Child Health

Breonna Taylor and the Invisibility of Black Women and Girls in America

September 28, 2020 | National

This blog was written by Loy Azalia and Ciara Mackey-Hall. 

“These movements aren’t about anger. We’re not angrily saying ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We’re declaring it. It’s a declaration. We want to be seen as robust, full human beings that have anger and have joy. We want to be able to just freely have that joy. Like everybody else does.”

Tarana Burke

 Founder of the #MeToo Movement

*Please note that the content on this blog may be triggering for some. Out of respect to not engage in the re-traumatization of the retelling of Black death, we are being very sensitive and mindful for recounting the fatal night Breonna’s life was taken away, especially for the Black women who see themselves in Breonna’s story.*

We’re in both an unusual and special time as a country. Unusual in that, in the midst of an intensified election year, where so many legislative decisions can negatively impact the livelihoods of the most vulnerable children and families, and the countless protests against racial injustice and police brutality happening all over the country, we are also searching for a level of normalcy from the effects of the pandemic in our everyday lives. This time is also special and calls for urgency in the continued push, pull and pressure to ensure long-lasting radical change for society as whole, but more importantly for America’s most oppressed and marginalized groups of people.  

The Children’s Defense Fund has published many reports and policy briefs that depict the flaws in our broken system. These flaws span across many sectors, including poverty, health care, education, the cradle to prison pipeline, and more.  While these issues affect a variety of people and particularly those from communities of color, Breonna Taylor’s death and the deaths and disappearances of Black women and girls, over the years reflects the idea that our country and its legacy of structural and systemic racism have an adverse effect on Black womanhood and Black girlhood in particular.

The 2019 Census poverty data that was released this month, shows that 18 percent of Black women were living in poverty and Black women who were working full-time were getting paid 63 cents as compared to every dollar a white man made. Black women who are heads of households continue to experience increased exposure to food insecurity and economic job loss caused by the impacts of COVID-19, making them more vulnerable to inadequate living conditions. 

From the time that Black women enter this world, they are devalued. Take Relisha Rudd, an 8-year old girl from Washington, DC,  whose family experienced deep poverty and ended up in a temporary housing facility.  Relisha Rudd did not have an easy life by any means. Relisha went missing on February 26, 2014 and was not reported missing until March 19, 2014, when her school alerted local authorities about her absence. Further investigation showed that Relisha was kidnapped in broad daylight, never to be seen again. Her story exposes the gaps in the security net provided by our social services, health care, and education systems which were all set up to protect children like Relisha.

Days before the charges against the officer that killed Breonna Taylor were made, a state of emergency was called for the city of Louisville, Kentucky, ahead of the announcement. At that moment, the stage was set. So many of us had heard this all before. The shooting and murder of Breonna Taylor in March speak to a larger issue of the invisibility of Black women and Black womanhood. Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old young Black woman, who came from a family of health care providers. She served as an EMT in her community with plans to start nursing school this fall. Her future was bright and her life was cut short.

We can continue to talk about the forty-eight women who have been murdered by police in the last five years, or the fact that only one police officer has been found guilty of murder due to technicalities and loopholes that exist in our penal code. We can talk about how the disappearance of Black women and girls is less likely to be covered by leading media organizations. We can also talk about the now-imprisoned former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was convicted of the rape and sexual violence, of poor Black women from poor neighborhoods, knowing that nobody would care about their stories. No matter the socio-economic conditions Black women live in, the systems put in place to uphold justice continue to undervalue, disregard, and discount their experiences.  

Many argue that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. While much of the BLM movement parallels the Civil Rights Movement, one constant that remains is the level in which Black women have been the driving force behind the struggle for justice and equality. Black women have historically not been the face of the Civil Rights Movement, but have continued to be fierce leaders, architects, supporters, advocates, and organizers pushing the movement forward at every level. While we all know names like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and James Farmer, and Malcolm X, there are few people who know the contributions of Black women like Mary Church Terrell, Septima Clark, Ella J. Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Elaine Brown, and Marian Wright Edelman. 

Women as a whole have had to fight for equality on issues from voting rights to the gender pay gap. However, while the 19th Amendment passed in 1919, legally prohibiting the government from using sex as a criterion for voting rights, Black women were not included in the Suffragist Movement and were still barred from voting because of pre-existing laws that disallowed all Black people from voting. Black women (and men) did not get the right to vote until the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Breonna’s death inspired the Louisville Metro Council to unanimously pass “Breonna’s Law” which banned the use of no knock warrants except for in certain types of cases. Her case served as inspiration for legislators at the federal level, where KY- Senator Rand Paul introduced the “Justice For Breonna Taylor Act”, which would ban no-knock warrants for federal law enforcement and block state and local law enforcement agencies that receive Justice Department funding from carrying out no-knock warrants. While their efforts are valiant, they may prove to be symbolic. Both pieces of legislation still allow no-knock warrants to be obtained in cases that pose imminent threat of harm or death to officers or civilians. 

It is from the vision, ingenuity, and strength of Black mothers, daughters and sisters, that many Black children are able to actualize their dreams. Breonna’s mother, Ms. Tamika Palmer, described her as being a better version of herself, and a person that was full of life and easy to love. Breonna’s mother now carries only memories of her daughter and the pain of broken systems that at the core, did not view her daughter’s life as worthy, in the first place. 

In the same breath that Black women are revered and honored for their effort to reimagine and create a better future for their children, families and communities, they are also dehumanized, undermined and dismissed and in many ways, unfairly described as superhuman. Black women have struggled to be seen as whole humans who experience a multitude of different emotions, feelings, highs, lows, joys and challenges and it is time that their humanity is treated as such and they are no longer deemed invisible.