It might seem like a bit of hyperbole, the title. After all no one has bombed a church and killed four innocent Black girls in the last fifty years. So it must be a bit overdramatic of me to suggest that some fifty years later racism is still a key factor in the deaths of Black girls and Black women in the U.S.
I listened to the brief nods of recognition given to the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. This was the bombing that resulted in the deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. Many talked about what a horrific event this was and how it helped to fuel the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In the midst of the brief ceremonial recognition period, there was very little historical context provided and the coverage I saw did not ask how such acts of racialized-gendered violence are still present today.
This was the case because so many of the brief references dealt explicitly with the ideologies of racism and White supremacy as though it was not dynamic and continual. Whether intentional or not, there seems to be a desire to have such behavior only be couched in the past—a past that seems to start and end with the bombings and the immediate aftermath. What is ignored is the long history and continuing racialized-gendered treatment of Black women that is evident in the U.S.
I won’t rehash much of this history. Several have done a wonderful job of detailing Black women’s lives during the slavery era, the Emancipation Period, and the 1960s. Instead, I want to focus on how the bombings continue today and why there seems to be no protest.
I whish that I could offer a complete overview of Black women’s socio-political and economic position in the United States, but I can not do so at this time. Even more so, I wish that I could present a historical review of their socio-political and economic position of Black women. While we have little bits and pieces of this story, it remains disjointed. Instead, I present a snapshot of a few issues that I believe capture the nebulous position of Black women in the United States and show how racialized-gender continue to influence their lived realities.
Black women and Incarceration
According to the Sentencing Project,
“The number of women in prison, a third of whom are incarcerated for drug offenses, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men. These women often have significant histories of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of HIV infection, and substance abuse. Large-scale women's imprisonment has resulted in an increasing number of children who suffer from their mother's incarceration and the loss of family ties.”
Black women, in comparison to other groups of women, are experience higher rates of incarceration according to the Sentencing Project. Black women, in 2010, relative to White women were incarcerated at nearly 3 times the rate (133 versus 47 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women (77 versus 47 per 100,000).
Black women and AIDS
The CDC informs us that “At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 32 black/African American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection, compared with 1 in 106 Hispanic/Latino women and 1 in 526 white women.” While the rate of infection seems to be decreasing, Black women remain disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS
Black Women, employment and wealth
According toThink Progress, “Unemployment rates have declined for most subgroups of women since the start of the recovery, but not for adult African-American women.”
The National Women’s Law Center states,
“The June 2013 unemployment rate for adult African-American women (12.0 percent) was higher than their rate at the beginning of the recovery in June 2009 (11.8 percent), and was nearly 1.7 times higher than their rate at the beginning of the recession in December 2007 (7.1 percent).”
“Black women working full-time, year-round were typically paid only 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Hispanic women working full-time, year-round were typically paid only 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”
“African American women have continued to increase in educational attainment more rapidly than white women, yet the proportion of African American women in the service sector still hovers around 25 % compared to 15.4 % of White women. In addition, African American women are under-represented in management-level and professional positions and face significant barriers in the transition from low-wage jobs to professional occupations.”
What does this mean for Black Women and the Black Community?
Black women have made substantive progress since they were forcibly brought to the U.S. They have made improvements in terms of accessing education for example. However, the data above paints a grim picture for Black women as a group. They highlight how race and gender influence Black women’s experiences.
Gendered-racism is the thread that undercuts all of the above issues. Structural inequalities, and oppressive structures, rooted in race and gender hierarchies, are at the heart of the growing health and economic crises. These growing crises threaten to take Black women away, often thought of as the backbone of the community, from the community. So while there might not be bombings of churches in the U.S. today, the underlying ideologies that led to the bombings continue.
Consequently Black women continue to die and no one seems to be sounding the alarm.
This is the fourth post of my 31-day blogging challenge. This is the second post under the general theme of “Critical Social Issues” You can tweet me at Dr_JZ using hash tag #31dbc to share your thoughts.