After nearly four years of contemplating the launch of a blog for PJS Consultants, it is today, two days after 18-year-old Nia Wilson was murdered on Oakland’s MacArthur BART station platform, that I am motivated enough to commit to documenting how and why language used in the media perpetuates division and the dehumanization of Black women.
First, I offer my deepest condolences to Ms. Wilson's family. This entry is about the media and their use of language as it relates to Black women; I have no association or connection to the grieving family beyond sharing in the Black female experience in America.
As I read articles about the heartless crime committed against two young Black women on public transit, I become more and more agitated. I cannot figure out why with each use of the word "random" my breathing gets shallow and my shoulders grow tense.
I am not safe.
I mention to my nearby friends, "He was a transient," which immediately instills in me some small sense of compassion for him. Him, the white man who brutally attacked two Black women. Grappling for a way to make sense of the bits of information that are not adding up, I read a Facebook post written by a man, a local Black educator: "Crazy is crazy, doesn't mean it is racially motivated" [paraphrased]. Underscoring the difference between living in a female vs. male body, Black women know the commingled look of sexual objectification and hate. The media coverage goes on to note that the assailant has a history of violence and a criminal record. He followed the women off of the train; he changed his clothes following the attack; the knife was recovered in a nearby construction site.
In a racialized society, everything has to do with race. Everything.
Now, I know I will not get the whole truth from the media, but minimally, the story should make sense. No "random" act is predicated by following the women he selected as targets off of the train, and no "crazy" person without cognitive ability then changes his clothes nearby to avoid being identified...unless this is his "normal." Furthermore, isn't anyone who takes a life for no reason "crazy" or lacking something that prevents the rest of us from taking someone else's life when it is not for self-preservation?
I offer the following, which helped me understand my agitation in response to the words used by news outlets, words that dehumanize the innocent Black youth while humanizing white murderers. My body rejects how dissociative the chosen language is and my heart aches for Black women, past and present, including myself, who are not valued by a society—our society—from which we continually seek approval simply to survive.
Facebook post by Ellie Tumbuan:
Another media outlet posted an insensitive photo of the victim and and this post by community leader, Regina Jackson, says it all:
PJS Consultants will continue to comment and write about why we invest our energy into creating narratives of inclusion; we believe this work is crucial if we are to heal as a society.
We will not stand by and watch; we will organize, do our part, and act.
*Copyediting may happen up to three business days following a post. Thanks for your patience and understanding.