“The Most Neglected Person in America”: Reflections on the Lack of Care for Black Women

Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” I think of this often.

“The most disrespected person in American is the Black woman.” Disrespect is…Black women being the most educated demographic but making 61 cents to every dollar a white man makes. It’s a white woman singer talking about you because you made the charts and she didn’t and furthering racial stereotypes of black women in the process. It’s people claiming they started a movement when it was begun years before by a Black woman. It’s hundreds of thousands showing up for a Women’s March (that struggles to include Black women’s voices and issues even today) and only a few thousand showing up for the March for Black Lives and March for Black Women. It’s using Black women’s labor and work and taking all the credit or expecting Black women to clean up everyone else’s mess. It’s people refusing to use your titles. It’s using you to check a box with no intention of giving you a voice or a choice…

“The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.” Unprotected is…Alexis Crawford being killed by her roommate after reporting a sexual assault from her roommate’s boyfriend. It’s two Black women being found dead under a bridge. It’s Black girls being denied their childhood. It’s a Black girl being dragged by a police officer in her bathing suit. It’s Black women being incarcerated while the abusive men they defended themselves against or retaliated against remain free. It’s a 19-year-old black girl protestor being sexually assaulted and murdered by a man who was supposed to help her after protesting for black lives. It’s constantly fighting racism, patriarchy, and sexism at times when it feels like others are silent and absent…

“The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Neglect is… Not amplifying #SayHerName and the names of women, recently Breonna Taylor, who have been murdered by police. It’s using #SayHisName without recognizing the fact that the #SayHerName movement was begun to include Black women victims of police brutality. It’s sitting in a classroom and constantly being overlooked, being present yet invisible. It’s speaking up and not being heard then having a white man say exactly what you said and get credit for it. It’s white women quoting you without citing you then getting defensive when called out. It’s the high maternal mortality rate for Black women. It’s people coming to the defense of those who have abused you while they blame you. It’s being sent home from the hospital with a virus only to die a few days later, like Clara Kincaid and Shalondra Rollins

Yes. “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” It is also important to note that for the most part, I have discussed Black women broadly not including some of the ways being both Black and a woman intersect with other marginalized social identities like class, gender identity and sexuality, nationality, citizenship status, and religion, to name a few. While my personal work centers in facilitating healing and wholeness, I hope to address some of the roots as it relates to why society doesn’t seem to care for Black women and why even the Church in many ways has failed to care for Black women.

Photo by Lucxama Sylvain from Pexels

Now, there are many ways we can approach the question of why society and the Church doesn’t seem to care for Black women. We can think historically and theologically. Historically, we have perceptions and stereotypes that shape how we view Black women and subsequently, how they should be treated. It is important to address that these perceptions and stereotypes impact the Black community in addition to the white community and can sometimes be internalized by Black women as well.

Historically, we have the Black woman as the Mammy. The Mammy is the caretaker and homemaker. The one whose purpose centers in domestic servitude and serving others happily. It’s Black women as the “mule uh de world” in the words of Zora Neale Hurston. We have the Black woman as the Jezebel. The Jezebel is oversexualized. She is one who tempts or seduces men. Because the Jezebel is “promiscuous,” anything that happens to her is because she asked for it and/or desired it. We have the Black woman as the Sapphire. The Sapphire is the strong black woman in some sense. She is dominant and bold. Some may call her stubborn or loud or bossy or sassy or angry. In some ways, she’s perceived as threatening the masculinity of the men in her lives. These stereotypes shape some of the ways we perceive Black women today and can contribute to Black women being the most disrespected, the most unprotected, and the most neglected.

These stereotypes lead to…Black women at times only bring valued in relation to service and what they can offer. Black women being given the work but few opportunities to lead and for advancement in some institutions. Black women being used as the fixers in situations in which their voices were excluded to begin with. It’s Black women at times doing work that is self-sacrificing. It’s black women sexual harassment and assault victims not being perceived as victims because they were somehow asking for it. It’s perceiving young Black girls as though they are grown Black women. It’s valuing Black women based on what they can offer you.  It’s dismissing and working to silence women who advocate and speak up for themselves. It’s labeling women who have leadership skills that would be valued in men. It’s blaming strong women for the struggles Black men face. Thus, these stereotypes contribute to a lack of care and support for Black women.

Furthermore, our theology and church teachings can also contribute to a lack of care and support for Black women and often intersect at times with these racial stereotypes. Using the Bible as the model for relationships between men and women can cause issues as women in the Bible were viewed as property with little to no voice and agency, thus wives are to submit to their husbands as slaves are to submit to their master’s. It can contribute to women being viewed as valuable only in their relationship to the men in their lives. We should care for her because she’s someone’s daughter or wife or sister or mother or grandmother…Certain scriptures on submission and women being silent are used to silence and dismiss women. It’s used to limit women and prevent them at times from living into their full callings and life purposes. It keeps them in the back and keeps them in “a woman’s role” and anytime a woman challenges that she is labeled. Church teachings at times imply that a woman’s role is that of caretaker and homemaker and her main purpose is to serve the men in her life, the men in society, and the men in the Church. Scriptures on a wife giving her body to her husband have been interpreted to mean that the husband is entitled to his wife’s body, regardless of her desires in a way that denies her agency. A man will treat a woman based on how she presents herself and how she dresses, it is she who is responsible for the actions of the man. It is she who must protect herself and demonstrate that she is worthy of respect.

Yes, historically and theologically society and even the Church is not taught to care for Black women. Yet, Black women continue to show up for everyone else. “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” It’s time for us to sit with this and think about the ways in which we have failed to care for Black women in our own lives, in ways known and unknown.

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