In 2013 Black Lives Matter (BLM) was founded by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors (two of whom identify as queer) in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer. The goal of BLM as Cullors mentioned "was to build a movement that works each day to build a more equitable life for all Black lives across the globe."
On the 25th of May 2020 a graphic and disturbing video captured the last few moments which led up to George Floyd's death. Despite Floyd calling out to officers and exclaiming "I can't breathe" more than 20 times, he was unlawfully killed by police officers who held down his body and knelt on his neck. The video was watched by millions of people across the world and ignited a series of global Black Lives Matter protests. BLM formed a space for Black people (and allies) to come together to denounce racism and protest for change regarding social equity, police brutality and abuse of power. However, as protests continued, the intersectionality concerning these issues became difficult to ignore.
"There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives" - Audre Lorde
So, what is intersectionality? Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (a scholar and civil rights advocate) in 1989, intersectionality refers to how race, class, gender and other individual intersecting characteristics cannot be separated.
Intersectionality addresses particular intersecting forms of oppression and structural discrimination. For instance, (not limited to) heterosexual Black identifying women face racism and sexism, and Black people within the LGBTQ+ community may also face, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. The different experiences we encounter in addition to racism makes us identify and perceive the world differently.
As BLM continues to gain momentum worldwide through protests, demonstrations and discussions online and offline, it is important for Black women and the Black LGBTQ+ community to assert themselves within the movement. So that their voices and experiences are not silenced. However, when Black women and the LGBTQ+ community do speak on issues of intersectionality, more often than not, they are told to focus on the bigger issue at hand - race. How is it possible to sustain a progressive and effective movement, if we do not acknowledge the intersecting issues which compromise the safety and livelihoods of Black people?
"The most unprotected person… is the Black woman. The most neglected person… is the Black woman" - Malcolm X
For Black women, their treatment in healthcare, representation in the workplace and how they are often sexually assaulted when subjected to police brutality is among a few of the reasons why their voices need to be heard. BLM primarily drew its attention to the experience of Black men and police brutality (and racial profiling), although Black women are also targeted in the same way. Their experiences are gendered, in the sense that they also encounter sexual harassment and assault at the hands of police, disproportionately experiencing a higher rate of sexual violence. The experiences from these women are often discredited due to many factors such as sexism, misogynoir, institutional and systemic racism.
Black women's invisibility in the movement led to the hashtag #SayHerName, to highlight and include their experience of police brutality in the Black Lives Matter narrative.
Do Black Lives Matter in healthcare? Colonialism still has an impact on the healthcare sector due to systemic racism and extremely innate racial differences between Black patients and their white counterparts. It has been reported that many medical professionals seem to believe that Black women have a higher pain threshold. Dr. Piraye Yurttas Beim, the founder of Celmatix, noted Black women have among some of the worst survival rates, and are also being underrepresented in datasets. The MBRRACE-UK report (2019) found that Black women have more than 5x the risk of dying in pregnancy or up to six weeks postpartum compared with white women.
Celebrities such as Serena Williams and Jodie Turner-Smith have shared their experiences and thoughts toward the healthcare system as a Black woman. Willams has shared how she “almost died after giving birth” to her daughter. Williams highlighted how when Black women "have complications like mine, there are often no drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them". In August 2020, Turner-Smith explained how she experienced a 4-days labour at home, due to her fear of giving birth in a hospital and “concerns about negative outcomes for Black women.” There is a shared and universal distrust Black women have with the healthcare system, due to systemic racism medical professionals are still refusing to acknowledge their pain.
Separately, amid the BLM movement, Jackie Aina, a Nigerian-American beauty vlogger, sparked the Pull Up or Shut Up initiative which targeted brands and corporations, to publicly show their company's structure and workforce reflected their support for BLM. Pull Up or Shut Up, highlighted how brands that profit from the aesthetics of Black women and Black culture lacked Black representation in their workforce.
For example, Makeup Revolution 3% are Black employees, Glossier with 0% of Black representation in leadership roles VP and above, and BH Cosmetics with 0% of Black employees across the organisation. Black women remain hugely under-represented in senior-level roles, the 2020 HR review reported in the ‘UK Black employees only hold 1.5 per cent of management and leadership positions’. The 2020 HR review reported that Black women feel the least empowered in UK offices compared to other ethnicities and men when it comes to decision making at work.
"As long as my people (LGBTQ) don't have their rights across America, there's no reason for celebration" - Marsha P. Johnson
Many Black queer and trans people have died at the hands of homophobic and transphobic-fuelled attacks and violence. However, this receives little to no coverage within and outside of Black Lives Matter movement. As the co-lead organiser of House Lives Matter, Jonovia Chase expressed, "we are a prime target because of our Blackness, and our intersectionality of being trans adds an extra target on our backs".
Fatal violence disproportionately affects Black trans women, the intersections of racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, and biphobia also deprives them of healthcare, housing and employment. For reasons such as this, BLM protests took place centred around the Black LGBTQ members, intended to bring about awareness, uplift themselves and advocate for change.
Queer Liberation March in New York City, June 2020, Image LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS
While Black Lives Matter is about protesting against the racism Black people face within our community, our experiences differ, and those voices need to be heard, so that the movement does not exclude or leave anyone behind.
Words: Kunbi Oshodi