My boyfriend and I met in December 2015, a year that was plagued with a constant barrage of Black death and saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was 17 years old, and although my Twitter account had been active since 2011, it was the year the marked my addiction to and dependence on the social media platform as a source of news and an avenue for Black voices and thought. That year, I had cried too many times over hashtags that read the names of Black men who had been murdered by American police. That year, after oversaturating myself with images and videos that depicted Black men being shot to death, I had become eerily desensitized to Black death; for me, this began with Trayvon Martin and it was followed by Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Samuel Dubose, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Christian Taylor, Laquan McDonald, and the faces of more Black men whose names I have not memorized. That year, I learned to both fear and hate the American police force while simultaneously coming to the understanding that my Black life did not matter.
It’s no wonder why over the two and a half years that my boyfriend and I have been together, I’ve grown accustomed to tracking his location on my iPhone. It’s a defense mechanism that I overly rely on to reassure myself of his safety. I want to know my boyfriend’s location in case he is killed.
I was reminded of my boyfriend’s mortality only a few weeks after we started dating. In the beginning, we would take our time walking home. Since we lived down the street from each other, he would walk me halfway and then we would part ways. One night, we lingered on a street corner and filled the night air with giggles and the smacking of our lips as we kissed. From the corner of my eye, though, I noticed a police car that had stationed itself on the same street corner. It lingered, as well. To me, it was an intimidation tactic to, perhaps, suggest that we did not belong there. Admittedly, I was scared as fuck. But, I continued to act as if nothing was wrong; as if our lives were safe from harm.
After a few minutes, the car eventually drove away. And I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
I looked at him and asked, “Did you see that?”
“No, what happened?” He had failed to notice the cop car, which for a few minutes, had felt like life or death for me. When I explained it to him, he gave me a knowing nod. My boyfriend’s overall reaction in that moment encompasses his philosophy; he is not oblivious to the violence being brought upon Black and Brown bodies, but he chooses to live in the moment and enjoy life as much as possible. In that moment, looking into my eyes was more important than stopping to acknowledge a police car. He, to me, is the epitome of Black boy joy - not allowing his skin color to impact the way he navigates through the world while simultaneously understanding how to code switch, if necessary. I, however, have never been a carefree, Black girl when it regards his safety.
“Be safe,” I muttered. I hugged him tightly.
“You too, love.” He kissed me goodnight, and we parted ways. Yet, as I walked, I kept looking back to ensure that he was, indeed, okay.
Over the years, we have consistently asked each other to be safe. I don’t think we actually know what safety means or looks like, but it’s an affirmation that we love and value each other and at the end of each night, we need to make it back home in one piece.
Yet, of course, I know that whether or not I am with him or aware of his location, I have no control over what happens to his body. According to a study conducted by the New York Times, the majority of mass shooting victims are Black. In American cities, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has collected data that shows that in all 50 states, compared to their White counterparts, Black citizens are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by gun violence. And when you analyze that data further, when compared to other races, Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 are between nine and 16 times more likely to be killed by the American police force. Therefore, whether it’s at the hands of a police officer or interracial violence, my boyfriend’s life is in danger and I’m scared that I’m going to lose him.
But too often within the modern movement for Black lives, Black women are depicted as the grieving mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and protestors. In actuality, when you examine national homicide statistics, Black women are more likely to be murdered (4.4 deaths per 100,000 people) than any other race; in actuality, my life is also in danger. Yet, for two years, my energy has been primarily focused on protecting my boyfriend from a world that is disposing Black bodies regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or wealth.
Therefore, the recent death of 18-year old Nia Wilson isn’t an anomaly. On July 22nd, Nia Wilson was stabbed to death by a White man while waiting to transfer trains at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, California. Her death evoked a painful reminder that our Black lives - whether it be at the hands of an American police officer or a knife wielding White man - aren’t deemed to have value.
Concurrently, while some media outlets, such as KTVU, are busy debating Nia Wilson’s victimhood, I wish they would have a conversation about her life. According to her family, Nia Wilson was a pretty girl who loved to take care of others. Yet, in the final years of her life, Nia Wilson was eerily surrounded by violence and death. In 2016, her high school boyfriend, Josiah Pratt-Rose had drowned after jumping off a boat. Then, while standing next to Reggin’a Jefferies at her boyfriend’s vigil, the 16-year old girl was shot to death; it was later reported that Nia Wilson had stayed by Reggin’a’s side until the paramedics arrived. Finally, in the final hours of Nia Wilson’s death, her sister, Lahtifa Wilson was also stabbed.
An apt analysis of Nia Wilson’s death would question why this young woman was constantly being exposed to the fragility of human life or if she had the resources to cope with these deaths or the circumstances of the neighborhood in which she lived or if Lahtifa Wilson is recovering from the violent attack.
Yet, only a week after her death, it seems like the conversation is dwindling; the major news outlets are quiet and other hashtags have gained virality. Once again, Nia Wilson’s death reminds me that, in the mainstream, we tend to mobilize more around the deaths of Black men than Black women.
In the wake of Nia Wilson’s death, Twitter saw a revival of the hashtag, #Sayhername. But, it is not enough to say her same. We must ensure that Nia Wilson is granted justice; we must ensure that the same circumstances that impacted her life will not be duplicated in someone else’s upbringing; we must ensure that Black lives, regardless of gender, are protected. Yet, in the same week of Nia Wilson’s death, another Black woman was found dead at another BART station.
Who’s saying her name?
There are times when my boyfriend forgets to remind me to be safe. I know he values my life, but I think we, sometimes, forget that Black women are also in danger; that I’m just as qualified to become a martyr.
Further Reading & Sources Mentioned:
“Nia Wilson Had Big Plans. Then She Was Killed in a BART Station.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/25/us/nia-wilson-bart-stabbing.html
“From Ferguson to Baton Rouge: Deaths of black men and women at the hands of police” http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-police-deaths-20160707-snap-htmlstory.html#
“Gun violence in the US kills more black people and urban dwellers” https://theconversation.com/gun-violence-in-the-us-kills-more-black-people-and-urban-dwellers-86825
“A Drumbeat of Multiple Shootings, but America isn’t Listening” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/23/us/americas-overlooked-gun-violence.html?_r=0