I’ve been writing about dead black women and girls for the last eight years, and it never gets any easier. I’ve waded through the abbreviated lives of young women like Rekia Boyd and Renisha McBride and Reggina Jefferies and Hannah Bell and Mujey Dumbuya, or the countless black women killed by their partners each year.
Although bearing witness to these women’s murders is often gut-wrenching and exhausting, it’s also necessary. Because if we (black women writers) aren’t telling these stories, they often don’t get told at all.
Last week, 18-year-old Nia Wilson became the latest viral hashtag after she and her sister, Lahtifa, were “blindsided by a maniac” and brutally stabbed on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train platform. As news of Nia’s murder spread, many rightly demanded justice. Mourners in her hometown marched from the MacArthur BART station where she was killed to downtown Oakland, calling for law enforcement to act.
Folks on social media created art, shared Nia’s pictures and sent their condolences to her family, which is struggling to cope with such an unimaginable loss. (Mostly female) celebs like Viola Davis, Zoe Kravitz, Janelle Monae and Anne Hathaway spoke out about Nia’s death and called for justice.
But while Nia’s slaying resulted in an arrest and sparked marches and remembrances across social media, a week after her grisly murder, national cable news has remained eerily silent.
The 24/7 news cycle doesn’t seem to care about the deaths of black women any more than it does about their lives.
Nia’s murder seems prime for national coverage ― a beautiful young girl with her whole life ahead of her randomly attacked on a train by a knife-wielding maniac? That’s typically the wet dream of cable news producers across America, who will spend hours analyzing every single detail of a crime, even if there’s nothing new to report. (Remember the Natalee Holloway case?)
And yet, somehow, Nia’s story has flown under the radar, relegated to local news outlets and social media users who are up against a 24/7 news cycle that doesn’t seem to care about the health and well-being of black women and girls. Our media don’t seem to care about their deaths any more than they do about their lives.
Predictably, President Donald Trump has not weighed in on Nia’s tragic slaying either (and, to date, I don’t believe any reporter has asked the White House for comment), though, if Nia were a blond white teen and her killer was, say, a Latinx or brown person with an Arabic-sounding name, I have a feeling we’d already have a tweet calling for stronger borders. But since Nia was an around-the-way Oakland girl and her killer is a white dude with a sketchy criminal past, the nation’s chief executive has not exercised his Twitter fingers to even mention her name.
But… I wasn’t expecting him to anyway.
Recently, The Washington Post found that the killings of black people often result in far fewer arrests than the killings of white people. One reason? Black lives don’t actually matter. Black victims of crimes are not often seen as important enough to merit national outrage unless they are deemed to be “good” and “promising,” like 17-year-old Draylen Mason, who was killed by the Austin, Texas, bomber earlier this year, or 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was eulogized by former first lady Michelle Obama when she was fatally shot in 2013 in Chicago.
However, even when the victim is “perfect” and the violence senseless, the news cycle is brief and quickly moves on. And when black girls from the hood die, the president doesn’t declare a day of mourning and there’s no wall-to-wall CNN coverage. There’s just a crying family on local news, a hashtag and, eventually, silence.
Sadly, this is a familiar practice for black people in America. Someone in our community is killed, we collectively mourn and demand the justice system do its job, and far too often we’re let down.
Still, for many black women, Nia’s death feels personal. We know what it feels like to be out in the world facing street harassment from those in our neighborhood and staying on guard for racial microaggressions (or worse) from others, while also wondering if police will have our backs if we need them. While BART officers have labeled Nia’s killing as an indiscriminate attack, my friend and fellow writer Niema Jordan wrote for Glamour, “Nia’s death felt anything but random.”
“For a woman aware of the recent rash of gender-based attacks (and hate crimes in California, which have jumped 17 percent in the last year), the violence often associated with BART stations (up 69 percent in the past decade), and the overall racist climate of the nation, I received the news of this tragedy as yet another example of the constant attacks on Black women and girls,” Jordan explained.
If the national media won’t speak Nia’s name, we’ll keep her memory alive and fight for justice all by ourselves.
Personally, I am tired of writing about dead black women and girls. Tired of sifting through the remnants of their lives, documenting what could have been if only they hadn’t been killed. I am tired of watching their families wail on the local news while reporters ask if they could ever forgive their loved one’s murderer. And I’m tired of reading the comments about dead black women and girls that inexplicably blame them for their own untimely demise.
But I will continue to write these stories, look at crime scene photos, read through the horrible details of their slayings, listen to the families’ screams and say their names. Because murdered black women and girls are more than just a hashtag, they’re more than just a 30-second mention on the local news, more than a cautionary tale. These women and girls are people who deserve to have their full stories told and retold until their names and memories are etched in our bone marrow. Maybe then the lives of black women and girls will matter to someone other than those who love them personally.
It’s clear we can’t rely on the news media or the police to prove we have value ― we’ve seen how that has played out so far. Instead, we’ve got to tell our sisters’ stories because they deserved better while they were here. Nia certainly deserved better than to die on a train platform. And all black women deserve to feel safe, to know that the country we call home will step up if we’re violated and brutalized, not ignore our pain.
Audre Lorde once wrote that “black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning.” Indeed, we often channel our grief and anger into advocating for others ― marching and speaking out and putting our bodies on the line when our brothers, sons or partners are mistreated or killed. Too often, those gestures are not returned in kind.
But as Lorde also said, “That time is over.” It’s time for black women and girls to use our anger, our voices, and our pain in service of our sisters, like Nia, who can longer speak because their voices have been silenced forever. If the national media won’t speak Nia’s name, we’ll keep her memory alive and fight for justice all by ourselves.
Britni Danielle is a writer and editor who’s written about pop culture, feminism, race and politics for print and online publications.