Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The #sayhername protest made a statement about how black, female bodies are treated in America.
The many deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police have been getting much-needed national and international attention. But within the discussions that follow, the topic of police violence against black women has been relegated to the background. This despite evidence that women—as this headline in The Nation puts it—“aren’t secondary causalities of aggressive policing.” Earlier this week, a new report released by Columbia University’s African-American Policy Forum added to this evidence.
To draw attention to the issue, several women took to the streets in cities around the country Wednesday, using the hashtag #Sayhername (borrowing from the title of the AAPF report) as their rallying cry. They highlighted the tragic deaths of Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Sheneque Proctor, and other African-American women who have lost their lives at the hands of police.
The #sayhername gathering in San Francisco, though, was slightly different from the rest. Many of the women who participated went topless—partly to make a statement about the hypocritical treatment of black, female bodies.
Below are some of the photos tweeted by protesters who gathered in San Francisco’s Financial District. Fair warning: Some of them show bare breasts.
they love our bodies but not us pic.twitter.com/9NGuGglpnj— BlackOUT Collective (@blackoutcollect) May 22, 2015
There were a couple of reasons behind the women’s decision to go topless, explains Buzzfeed’s Tamerra Griffin. One is that the women wanted to draw on a longstanding tradition of naked protests in Africa. Here’s what one of the organizers, Chinerye Tutashinda, a founding member of the BlackOUT Collective told Buzzfeed:
“We wanted to be able to say ‘enough is enough’ and draw on traditions from Nigeria, Gabon, Uganda, and South Africa, from women who bare their chests and other parts of their bodies in protest,” she said.
It was also a way to highlight the split treatment of black women in America. On one hand, black female bodies are often fetishized and over-sexualized. On the other hand, their safety and well-being are often disregarded. Here’s Rose Berry of the Black Youth Project 100, explaining that dichotomy, again, via Buzzfeed:
“When it’s in the name of pop culture, and what’s expected in mainstream society, people applaud it, but when it’s in the name of peace and justice and liberation, they ignore it,” she said.