The body of Kenneka Jenkins was recently found in a deep freezer of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Chicago after a night of partying and dancing with her friends. As details slowly came out about the story, a shared disgust from the Black community arose as another Black woman was left vulnerable and defenseless to her own community.
Kenneka’s death is a summary of just how dangerous it is to be a Black woman in America. The friends she attended the event with who should have been looking out for her while in an intoxicated state, let her be harmed. The men who should have been protecting her, knowing she was not in the right state of mind. Some even believe inconclusive video posted online even shows Kenneka was potentially sexually assaulted. The hotel and the state who received pleas from the family to find her, did nothing until it was too late. For Black women, this story in pieces and as a whole is commonplace when discussing the difficulty for them to exist in safe spaces.
There are numerous examples of scenarios in which even Black women have blamed Black other women for the harm they potentially brought upon themselves. Internalized sexism and misogyny is a learned behavior within our community, passed down from generation to generation that has removed the agency of women to show up as their full selves. It was last year that singer Erykah Badu set the internet on fire, claiming that young girls should wear longer skirts if they don’t want older men to harass or make sexual advances at them. Again, another attempt at placing the burden of Black women protecting themselves from predatory men, on Black women. Badu’s argument, and many like hers, is not something new and mirrors the sexist statements men often make in barbershops and locker rooms.
To counteract this, Black women have begun to film and chronicle their daily interactions with men, who often invade their spaces when they are minding their own business. The#YouOkSis campaign started by feminist and journalist Feminista Jones chronicled the stories of Black women who were street harassed, attacked, and even murdered at the hands of men. These stories offer a lens into the world of Black women who deal with sexism, misogynoir; an effort to put the blame on the offenders rather than the victims.
Tragically, the alleged sexual assault stories involving celebrity men like R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Nate Parker and others, have exposed revolting commentary from men; comments rooted in the notion that “women knew what they were getting into” when they end up in environments that become unsafe, removing the responsibility of men to respect a woman’s agency. There is a shared belief that Black women are bringing harm to themselves because of how they dress and react in given scenarios, removing any accountability on the part of the man who is to blame for an ideology rooted in manhood being tied to sexual dominance and superiority based on gender and sex.
This experience is not only commonplace for Black hetero women, as Black trans women also experience this shared plight within their communities. So far, 19 trans women have been murdered in 2017 as their community sees violence at an alarming rate in comparison to other marginalized populations.
Black trans women who have a life expectancy of just 35, are quickly being removed from existence in so-called civilized societies. What’s more is that though their attackers and murderers are almost exclusively Black men, the burden of safety is yet again placed back on the victim–the vulnerable and the marginalized. However, communities of color are only echoing an even greater threat to the Black woman and the devaluing of their existence, which is coming at the hands of the state.
In a piece I wrote for theGrio entitled “Black women and girls are missing and no one seems to care,” I discuss the epidemic of Black women who have gone missing with little to know action from the state. Thousands of Black women and girls go missing a year and the state is quick to assume that they are runaways rather than victims, which in turn allows them to not utilize man hours and additional officers to find them.
Korryn Gaines and Sandra Bland will also go down as Black women who rather than be protected by the state, were in fact murdered by the state. Instead of their cases being about police interactions with Black women, and how cops should be held accountable to uphold a standard of protect and serve. It became about respectability politics, and how these Black women didn’t deserve to be respected and protected due to their disobedience of a law enforcement system that has never given them reason to be trustful.
The time has come that as a community we begin to not only acknowledge the plight of the Black woman, but put actions in place for their protection and safety in effort to create equality and equity amongst a community that is often divided on the issue of sex and gender. Black women stay in abusive relationships and get killed. Black women try to leave abusive relationships and get killed. Black women walk to the train minding their business and ignore a man’s advances and get killed.
At some point, we must recognize that it is not on Black women to protect Black women, but on us to challenge hetero Black men and beyond, and condemn the violence they continue to place upon our sisters.
The death of Kenneka is truly sad and bizarre. A young Black woman, who was in a vulnerable state lost her life tragically when she arguably could have been saved. The time is now that we take responsibility for our Black women and their protections. We have failed them time and time again, and now the blood is on the hands of any unwilling to stand up.