Say. Her. Name. Say her name.
“Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Director of the African American Policy Forum. “Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”
So I’m not going to spend time re-hashing the recent uprisings, particularly in the cities of Ferguson and Baltimore. I’m not going to spend time re-hashing how the widespread, racially disproportionate incidences of police brutality leading to the deaths of unarmed US civilians have sparked protests and conversations all over the United States within the past couple of years. What I do want to highlight are the women – the women who protest, the women who march and the female victims who are often spoken of as footnotes in the larger contexts of oppression and injustice. Specifically, this post is about how the most recent topless protest in San Francisco by women for women in the #sayhername campaign is a historical bread-crumbing in the way in which African women have protested the devastation of white supremacy, colonialism, and oppression, using their bodies.
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze) May 21, 2015
This form of activism is not new. In fact, African women hold a continental tradition of displaying their bodies to protest oppression, injustice and Western standards of beauty. In 1929, the Women’s War of eastern Nigeria was arguably the most powerful and earliest manifestations of protesting status quo by women. The movement, mobilised by Igbo and Ibibio women spread quickly throughout the region.
“In successive actions, women protesters utilized existing communication networks and employed established strategies of public shaming, including occupying public space, dancing, singing ribald and abusive songs, and exposing the physical markers of the status as guardians and reproducers of the land and its inhabitants.” -OkayAfrica
Again, in 1958, the female farmers of the Kom and Kedjom areas of now present-day Cameroon, were incensed by governmental changes, which were interpreted as systematically decreasing the power of female farmers. Thousands of women walked some 40 miles to stage weekly demonstrations in the Njinkom marketplace. At various moments during the protests, the women stripped naked and painted themselves in oil and red cam-wood powder.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) May 21, 2015
In 2001, over 300 Kenyan women stripped down to protest a team of scientists working near a Kenyan nature reserve. Female public nudity is considered an ill-men in many Kenyan communities. The aim of the naked protest was to force the scientists to think twice about annexing their land to extend the nature reserve.
And these are just a few of the protests I researched, where African women led the charge against injustice – injustice from Euro-American oil companies, multi-national entities, scientists, local police. There have been other similar protests throughout history in Kenya, Liberia, South Africa… So, as early as 1929, African female activists have organised themselves and staged peaceful protests! They employed the historical notion of the hyper-sexual black female body and turned it on its head. Infuriatingly, a lot of the media sources from where I pulled my data spoke of the African women as though they were overcome with maddening despair (which is in direct opposition to the way European women who engaged in naked protests were often described!). In the event that it needs to be said explicitly: women’s bodies are not just sexual objects. There is a time and place for everything. If all you can see when you see images from the #sayhername campaign are sexualised breasts, then you have got to re-evaluate your perceptions about women. We won’t talk about breastfeeding here…
The images emerging from the #sayhername campaign are a powerful representation of female activism dating back through history to where Blacks in America began. You really can’t deny the symbolism there. The idea is not to be titillating; it is to employ the female form to be a catalyst for change.
#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women
Global Nonviolent Action Database
OkayAfrica: Parallel Histories