As a way to elevate my understanding of African American history and the experiences that have impacted the lives of these individuals, I attended the program, “Dangerous Homes: On violence against women and gender non-conforming persons.” This zoom conference was sponsored by 370J Project at NYU and was hosted by two women, who were well versed in black history and presence, Dr. Treva B. Lindsey and Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter. Dr. Lindsey is the author of a book titled, America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice, which discusses how black women in different communities are disproportionately affected by violence through their personal accounts. Baxter is an artist who uses her previous life experiences, such as her time spent in jail, to shape her work. Through the use of various anecdotes and scholarly research, this program achieved its purpose of explaining how black women in America have experienced the highest rates of violence at home compared to all other people. Their violation comes in the form of police brutality, false portrayals of killings in the media, and domestic violence.
Dr. Lindsey begins the program by emphasizing the idea that an excessive amount of violence is seen at home, behind closed doors. One of the pieces of evidence she uses to support this idea is that four in ten black women experience physical violence from their partners and more than twenty percent of these women report being raped. Both sexual abuse and violence have been prevalent for many years in American history and are especially present during times of slavery. In our textbook, Freedom on My Mind, by Deborah Gray White, it is emphasized that African American testimony changed people’s perspectives on different sources. The text states that “Harriet Brent Jacobs’s account of her master’s attempt at rape and her recounting of the sexual exploitation of female slaves changed the way some historians looked at plantation lists that showed a preponderance of single females with children” (White, 42). This goes along with the theme of false portrayals of African Americans, as people attributed these women to be promiscuous when in reality the white men are taking advantage of them and they truly were victims of violence.
One of the major stories that piqued my interest was the murder of Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six-year-old African American woman, who was in her apartment sleeping when police forced their way in to look for her ex-boyfriend who was known to be a drug trafficker. The police fired thirty-two rounds of shots and six bullets struck Breonna, killing her. This murder was a catalyst for the uprising and was one of the key factors that contributed to the Black Lives Matter movement. Alicia Garza, the founder of the Black Lives Matter movement describes it as, “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (White, 1079). Prior to the BLM movement, this much news coverage has never been provided, even though there have always been countless killings of young black women every day. In Dr. Lindsey’s piece titled, “A “Historical” Approach to Black Violability,” she provides an important point that in activism there is a “regular erasure of Black women, queer people, and trans people from the historical record both as victims and as activists” (Lindsey, 3). After the Black Lives Matter movement, when there were deaths by police officers, these stories came to the floor more frequently in the media. Furthermore, this story emphasizes the theme of brutality and goes to show how police, the people hired to provide protection to citizens, contribute to the death of black women and girls. These women and girls are in positions of most vulnerability and deserve the most protection.
The next story that was mentioned by Dr. Lindsey was the murder of Eula Mae Love. After the passing of her husband, Eula was struggling to pay her bills. When utility workers arrived at Eula’s door, she held a knife in her hand. The police ordered her to drop it. When she dropped the knife, the police shot her many times, and her lifeless and bullet-ridden body was handcuffed directly out front of her own home just because she was said to have tossed the knife towards the police. Dr. Lindsey emphasizes the idea that at the time that she was shot, she was unarmed and could have been subdued in a less harmful manner. Nobody was ever held accountable for Eula Mae’s death. In killing her, the officers assumed that the sixty-six dollar utility bill that they came to collect was worth more than this woman’s life. In the newspaper, the killing was referred to as an “officer-involved shooting,” which makes it seem as though this was a victimless crime. In the media, such as the stories pertaining to this program, African Americans have never been seen as victims but as criminals. Historically, African Americans have been represented as being violent in nature. The film, “Ethnic Notions,” directed by Marlon Riggs, describes how media representations created fabrications, exaggerations, and distortions of black reality and ultimately made a mockery of African Americans in the public eye.
Another anecdote provided was one in which an African American woman, Erica, and her two kids were stabbed to death by the father of her children. Police were aware that a domestic dispute had preceded the murders. Dr. Lindsey mentions that there was a delay in response to the police call and it took them an hour to get inside the house, which ultimately was attributed to the killing of these three innocent people. One of the main questions Dr. Lindsey emphasizes is: Where could she have gone and not feared being violated? Erica and her children were in their own homes and were still unsafe from violence. This story emphasizes the idea that it’s easier to blame women and victims than it is to address the issue of domestic violence.
The final story told by Dr. Lindsey is that of Relisha, an eight-year-old girl that disappeared in Washington DC. Relisha lived in a community shelter with her mother for part of her life. While living in the community shelter, Relisha’s aunt and mother became close with a woman who worked there, Tatum. One day, Tatum came to pick Relisha up from her house when she was not feeling well. A man said he was a doctor and that he could help her. Immediately after this, he was said to have bought trash bags, shovels, and limes, which are known to mask the smell of dead bodies. A while later, the police officer decided that Relisha was a missing person. The man who was thought to have killed her died of a self-inflicted gun wound and Relishes body was never recovered. Relisha’s mother was later killed and they believe that Tatum committed a murder-suicide. All of these women were living in precarious conditions as they were unhoused. This unhousing is a product of racial segregation and economic injustice, which have both been long versed in the history and lives of African Americans.
Lastly, Mary Baxter spoke about her own life story. Baxter grew up in an impoverished area in Philadelphia in which she did not have a lot of care and protection. She experiences intergenerational trauma, adultification bias, and cycles of neglect throughout her time growing up. It is evident that at a very young age, black girls are seen as women. For example, Mary’s extended family refuses to take her in when her mom is having a schizophrenic episode, which leads her to end up in group homes throughout her childhood and ultimately become emancipated at seventeen years old. Her sense of innocence was revoked and she was no longer seen as worthy of protection, which is something that is commonly seen among African American girls in our culture today.
This program emphasizes many different gender inequalities that African Americans have faced throughout history. Typically, gender dynamics are proven to be what causes these events to occur or what prevents us from knowing that these things happened. These stories highlight the vulnerability of black women and children in homes, communities, and society in general, although narratives in the media often tell it differently. It is frequently seen in communities that African American women are subject to police brutality along with sexual and gender violence. Statistics show that a black woman in the United States is killed every seventeen hours, however, there is an inability to see these women as victims of violence. Overall, this program showed me that there are dangers of home and unhome for black girls and women.
Lindsey, Treva B. “Post-Ferguson: A ‘Herstorical’ Approach to Black Violability.” Feminist Studies, vol. 41, no. 1, 2015, pp. 232–37, https://doi.org/10.15767/feministstudies.41.1.232. Accessed 11 May 2022.
Riggs, Marlon, director. Ethnic Notions. California Newsreel, 1987. Accessed 6 April 2022.
White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. Accessed 9 May 2022.