This is supposed to be an essay about misogynoir and the state. For me, state-sanctioned violence against Black women and femmes is an issue that is as hypervisible and super-exploited as it is misunderstood. Long before Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey created the term “misogynoir,” the phenomenon has wreaked havoc on African people worldwide, reinforced by a centuries-old dehumanization campaign designed by white slave owners to control Black women’s bodies and labor and erase their basic personhood. And Black women have been analyzing and documenting the impact of misogynoir for as long as it has existed. While the word may still be new to most of us, the lived reality of misogynoir is as old as colonialism itself.
In the United States misogynoirist violence is integral to the very function of this country’s government and the economy. How often do we see news stories about atrocities like the state removing Black children from their mothers’ custody, or politicians accusing Black women of being welfare cheats, or police raping Black women, or employers systematically underpaying Black women for their work (when they hire Black women at all), or profiling Black women (especially our trans sisters) as sex workers, or correctional officials shackling prisoners who are giving birth (a practice that disproportionately impacts Black women), or those same officials not providing adequate clothing, medication, and hygiene supplies to incarcerated Black women? And every time misogynoirist violence hits the news, media outlets publish hundreds of op-eds and think pieces that analyze the impact of all this state-sanctioned harm on Black women’s lives. So I don’t want to rehash the same analysis about Black women and state violence that dozens of excellent writers have already thoroughly covered.
I mean, what else is there to say? The United States government and its regional authorities treat Black women and Black woman-administered families like trash because the US state is white supremacist and patriarchal. We know that the US state is white supremacist and patriarchal because the people who created this government were slaveholding white men who depended on Black women to produce slave labor in the first place. Is there an adult in the US who doesn’t already know this? Hell, even if you’ve never heard the word “misogynoir,” you’ve seen Black women being treated like runaway slaves by cops, judges, social workers, jailers, and mass media your entire life. What else do you need to know about it?
So instead of writing yet again about state-sanctioned misogynoir, I’m gonna talk about what it means to live with the beast that is misogynoir gnawing at your back. In a word, it’s pure hell. Because I’m told literally and figuratively that Black femme humanity is worthless, I wake up everyday depressed out of my mind and wishing I didn’t exist. But the kicker here is that I have to pretend not to be depressed or anxious in order to get through my day in one piece. Because if I show any obvious signs of mental distress or pathology, both the state and its health management system will come down on me like a ton of bricks. If I ever let my wellness mask slip and my psychological scars become visible, the state will do one of three things: either have me arrested for a crime (regardless of whether I committed said crime or not), have me involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, or shoot and/or beat me to death and then blame me for my own murder. In fact, many of you would blame me for my own murder as well.
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Those of you who are not Black women or femmes mislabel our ability to shield the effects of trauma as “strength” or “bad attitude.” It ain’t either—it’s sheer survival. Because if we drop our guard even a nanosecond, we know it’s over. And too often, those of you who bear witness to everyday misogynoirist violence don’t say or do anything to protect us. So all Black women and femmes know that we are on our own. Every Black femme kid in this Western-dominated world learns this lesson early in life, literally as soon as we hit toddlerhood (yes, antiblack societies criminalize Black toddlers).
I get exhausted even thinking about misogynoir, much less living it. I scream on the inside because I don’t have the public space to let it out.
Misogynoir is a bastard. I’m ready for it to die, before it ends up killing me.
That’s all I’ve got for you, reader.