Muffled: The Suppression of the Black Female Voice
I remember walking into one of my first college courses and hearing the unspoken invalidations to my existence in that space.
“Why is she here?”
"How did she get into [insert PWI]?”
“What can she even offer to this space?”
“She has to be an athlete on a full ride scholarship.”
I could feel the tension coil around my throat as I sat in my seat. I could feel the eyes of my peers rake callously over me as I listened intently to the professor. When the time for group discussion arrived, I raised my hand and offered what I knew to be an equally controversial and important perspective, however, it wasn’t until one of my White classmates agreed with me that my perspective was accepted as valid in the space. Similarly, my push back against arguments are often looked over with a raised eyebrow until the teaching assistant or professor suggests that my ideas are not only correct, but exceptional examples of how to think critically beyond the norm. This has become a common occurrence for me, inside and outside of the classroom. I find that White men in my spaces of work and education hold the most authority, followed by White women and other races/demographic groups deemed superior, Black men and then, Black women.
As an Afro-Caribbean woman born and raised into a family that emphasized my Blackness, I was not surprised by the ways in which my voice was invalidated by White people, as well as other demographic groups, because society has consistently reminded me that Black people will always be the commodity that is good enough to use, but not important enough to value. Since the beginning of time, Black women have simultaneously remained the fearless queens of their communities and the most disrespected members of society. From maintaining order in their households to leading the pack in higher education to running the boardroom better than many can even comprehend, Black women are the salted platters from which racists and supremacists have feasted for centuries.
It makes sense why people would want to keep this demographic group subjugated because the benefits of a black woman’s prowess rivals the value of gold. They increase the wealth of our nation’s biggest corporations and entities, while simultaneously being shortchanged in the social, political and economic capital they possess. As infuriating as it is to have my voice, our voice, suppressed by supremacists, my true hurt isn’t this.
With gender inequality issues re-emerging in the U.S. as a key problem within our society, it is easy to identify that Black men have privilege over Black women, simply by the virtue of their gender. However, my experiences have shown me the problematic behavior that must be undone that even exists in the most oppressed racial group of this country. Black men have been a blaring target for racism for decades on end, and it seems to only get worse. It is this predation that has galvanized many activists into action, including myself.
When Trayvon Martin lost his life, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to raise my voice in his honor, for his name. I performed spoken word poetry across many D.C. stages, marched down several blocks of the city I call home, and fought tirelessly to give my all for my slain, Black brother because he could have been my slain, Black brother.
As the names racked up and the death dates of black bodies began to blur together, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a serious lack of Black men fighting for the Black women who have had to pick up the pieces of their families, go back to the jobs that underpay them, return to the classrooms that don’t want them there, and lead lives that are just downright difficult. Black men don’t show up for Black women the way I expect them to. Even still, the greatest hurt I feel hasn’t stemmed from this revelation. Black men have watched how the voices of Black women have been crushed by the weight of injustice. However, instead of using their privilege to dismantle these barriers, they have remained silent about, and at times, participated in that very system.
Out of every act of oppression Black women have endured, this one is one of the most heavy-hitting to the heart and soul. It is one thing to not come to our defense in the face of adversity, but it is another to not even propel us forward so that we can free ourselves. When given the opportunity to help Black women not be their own heroes, many Black men do not take the chance. So, what now? What do we do? How can Black men help chip away the chains that subdue the Black female voice?
Educate yourself about the privilege Black men have over Black women, and identify ways in which you support the systems built to invalidate and muffle Black female voices.
Bring Black women into spheres of influence and let their voices ring loudly in the ears of those who want to erase them.
Credit the Black women who have played a role, big or small, in bringing you political power, social and economic capital, and overall influence.
Speak out against the suppression of Black female voices. Go hard for the women who have gone so hard for you.
There are so many other ways Black men and Black female allies can honor the work of Black women in this society, but these are some first steps that need to be taken.
In 2018, I pray for the voices of Black women to be heard from one corner of this Earth to the other. I pray this is the sheet music soundtrack for the liberation of the Black female voice. I pray this removes at least one barrier of invalidation from a Black female voice, even if it’s that of my own.