In the wake of the charging and release of Brett Hankinson, who was one of three cops who fired shots in the murder of Breonna Taylor, the attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, and many media outlets have shifted focus to violent protests erupting across the US. It’s an easy way out, valuing the destruction of private property over the case at hand; after all, Hankinson was charged for shooting property, endangering everyone but the 26-year-old black woman in a grave.
In the same vein of capitalist perspectives of value, Breonna Taylor’s death has been an object of profit in both physical and social currency. A martyr, not by her own choice- Breonna Taylor, seemingly larger than life, represents what black women have known for years, that justice evades the women whose back has sustained revolutions and the nation.
In the case of gender roles, a division intrinsic to the maintaining of white supremacy, chivalrous ideals of femininity requires purity, weakness, and docileness- traits attributed, largely, to white women. It gives reason for protection, hence, a white woman standing as the personification of America.
In this social construct, there must be an opposite. Impure, strong, and disobedient existed as the perfect language for justifying the rape and overworking of black women for centuries. And in current society, these adjectives allow for distinct tropes like fast or hot-tailed black girls and strong or angry black women, once again justifying the unprotection of black women.
The dichotomy of mother/whore and feminine/unfeminine has worked its way into the treatment of Breonna Taylor. Her tragedy is profitable having been trademarked as a meme, used for “woke” social currency in hashtags and digital trends, plastered on t-shirts, masks, and the covers of Vanity Fair and Oprah Magazine. The commodification of Breonna Taylor is far too reminiscent of black women throughout the centuries as at once being slave labor and a producer of slave labor or “capital”. The laws do not have to say 3/5ths of a person to acknowledge the economic undertones in the objectification of black lives, particularly black women, in 21st century America.
This dehumanization plays into the gender chasm constructed by white elites, continuously dissociating from Breonna Taylor as a black woman to where her state-sanctioned murder can not exist as a serious tragedy. We saw the same dissociation after rapper Megan Thee Stallion suffered gunshot wounds, the same dissociation when a video of R. Kelly urinating on an underage black girl surfaced, and the same dissociation when a video of a young black girl being thrown in a dumpster emerged on social media; celebrities, comedians, and people around the world sensationalized their trauma. Black women’s pain often becomes a laughing stock and remains immensely profitable as it was in the 17th century.
People have waited 151 days for one of three cops to be charged with shooting private property, 151 days just for Brett Hankinson to be released on a $15,000 bond. It’s the result of unchecked commercialism where disposabality enforces itself on black women. On the night of September 23rd, I could hear Sojourner Truth in my head crying out “Aint I A Woman”. I find myself asking the same thing.
The feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back draws the intersections of identity of women of color, challenging everyone who reads it to gaze at each writer’s truth. And I’m looking at Breonna – painted in searing portraits, her caricature pasted on to political cartoons – I’m looking at her and I see myself, I see my mothers, I see my sisters, and I see all the daughters I have yet to see. And I can only pray that their backs will go unmarked and that they can be fully human.