After spending time in Minneapolis watching protests unfold after the death of George Floyd, Annia Leonard returned to Milwaukee prepared to join similar marches in the city.
But the activist said she was met with resistance.
“Minneapolis was like a war zone,” she said. “Being there made me want to be louder about this issue, but when I attended protests in Milwaukee, there wasn’t space for me.”
Over the past few months, Black women in Milwaukee have participated in protests – organizing, educating and advocating for change. Yet some told NNS they feel invisible in the movement.
Many said they feel left out of decision-making processes, leadership positions and the overall narrative of the importance of Black lives.
Leonard, for example, is a youth organizer with Uplifting Black Liberation and Community Vision, or UBLAC. UBLAC is a coalition led by Black women, trans people and queer people with the goal of Black liberation.
Despite her experience in activism and organizing, Leonard said, she still finds herself being ignored and pushed aside.
But this hasn’t stopped Leonard from attending as many protests as she can. She even helped plan the Black Women’s Emancipation March in June.
The case for inclusion
“When you start a movement about the importance of Black people and you don’t highlight all Black people, you limit how far that movement can go,” said Monique Liston, the chief strategist at Ubuntu Research and Evaluation, a Black women-led consulting firm for education, policy and advocacy.
Liston said she has experienced firsthand what it feels like to be invisible erased from a space.
“As an organizer, I’ve walked into spaces with all the necessary information and tools needed to proceed and have had to wait for my male counterparts to arrive to even be noticed,” she said.
The costs of invisibility
Those interviewed stressed that the impact of such incidents takes a toll.
“When Black women are not acknowledged in their work or lived experiences, or even in their death, it makes them seem easily disposable,” said Shavonda Sisson, the creator of the Love on Black Women Fund, a people-driven fund that supports Black women in need.
“It makes it easier for us to be victimized. It makes it easier to ignore our physical and mental health needs,” she said. “It even validates why we aren’t paid properly for services.”
Sisson used the death of Breonna Taylor as an example. Taylor, a 26-year-old African American emergency room technician, was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.
“When Black men are murdered by police, there is immediate action, but that doesn’t happen for Black women,” Sisson said. “Breonna Taylor was brought into the conversation only after we rallied for George Floyd.”
Elle Halo, another activist, added: “When we start excluding groups, we miss imperative topics that need to be addressed.”
“We forget to address things like how HIV . . . domestic violence or incarceration are plaguing our communities.”
She said she sometimes fights to be included in male-dominated spaces.
“Me being able to wiggle my way into a space isn’t the same as having my voice heard or my opinion respected in that space,” she said.
“Black women and femmes are nurturers and caretakers,” Halo said, adding these attributes are “vital to any space that they are in.”
‘The power of Black women’
Ajamou Butler, the founder of Heal the Hood Milwaukee, an organization committed to healing communities through words and actions, said men have to do better.
“I understand the power of Black women because I literally wouldn’t exist without one,” he said.
Having Black women in leadership is a must, he said.
“I work with many young girls who have experienced trauma,” he said. “While I am qualified to deal with that, I have witnessed Black women do it better.”
Butler said men must do a better job in helping to ensure the voices of women are heard.
“We have to pay attention to when we are in rooms and there are no women there,” he said.
‘The movement belongs to no one’
Organizers all agree that for any movement to be successful, woman must be present—and appreciated.
Camille Mays, a local activist and mediator, said she’s experienced being undermined in her role as an organizer.
“I had a male organizer tell me that the activist of the year award I won was a pity award,” she said. “I work every day doing this work, and my male counterparts don’t even see me.”
Mays said change can’t happen without all voices being heard.
“Until we can sit down and collaborate with one another, we will not see the change we are hoping to create,” she said. “We have to bridge the divided, put our egos to the side and work together.
“The movement belongs to no one,” she said. “We are all in this together.”
Steve Baldwin says
Here are two points for the women to consider:
1) “Although black women and black girls face deep inequality on many measures, black and white girls from families with comparable earnings attain similar individual incomes as adults.”
2) “Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.”
(Source: “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys” by Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce and Kevin Quealy, New York Times, March 19, 2018)
In other words, black girls do as well as white girls from similar families when measured by adult income. This is not true for black boys.
Interestingly, the few places in America where black boys do as well as white boys are neighborhoods in which lower income black children had fathers at home, whether their own father was present or not. Wisconsin (and most of the US) is not well positioned for this. Here’s the data for the percentage of children living in single-parent families by race in Wisconsin (2016):
African American: 77%
Two or more races: 58%
(Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation – Kids Count Data Center, Children in Single-Parent Families by Race)
In other words, more than three times as many African American children live in single-parent households as compared to Caucasian children.
The New York Times article is very good. If you have the time, I suggest reading all of it.
Steve, can you spell out exactly what you’re trying to say here? This article is about women facing sexism in activist spaces, not about the economic situations of boys, girls, or single-parent homes. I’m not sure how the two things relate.
Steve Baldwin says
My point is that black men have a lot more riding on Black Lives Matter than black women. Economically, racism effects them much more than it effects black woman.
So that makes it OK for women to be left out of organizing? I couldn’t disagree more. Furthermore, women can and do organize for things that impact men. That’s what the women in this article are doing, but they are experiencing interpersonal sexism. Making a big picture economic statement disregards the very point of the article.
Also, if you want a big picture look at the impact of racism on women, read Evicted, or anything about African American maternal mortality rates.
Steve Baldwin says
Fair enough, but please do not disregard my points. I would bet most black women do not realize that there is little evidence that they are economically disadvantaged due to race, and I would bet they also do not realize the impact that single-parenting may be having on their male children.
Lastly, since black males are probably suffering the most from racism, it would be best if they remained the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I disagree with your premise that black women are not economically disadvantaged due to race. I have looked at the statistics you cited, and I understand them. It’s not a zero sum game – black women can still be economically disadvantaged due to race even if they’re not AS disadvantaged. It is not a competition. The women in this article are asking to be a PART of the movement, and there is no reason to exclude them. Just as there is no reason to exclude men in feminist movements, or white people in racial justice movements. All our fates are bound together.
Shavonda Sisson says
All this to over y’all black women. Typical.
Mandi McAlister says
Steve Baldwin, please listen to what Annia Leonard, Monique Liston, Shavonda Sisson, Ajamou Butler, Camille Mays, and the writer, Princess Safiya Byers, are telling you in this article: this movement belongs to no one, we’re in this together. BLM is about Black lives, not just Black men, and all Black voices need to be heard. Racism goes way beyond economics, and any amount of racism is unacceptable. ALL Black lives matter.
Steve Baldwin says
Fair enough, Mandi. My intention was largely to point out that there is no evidence that black girls experience an economic disadvantage due to race. Most people are not aware of this. Also, I truly hope the single-parent household statistics improve. I don’t see how black lives can improve without the change.
Thank you all for your attention and your comments.
George Pumphrey says
Why are we falling into this trap? All lives matter, however, in the case of Black Lives Matter, as an Black American it was my belief that Black Lives Matter spoke for itself; this is about the oppression Blacks faced in the United States of America for more than 400 years. To include or add on to this narrative is to, in my opinion disingenuous to the real message. It seems as though that every time a cause for the Blacks of this country comes up every body wants to jump on the bandwagon and say that their plight is related to the 400 years of oppression. It’s not! Stop making this about gender, both genders suffered. This is a ruse to add on once again someone else’s hidden agenda. It’s not difficult to see where this is going, but then again, I am only one voice using the opportunity to express my views.