content to be directed at Black women and girls. Major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have yet to take meaningful action to protect us from online stalking, harassment, doxxing and censorship.
“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.”Malcolm X
In addition to reducing self-esteem, these troupes also grant societal permission to dismiss statements and concerns by, and attacks on, Black women. A number of studies confirm that these distorted portrayals can lead non-Black audiences to hold onto problematic perceptions of Black women that have dangerous real-world consequences some of which include: less attention from doctors, harsher sentencing by judges, lower likelihood of being hired or admitted to school, and a higher likelihood of being shot by police.
Black Women Deserve Better
Black Women Deserve Better
On the morning of Aug. 1 2016, officers with the Baltimore County Police Department arrived at the Randallstown apartment of 23 year old Korryn Gaines to serve misdemeanor warrants on her. After a standoff, Korryn was killed by police gunfire. County prosecutors would rule the shooting justified, and no charges would be filed against officers.
Korryn Gaines deserved to live. During the standoff with police, she used Facebook to livestream the harrowing ordeal while armed police stood in her doorway threatening her life. Police reached out to Facebook to cut off her stream. They did. And in the time that she was cut off from the world via livestream, Korryn Gaines was shot and killed by police in front of her 5 year old son, who was also injured by a stray bullet fired by police. Social media was weaponized against Korryn.
The little coverage of Korryn Gaines treated her life as if it were a debate on whether or not she deserved to die. The political left did not galvanize around her and protests and rallies only existed where other Black women and girls held them. Held each other. Years later, Korryn’s family won a wrongful deaths suit against Baltimore County police.
The New Jersey 4
In 2004, four gay Black women fought back against sexual harassment and as a result, they were imprisoned. One of the seven women present that night was cat-called and when she responded by telling the man that she was gay, he threatened to rape her and threw a punch. During the altercation the man was stabbed as the women fought in fear for their lives.
All seven women were charged with felonies, ranging from gang assault to attempted murder. Three plead guilty and four went to trial. Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson, Terrain Dandridge, and Venice Brown found themselves not only fighting for their freedom, but against local and national media that cast the women as a “wolf pack” of “killer lesbians.” Former right wing show, the O’Reilly Factor, ran a segment entitled “Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem.” The story described described a “national underground network… that’s actually recruiting kids as young as 10 years old” and engaging in homosexual recruitment.
The use of misogynoir, a form of hatred geared specifically against Black women, and homophobia was rampant throughout mainstream media and weaponized against these women and used to batter them into compliance.
Dehumanizing Black women is not a new tactic. The New Jersey 4 were treated as deviant and dangerous as as a result of their intersecting identities of Black, woman and lesbian. The media framing informed public opinion, who believed these women deserved to be punished, not for any crime, but for the audacity to exist at all.
Renata Hill, has since become an advocate and activist speaking out against media bias and fighting for racial justice.
Studies show that Black people are overrepresented as perpetrators of violent crime when news coverage is compared with arrest rates [but are underrepresented in the more sympathetic roles of victim, law enforcer].
Some studies have shown that Black people are four times more likely to have mug shots shown on tv than white people accused of crimes.
Black people are also disproportionately represented in news stories about poverty, and these stories tend to paint a picture that is particularly likely to reinforce stereotypes and make it hard to identify with Black people as complex humans. Color of change
When people are told enough times that Black people are inherently more violent and criminal than others, they will eventually begin to believe it. Black women are hyper-visibilized because of their racial identity and simultaneously invisbilized because of their gender. This contradiction informs much of how media relates to Black women, where the default is silence but when forced to confront Black women it relies on racist stereotypes and sensationalized coverage.
The reasons for the disappearance of Black women are informed by sexism, racism and the apathy the convergence of these two systems create. But a telling pattern emerges in how they’re documented by the media, with critics citing a stark racial divide in news coverage of such incidents.
Black and Missing Foundation, Inc- a nonprofit founded in 2008 by two Black women, a law enforcement official and public relations specialists- was created to fill a void left by the dramatic underreporting and underpolicing of missing persons cases involving Black women and girls. According to BAM, nearly 40 percent of all missing people in the country are people of color and a disproportionately high number are Black women and girls. A report from 2014 found more than 64,000 Black women remain missing across the United States.