Renowned poet Aja Monet wrote so powerfully in a recent piece that “black skin is a uniform of war.” I’ll take that one step further and say that our black womanhood is too often the spoils of the same war, and that did not end with the half-conviction of Daniel Holtzclaw. He isn’t alone. Nearly a thousand police officers have been stripped of their badges for sexual misconduct, and I’m sure a thousand more have not been. If anything, our black womanhood serves as a shield from our unfaithful expectations that sometimes trick us into believing that a system created to enslave and marginalize, devalue and abuse us is capable of ever fully doing right by us.


History tells us this.

When the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus came around on Dec. 1, I was reminded not only of her personal experience with sexual assault but also of her courageous work documenting the rapes and sexual assaults of other vulnerable, black women. Black women like Recy Taylor, who was 24 years old in 1944 when she was gang-raped by six white men in Alabama. Black women like Gertrude Perkins, who in 1949, was abducted and raped by two white police officers in Montgomery. 

Thinking about Rosa Parks and her work around Black women, sexual assault and rape — rapes of Black women by cops and…

Posted by Kirsten West Savali on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In the tradition of Parks, Jannie Ligons, the 59-year-old grandmother sexually assaulted by Holtzclaw, has been rightfully applauded for standing up and speaking out against him, setting the wheels in motion for his arrest and ultimate conviction. Ligons said, “He just picked the wrong lady to stop that night.” Those words are powerful in both what they say and what they don’t say. Because if she’s the wrong one, that means that the jury decided that the five women who didn’t receive justice were the right ones.


And doesn’t that sound familiar?

Claudette Colvin was 15 years old when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, nine months before Parks. Even as the Montgomery boycott has been heralded as a seminal moment in civil rights history, many people still don’t know her name. Why? “ … I had a child born out of wedlock; I became pregnant when I was 16,” Colvin, now 75, said in a recent NPR interview. “And I didn’t fit the image either, of, you know, someone they would want to show off.”


It is not surprising, then, that it has been feverishly reported that Ligons is a respectable grandmother because, in this country, being just a black woman isn’t enough. With the Holtzclaw verdict, and the jubilation and self-congratulation that so many of us have engaged in because we did the work of shedding light on the case, I am increasingly aware that the least that we demand in the way of justice is the most we will ever receive.

Because what that jury said was that five women didn’t deserve protection from the monster sworn to serve and protect them. And what that says to me is that the evidence was so damning in the other eight cases that they couldn’t not convict Holtzclaw, because if they could have, he’d be a free man today.


So, though I am beyond thrilled that eight black women received justice, let’s be purposeful in uplifting the women who did not. The women who don’t pass the dangerously fickle and subjective bar of respectability in this country. The women who are thrown away, picked up and thrown away again. The women that movements don’t get built around. The Claudettes and the Recys and the Gertrudes. The women whom society tells to just be satisfied with what they can get and to deal with what they don’t.

We see you. We won’t forget you.

And we will continue to fight for you.