Misogynoir and ‘Memeification’: The trivialisation of violence against Black women – Labour Article
Trigger Warning: This article covers themes that may be potentially distressing to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
NB: This is an issue I feel passionately about, but I am the wrong person to talk about it. For lack of a better alternative, I have sought to compile the voices and arguments of people who live with racism every day in order to distribute their voices and experiences further. I am not an authority on this issue and never will be. I only hope to raise it on the behalf of those who are.
The rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement over this passing summer has been both promising and worrying. It has been plagued by issues such as performative allyship, the spreading of misinformation, and the creation of memes, trends and jokey hashtags. Activists have found themselves in an endless battle trying to encourage longevity surrounding the movement.
Breonna Taylor has become a household name, a Vanity Fair cover model, and a TikTok dance trend. However, many have failed to remember that she was also a person. Though the BLM movement has been active for many years now, it became more prominent this summer after the murder of George Floyd. What followed were protests, think pieces, and the emergence of #saytheirname.
#saytheirname became a way to honour and remember previously forgotten victims of police brutality such as Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, and Elijah McClain. This emergence of awareness is a positive thing; more people were engaging with the discourse surrounding the disproportionate way POC were affected by police brutality. However, the lack of intersectional representation cannot be overlooked.
This is symptomatic of a wider issue: the lack of representation of women, disabled, and LGBTQ+ members of the Black community. George Floyd’s case has become synonymous with the BLM movement. It was not until this occurred that people even heard of Breonna Taylor, two months after her murder.
Taylor’s case has been treated as an almost secondary part of the movement. There are distinct differences in marketing for the ‘fight’ for her justice. Following Ahmaud Arbery’s death, hundreds of thousands ran 2.23 miles in his honour. For George Floyd, 8.46 minutes of silence were held. There was nothing resembling this for Taylor. Why is this?
Instead, #sayhername and the phrase “arrest the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor” were ‘memeified’. Attached to random contexts from recipes to adverts, these calls for action became embodiments of performative allyship. Honestly, how does tweeting “sure sex is great but have you ever arrested the cops that murdered Breonna Taylor?” fight against injustice? On TikTok, users would create dances paired with these sentiments, trivialising and reducing Breonna Taylor’s murder to a viral fad.
Some would argue that any publicity is good publicity. I fundamentally disagree. Instead of helping her case, the publicity of this murder has become a self-serving, guilt-easing exercise of “performative wokeness” for ‘allies’ who had jumped onto the bandwagon whilst BLM was popular.
This is emphasised by the fact that the entirety of the former part of this paragraph has had to be written in the past tense. Many people are ceasing any further engagement with the issues they were once sharing. Now, 65 years to the day after Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted, Taylor receives no justice. The police guilty of her murder are charged with wanton endangerment. To the justice system, neighbouring properties matter more than her life.
Of course, the blame cannot solely be placed on people drawing attention to the issue, whether or not it is performative. The policing and justice system is entirely at fault. The incident report stated that Taylor received no injuries and Taylor’s family is set to receive a settlement of $12 million. Yet somehow, there are no murder charges against any police officers.
This is a violation of human rights, and another example of the dehumanisation Black women have always faced. A key reason for this neglect is the normalisation of violence against Black women as a consequence of both racism and sexism. In 2008, Moya Bailey and Trudy coined the term ‘misogynoir’ to explain this pattern of anti-Black misogyny that cis, trans, and non-binary Black women experience.
The normalised suffering of Black women is a relic of slavery that permeates medicine, music, and academia. It is coupled with the false and damaging idea that Black women are ‘strong’ and have higher pain thresholds.
Furthermore, the intersection of racism and sexism ensures that Black women are simultaneously excluded from state violence and domestic violence narratives. The normalisation of violence against Black women is setting a dangerous precedent that devalues and trivialises their lives.
Whilst the existence of Black History Month is fundamentally problematic, it is also an important opportunity for all of us to do better. This October, do not half-heartedly skim over the Black History Month emails that you receive. Be engaged, want to learn more about other people’s experiences – want to be better. Justice will not be achieved in this way alone, but it is a step towards building a less racist, more empathetic world where the voices of those who constantly battle discrimination are listened to.
Educate yourself, sign petitions, donate to causes, and participate in conversations with your peers.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome
Point of Information
We must actively support black trans lives – A Conservative Response
I must acknowledge the fact that I am both white and cis-gender, and, therefore, have no personal experience with the challenges of the communities that I am writing about. I must stress the importance of self-education regarding such matters, and that is something that I am striving for in response to Zoë’s wonderful article.
A topic that Zoë touches on in her article is the pattern of anti-Black misogyny that the trans community experiences. We have certainly reached a point where there is an epidemic of murders of Black trans women particularly. I feel strongly that this issue is not being discussed enough. In July alone, 5 black transgender women were murdered across 4 states in the U.S. The HRC has recently announced that the majority of transgender people that are murdered are black and Latinx. It is imperative that we as a society recognise white privilege, particularly when it comes to hate crimes.
The UK is hardly innocent. The murder of Naomi Hersi is a clear example of that. In 2018, Naomi Hersi, a black transgender woman, was drugged and stabbed to death in London. Unsurprisingly, the press reported Hersi’s murder in an extremely limited and disrespectful way. It took three days for any publication to report the murder of Hersi!
Eventually, smaller publications and a few mainstream press titles did pick up the story but completely neglected Hersi’s black trans identity, often misgendering her entirely. The majority of publications spoke about Hersi’s death in context to other issues such as knife crime in London. This completely disregards the discrimination that Black trans people face.
The tragedy of Naomi Hersi is only one example of the injustice of the Black trans community in the UK and globally.
We must educate ourselves. We must donate. We must do better to support Black trans lives.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Not all memes are funny – A Liberal Response
Zoë’s article explores many different important issues and I commend her for both the scope and depth of the piece. Specifically, what she says about the memeification of Breonna Taylor’s death is crucial. I want to further contribute to this conversation.
“Anyway, arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
This has become a common refrain repeated across social media in tweets, in Facebook posts and in Instagram captions. The phrase has gone from a sobering call to action to an oversimplifying meme. It does not respect the gravity of the fact that Breonna Taylor was shot eight times while sleeping in her own home.
The slogan, and other memes, have become an almost universal part of navigating the internet’s conversation about police brutality and White Supremacy. The overall dialogue has been great in many ways. Online resources have helped galvanize people to educate themselves about race, sign petitions, donate to anti-racist organizations and bring attention to institutional racism. However, the popularity of this one call for action has highlighted the way this cultural movement is being commodified and trivialized.
Turning Breonna Taylor into a meme risks turning the conversation around what justice looks like for her into a temporary fad. Other than the firing of one police officer involved in her killing, there have been no real moves toward rectifying the situation. And so, as “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” gets repeated over and over again, it begins to lose meaning.
The memeification of Breonna Taylor shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s in line with a common phenomenon of internet culture.
However, not all memes are funny.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Libby Gilbert