Say Her Name: In Expression of Vulnerability and Power, Black Women Stage Direct Action With Chests Bared

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Say Her Name: In Expression of Vulnerability and Power, Black Women Stage Direct Action With Chests Bared

'Our labor, our bodies, our lives are valuable. I won't go another day without that being recognized'

"A lot of people understood we were being vulnerable in that space," said Asantewaa. (Photo courtesy of Clare Bayard)

"A lot of people understood we were being vulnerable in that space," said Asantewaa of the Onyx Organizing Committee. (Photo courtesy of Clare Bayard)

I fight for mothers.

I fight for those have been murdered by the state.

I fight for my girls to love their bodies.

To end infant mortality.

With love for female masculinity.

These were some of the messages painted on the bare chests of black women as they blocked an intersection in San Francisco's financial district during Thursday morning's rush hour in a creative direct action demanding an end to state-sanctioned violence against black women and girls—and affirming their stories, bodies, and lives.

The protest was part of a national day of action for the lives of black women and girls—including those who are queer and transgender—that swept at least 17 U.S. cities on Thursday and included numerous other Bay Area rallies and vigils. Organized by Black Youth Project 100, the wave of protests was part of a growing call, under the banner of "Say Her Name," to remember all black women who are harmed and killed by state violence, including police killings, beatings, and sexual assaults.

The San Francisco protest was organized by The BlackOUT Collective and Black Lives Matter and included people, not all of whom were topless, hailing from a wide range of ages. The organizing was led by black women and girls, including those who are cisgender and those who are transgender.

"We refuse to be invisible. Our labor—slave labor—helped build this country, and we won't be commodified anymore," said Asantewaa, who took part in the action and is a member of the Onyx Organizing Committee, in an interview with Common Dreams. "Our labor, our bodies, our lives are valuable. I won't go another day without that being recognized. The state sanctioned violence against black women is intolerable. It has to stop. We black women have had enough. We're done. It stops now."

Many of those blocking the intersection held signs honoring black women who have been slain by police, including Yuvette Henderson, who at the age of 38 was killed by Emeryville, California police in February. A large banner demanded Justice for Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old black woman who was shot and killed in 2012 by off-duty Chicago police officer.

Chants of "Who taught you to love yourself? Black women!" and "It is our duty to fight," rang through the crowd—the latter referencing a quote from Assata Shakur.

Asantewaa said the collective action was vulnerable and deeply personal, grounded in mutual support among participants: "We hugged. Some of us cried about trauma to our personal black bodies and connected to sisters who have been through similar trauma."

The decision to go topless was rooted in participants' public reclamation of their bodies and rights to bare their chests, as well as in numerous African traditions. "It is a longstanding tradition in western African cultures that, when women go to war, they take their tops off. We were bare-chested to say, 'Enough is enough.'"

"We wanted to be able to say ‘enough is enough’ and draw on traditions from Nigeria, Gabon, Uganda, and South Africa, from women who bare their chests and other parts of their bodies in protest," Chinerye Tutashinda of the BlackOUT Collective told BuzzFeed News reporter Tamerra Griffin.

Ritual was woven into the direct action, with many of those blocking the intersection keeping altars in front of them to remind them of what drove them to be there.

Protesters were accompanied by supporters, including family members and partners, and the community responded positively to the action, said Asantewaa. A video captured black women who happened upon the action on their way to work embracing the protesters.

"A lot of people understood we were being vulnerable in that space," said Asantewaa. "Some of our messages connected with them. Messages of no more body shaming. Infant mortality. That some of us are survivors of rape."

While often overlooked, black women are heavily impacted by the same state violence that impacts black men, in addition to bearing the burden of gender profiling, including sexual assaults by police. The report Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women—released Wednesday by the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia University—highlights the stories of black women harmed by police violence.

"Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality," said Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, director of the African American Policy Forum and co-author of the study, in a press statement. "Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color."

Asantewaa emphasized that, in light of this reality, continued resistance is vital: "I'm honored and proud to have been a part of that. The murder of our people is intolerable. It has to stop. It will stop. We'll continue to stand in the streets."

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