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March 5, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 24°F

ColumnsSeeking Justice

Let Black girls exist freely

I remember at the age of 5 praying for a baby sister. My father had told me that if he had another son he would name him William, which would make him William III. I’ve always found naming your kids after you somewhat tacky — no offense to the juniors of the world. To ensure that my father would not name his son William, I prayed for a sister. A year later, God answered my prayers, and I was holding a baby girl in my arms. When I found out that my parents were expecting again, I prayed for another sister, and God answered my prayer a second time.

Having two sisters, especially two Black sisters, has completely changed the way I look at life. I feel as though I have to protect them because the world will surely not. On Jan. 31, I was reminded of this sad reality when I found out that a 9-year-old Black girl was forcibly handcuffed and sprayed in the face with pepper spray in my hometown of Rochester, New York. It’s one thing to hear about issues when they’re happening somewhere else, but when it happens in your own backyard, you are forced to face reality. 

At only 9-years-old, this little Black girl was shown that the world would not treat her fairly. Just like her ancestors, she would be abused by a system that profits off her being. 

Who in their right mind would pepper spray a 9-year-old girl? It’s as if the police officer perceived her as a 6-foot-tall linebacker. This warped perception, also known as adultification, of Black girls, is a major reason why they are treated as dispensable. 

There needs to be more discussion within mainstream spaces about the criminalization of Black girls. I wish that I could say that what occurred on Jan. 31 came as a surprise to me, but instances like this have become far too familiar. I wrote about this same issue in 2019, and it seems as though nothing has changed since then.

So, what is the solution? To combat this issue on an individual level, those who are not Black women need to engage in purposeful learning to understand their implicit biases. When you see a Black woman being disrespected or abused, do something! If you’re the one who is harming Black women, you need to first recognize it, then educate yourself and stop immediately. 

We often hear about Black women being physically harmed, but they are mentally and emotionally abused as well. This abuse comes from almost everyone, and unlike Black men, they have to deal with the oppression that comes with sexism on top of dealing with racism. 

At the end of the day we, as a society, need to let Black women exist freely. There is no reason that a 9-year-old girl should have to worry about being wrongfully peppersprayed and handcuffed by police. People love to claim they are “woke” until it comes time to protect Black girls and women. Now is the time to show your allyship. 

One day, I will pray for a daughter just as I prayed for my two sisters. I will pray that she grows up in a world where she is allowed to simply exist. I will pray that she will be uplifted and not trampled by the world. For my prayers to be answered, it will take more than just words — it will take action. Help Black girls by being a part of that change. 

John Turner can be reached at jturner3@ithaca.edu