Two Marches Will Converge on Washington to Address Disparities Faced by Black Women

The March for Black Women and the March for Racial Justice are pushing for a just and equitable future for communities of color.

Sep 28 2017, 6:00pm

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Seven. That's the number of times Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old Seattle woman who'd suffered physical and emotional abuse and had a history of mental health issues, was shot by police officers in June. The mother of four was pregnant, well into her second trimester, when she was killed. According to an autopsy report released in August, a bullet grazed her uterus, and another hit the fetus of a boy.

Earlier this month, members of Lyles' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the two Seattle police officers who responded to a burglary call from Lyles' home, only to shoot and kill her when she allegedly confronted them with a knife. An internal investigation by Seattle Police into how the officers responded that day is still being conducted.

For many activists, Lyles' death is just another horrifying example of how society continues to undervalue and ignore black women's lives. "There was no outcry or march for Charleena Lyles," Farah Tanis, the executive director of Black Women's Blueprint, told VICE Impact. "There's a silence about black women's lives, about the level of victimization, about the systematic exclusion of our specific gendered experiences in the broader agenda for civil and human rights."

"Being silent has never, ever helped anyone. Silence is a killer."

That's part of the reason why she and organizers from the Trans Sistas of Color Project and Black Youth Project (BYP100) co-founded the March for Black Women. On September 30, the March for Black Women will kick off at Seward Square in Washington, D.C., and head to Lincoln Park to join up with the March for Racial Justice; the two groups will then converge as one and march to the Department of Justice.

Among the march's justice agenda is a call for the federal government and the black community to apologize for and address the disparities black women face, including those who identify as transgender.

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According to the Violence Policy Center, black women are more than twice as likely than white women to be murdered by a man. When they go missing, their cases don't receive the kind of attention from mainstream media that their white counterparts do. And a recent report from the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that not only are they more prone to poverty and violence and consistently underpaid, but black women are twice as likely to be incarcerated than white women.

If we want to move forward with a racial justice movement, Tanis said, the struggles of black women need to be spotlighted in a powerful way. "We need to march; we need to dissent," Tanis said. "We need to launch and deploy our energy and our power out into the country, into the spaces where we march, and we need to exchange energy with the people with whom we march, and we need to be able to make our voices heard."

"It is about time that black women are seen in this country, and that we no longer take a backseat."

"Being silent has never, ever helped anyone," she continued. "Silence is a killer. And so we refuse to allow ourselves to be killed with silence."

Of course, the march—which comes almost 20 years after the Million Woman March—has garnered its share of criticisms. Initially, the March for Black Woman and the March for Racial Justice were at odds with one another, Tanis said, because some people could not understand "why we could no longer remain invisible."

Others have taken issue with the fact that the event was scheduled on Yom Kippur. Black Women's Blueprint released a statement in response to the backlash, noting that September 30 has historical significance—in 1919, a small group of black men and women gathered together to create a union to fight for better treatment from white plantation owners; a subsequent "race war" ensued—and that they had no quarrel with Jewish women.

Still, others have said online that they won't march alongside trans women of color.

"That's been a tough one," Tanis said. "Trans women are women. Anyone who wants to call themselves a woman is a woman. So when trans-identified women say, we are women and we are marching in this March for Black Women, that has to not only be respected, it has to be honored." She also added that there will be men, including those who identify as cisgender, white allies and other people of color marching as well.

Ultimately, Tanis said, their goal is for the March for Black Women to become a springboard to help create a more unified movement for women's rights, and for black women's rights.

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"It is about time that black women are seen in this country, and that we no longer take a backseat," she said. "We are the mothers of the sons being murdered, yes. We are the mothers, we are the sisters, we're the grandmothers of the men ... being murdered, yes. But we, too, are the black bodies that are strewn all over the streets, that are annihilated in our own bedrooms, that are annihilated in public and private spaces."

Find out more details about the March for Black Women in Washington, D.C. For those who can't make it, there are also several other sister marches happening across the country, or you can donate to the cause.