“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — that’s a well-known phrase from the Declaration of Independence. But when it comes to Black women and girls, is American culture set up to ensure they’re able to live long and prosperous lives?
In her new book “America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice” Treva B. Lindsey, a professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Ohio State University and founder of the Transformative Black Feminism(s) Initiative in Columbus, Ohio lays out how systemic racism, patriarchy, and sexism ensure that Black women and girls are constantly bombarded by violence against their lives and livelihoods.
“This book is me outlining the stakes of us not caring enough and not doing enough about the systems that are warring against the lives and livelihoods of Black women and girls,” Lindsey says.
Indeed, “America Goddam” is a blend of grueling history, political, and social analysis, and personal accounts, which look at why Black women and girls have been the targets of gruesome violence throughout history, and what we need to do to support Black women and girls as they work to dismantle these vicious systems.
“I had to put together a deep and rich contextualizing of what has happened for the last several hundred years to Black women who are often at the mercy of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and for many of us, transphobia, queer phobia, ableism, and poverty as well,” Lindsey says. “I wanted to have a book that did all of that work, which meant that I was very emotionally exhausted and drained as I was researching and writing this, but I still felt purposeful in excavating this history and bringing it to our current moment.”
Violence against Black women and girls is nothing new. But Lindsey says the stakes have been becoming more dire in recent years.
“Since I finished this book, so many of the statistics have worsened,” she says. “In the book, I write about a Black woman being killed every 19 hours, and then it was every 17.5 hours, and we’re now at a point where an average of four Black women and girls are killed every day. This is over the course of about three or four years of data. The urgency intensified. The urgency of us doing this work is intensifying because the data is only worsening and we are not moving in the direction that we need to to create that healthful, and well-meaning, warm world.”
Researching and sharing this book was a personal mission of Lindsey’s, who is a survivor of violence herself. “I feel this intimately as a survivor of multiple forms of violence. I want those structures that colluded to harm me to be held accountable, to be dismantled, to be upended, and for us to imagine something better,” she says.
While researching, Lindsey was shocked to discover that an estimated 40%-60% of Black women and girls have experienced forms of sexual violence and unwanted sexual contact in their lifetimes. She also discovered that these statistics only worsened for Black trans women and disabled women. Lindsey found that almost half of victims of police killings in 2021 were folks living with mental illness or a physical disability.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the violence Black women and girls experience — in particular, the amount of violence against Black trans women significantly increased.
“I think every form of violence that I looked at in the book — because I look at police violence, I look at intra-communal forms of violence, sexual and gender violence, patriarchal violence — that Black trans women were so heavily overrepresented in every form of violence. If I am thinking of a group of Black women who are feeling the grunt of how these systems collude, it would be Black trans women, and also Black disabled women,” Lindsey says.
“Intra-communally, the levels of fatal violence that, even during a pandemic, we saw an increase in the number of Black trans women who were killed. In a time when we are, for the most part, in our homes and in our communities was one of the most dangerous times for that specific group of women.”
In the face of all of these statistics, Lindsey says we can’t let these stats = overshadow the stories of women who have and continue to live full and joyous lives. Black women are more than just statistics — and Lindsey hopes the public will feel moved and inspired to take action in support of Black women and girls.
“We often do not hold Black women and girls warmly, even when we are doing this work. They become exemplars of these systems, but we do not get any life-affirming stories about these women and girls. They become examples instead of fully in-flesh beings who were loved and cared for. So, it keeps me up at night that we are not doing enough — that too few of us care and do the work that is required to make this world safer, and healthier, and more loving toward Black girls,” Lindsey says.
What can we do to mobilize and make lasting change for Black women and girls?
First, Lindsey says we must be grateful for the Black women and girls who are, and have always been, fighting for their own safety and the safety of other Black women and girls. Many have said that no one cares about Black women and girls, and although this may ring true when looking at other members of society, Black women and girls have always cared about other Black women and girls.
“What I’m asking from a lot of people is not to discover, and do, and found and establish, but to support the incredible work that is already being led by Black women and girls to address this. We know what we need. We know our stories. Ask yourself what you can do to be a part of the work that is being done,” Lindsey says.
Supporting organizations that advocate for the health and safety of Black women and girls — like the Black Girl Freedom Fund, which is attempting to raise a billion dollars to support campaigns dedicated to supporting the lives and livelihoods of Black girls — is also key.