Sometimes, I hear her voice.
Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau’s voice.
It was raw with emotion and cracked with passion. “Right now, our lives matter, black lives matter, black trans lives matter,” she said.
I’ve watched the video of her at a protest and scrolled through her Twitter timeline so many times, like it’s a time machine, as if it can clue me in to who she was before she was killed.
Salau, a 19-year-old Nigerian American activist, was found dead on June 13 in Tallahassee, just days after she first went missing. The body of Vicki Sims, a 75-year-old AARP volunteer was also found.
After telling a man who promised Salau a ride to the church where she was staying about being sexually assaulted, he then sexually assaulted her, according to tweets Salau sent on June 6, the same day she went missing.
When authorities announced the discovery of her body on June 15, I was hit with a deep, sinking feeling. One that flowed through my body until it hit a wound deep inside me — one that so many black women have.
First, I was sad.
Then I was angry.
I didn’t know Oluwatoyin. Yet, I’ve known her all my life.
I see her in the black women I know, who in their own way, are relentlessly pushing back against white supremacy.
These are the women who give so much of themselves for the people they love, only to go home and shout over men just to barely be heard in their own communities.
When we are seen, black women are often spoken about like soldiers instead of human beings.
The week we learned Oluwatoyin’s body was found, Breonna Taylor’s killers were still at-large. A viral video of a black woman being thrown in a dumpster began to circulate. Another video surfaced of a black woman being hit in face with a skateboard for rejecting a man’s advances.
Then, rapper J. Cole released a song where he raps there’s something about “the queen tone that’s bothering me.” For many black women, it was a painful reminder that our silencing can come at the hands of those we love and fight for.
Oluwatoyin Salau had “queen tone.”
Sandra Bland had “queen tone.”
Korryn Gaines had “queen tone.”
There’s a narrative that any black woman who has the audacity to reassert their humanity should be punished, harmed or humbled.
If we can acknowledge that burning down and tearing down institutions that oppress us is an understandable reaction to rampant police violence and killings, we can also understand why we shouldn’t police a black woman’s tone or response to her own oppression and killing.
Yet, the abuse black women face is so invisible and normalized, that J. Cole and fans of the track couldn’t see what was wrong with the track.
But how could they? This is tradition.
It is ingrained in the DNA of white supremacy to disregard the pain of black women.
From the auction block when bidders were told to ignore the tears of black mothers whose children were torn from their arms and sold, to physician J. Marion Sims, who practiced what’s now known as gynecology on black women without using anesthesia.
We still see that ideology manifesting itself today. Black girls are seen as “less innocent,” and are sexualized as early as age 5. They’re viewed as needing less protection than white girls, a belief that predators use to their advantage.
Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma city police officer, intentionally preyed on black women because he thought no one would believe them. Thirteen women came forward and accused him of sexual assault and misconduct.
R. Kelly sexually assaulted black girls with impunity for more than 20 years.
A South Carolina DJ was accused of sex trafficking up to 700 black girls for almost a decade.
After conversations with my black girlfriends where we talked about our childhoods, dating and relationships, we realized that at some point in our lives, we were sexually assaulted. We just didn’t know it because it was so normalized to feel like our bodies were not our own, or we subconsciously pushed it down.
Shrinking and holding in what kills us is all too common.
Forty percent of black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Some don’t report it out of fear of how the criminal justice system will treat their black partner. When they defend themselves, they’re at higher risk for incarceration. Black women are twice as likely to be incarcerated than white women. Black women are almost three times as likely to be murdered by a man than white women. Black women are more likely to be arrested during a traffic stop than other women. Transgender women are 4.3 times more likely to be killed than other women, the majority are black trans women.
Currently, 64,000 to 75,000 black women and girls are missing, but missing person stories are dominated by white faces.
But you won’t always see this on picket signs. It’s too “complicated.” It’s too “distracting.” There is no space for us.
It’s been more than 100 days since police raided Breonna Taylor’s home during a drug investigation and shot her eight times. It was the wrong home. One of the officers has been fired while the rest are on leave. No arrests have been made. It is as if they hope that it will blow over. Already, her name is fading from timelines and headlines.
#SayHerName is a movement that was created, based on a report by Kimberle Crenshaw, with the intention of amplifying black women and black trans women who are killed by police when the media cycle and community mostly focuses on black men.
So it’s no longer enough to say “I don’t do anything to harm black women.”
Instead, think about what you don’t do. Think about what you don’t say. It’s killing us.
It’s not enough to share a image that says “protect black women” on Instagram. You have to use your body and your voice to protect us, the way we have for you.
There should not be a hierarchy in showing up. We can fight multiple fights at once. Black women and queer black people have been doing it their entire life.
Women’s suffrage, civil rights and Black Lives Matter: We are the backbone of these movements but never placed at the forefront.
It took me too long to write this. I’ve spent too long holding that pain in the pit of me so that the fight isn’t complicated by my existence.
When you disregard and disrespect the experiences of black women, you are feeding the beast of white supremacy and patriarchy that will then turn around and swallow you whole.
We’ve waited for you to fight for us. We’ve done the delicate balance of trying not to hurt the feelings of those who hurt us.
It doesn’t work.
That’s why we affirm our intelligence and our humanity in “queen tone.”
I wrote this because I remembered Oluwatoyin Salau’s voice.
I remembered how even when it shook, she spoke.