Editorials, Opinion

Black women face double burden: Racism and sexism

When George Floyd was killed under a policeman’s knee, outrage erupted across the country — around the world — and within weeks, the officers involved in his death were arrested and charged, policies regarding the use of chokeholds and deadly force are under close scrutiny and society is reevaluating what it means and what it takes for law enforcement to protect and serve.

Two months before Floyd’s death, Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her own home by plainclothes officers. The cops were serving a no-knock warrant, did not announce themselves before busting down the door and unleashed a barrage of bullets after Taylor’s boyfriend fired one shot at what he believed to be burglars.

The death of Breonna Taylor, a 23-year-old EMT, went largely unnoticed outside her hometown of Louisville, Ky., until the Black Lives Matter movement renewed the #SayHerName hashtag on social media. Now her name has been added to the list of Black people killed by police, alongside George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others. Unlike Floyd, Taylor’s killers have not been charged.

#SayHerName has also been used to draw attention to the deaths of other Black women at the hands of police, including Atatiana Jefferson, 28, Alberta Spruill, 57, Kathryn Johnston, 92, and Ayiana Stanley-Jones, 7. You probably don’t remember their names. Despite the manner of their deaths, they did not receive the same attention as their male counterparts. Which is why the #SayHerName movement underscores the particular discrimination faced by Black women: The intersection of racism and sexism.

According to “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity and sex,” Black women are more likely to be killed by police than white men or white women. A CDC study shows Black women are also more likely to be killed than women of any other race/ethnicity.

That’s the most extreme end of the discrimination Black women face. But Black women experience the highest sexual assault rates (20% of Black women, higher than the average for women overall), according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and significantly higher rates of psychological abuse. Young Black women (18-19 years old) are four times more likely to be incarcerated than young white women.

But the combination of racism and sexism that Black women face is so foundational, so institutional, that it’s built into our economy. PayScale.com has compared how much women make compared to men and then broken it down by race. In the controlled measurement (where men and women have the same job and qualifications), a Black woman will make $110,000 less than a man during a 40-year career and $30,000 less than a white woman in the same amount of time.

So while #SayHerName is meant to draw attention to the injustice surrounding Breonna Taylor’s death, it’s also a reminder that Black women face the double burden of racism and sexism. As we reevaluate and change our systems, we need to keep this in mind.