We said abolish the prison industrial complex, and abolish the police, not “representation” of Black women who maintain those systems.
By Stephanie Younger •
During an uprising in defense of Black life calling for the abolition of the police state and the carceral state, it seemed that liberals who were saying “listen to Black women,” were solely speaking in reference to Black women who do the labor of “saving our Democracy.” Recently, many who have been “thanking” Black women for “saving our democracy” have made it alarmingly clear that the Black women they find worthy of their respect are politicians who uphold the prison industrial complex, police and deportations. Deciding on behalf of Black women as a whole that the victory of Black women who are exploiters and oppressors of other Black women is somehow a “win” for us does not equate to “intersectional feminism”; it’s tokenism and a symbolic gesture that will never get us free. Specifically, silencing Black women who are abolitionists to put a Black woman who is an incarcerator of other Black women on a pedestal, in the name of “intersectional feminism” is a victory for the existence of a police state and a carceral state. In October of 2020, I wrote an article about the ways liberals have silenced Black feminists, specifically those who are abolitionists, for critiquing Kamala Harris’ complicity in the prison industrial complex.
“More recently, some white liberal feminists have been bullying young Black feminists into conveniently glossing over the actions of Joe Biden, and they even expect us to do so when they tokenize Black women who are maintaining what we’re fighting. I see it as a type of feminism that idolizes politicians like Kamala Harris, who has bragged about sending Black youth through the school-to-prison pipeline and locking up their parents, and who has degraded people who advocate for schools, not prisons. I see it as a type of feminism that silences the critiques of Black people affected by Kamala Harris’ actions and who are fighting for the abolition of what she maintains, which is the prison industrial complex.”“Black People Can’t Wait Every Four Years For Our Liberation,” by Stephanie Younger
Recently, those who have been silencing the critiques of Black abolitionist and Black feminists were demanding that we “just let people rest and enjoy things,” after toppling one white supremacist to replace him with another white supremacist. It is not an act of revolution to ‘rest’ and ‘enjoy things’ at the expense of Black lives. Demanding that Black women let people ‘rest’ and celebrate those who advocate for state violence, while robbing us of our agency to rest and grieve Black folks who have been murdered by the police is an act of violence. In June of 2020, I did not have a lot of time to rest and grieve when my inbox was filled with messages demanding that I do the emotional labor of ‘educating’ those who believe that I exist for their consumption. I also did not get to rest when the ‘solidarity’ white liberals extended to the fight for Black lives was a black square on Instagram, let alone going to one protest for a photo op. Seeing the black squares, and the performative ‘protest pics’ on Instagram was a wake-up call that so many people see Black trauma as a trend, as a commodity Black people, and as an opportunity to co-opt our grief to for their own capital. This was followed by influencers who turned the murder of Breonna Taylor into a trend, then Instagram infographic accounts who co-opted and whitewashed the activism of Black liberationists. On social media, some people have further commodified Black people whose lives were taken by police to put the politicians of their liking on a pedestal. Others have weaponized the individual decisions of Black liberationists – whose ideology that they don’t even support to begin with – to shame Black people into seeking freedom from the electoral system.
The co-optation of Black grief and Black radicalism continued into November of 2020, when people used a Black revolutionary space to celebrate the victory of an architect of the prison industrial complex and an enforcer of that system. On November 7, I saw people at the Marcus-David Peters Circle in Richmond, Virginia – on social media and in person – using the space as a venue to celebrate Biden and Harris being elected. In the same place where many of us protested state violence throughout the summer of 2020, people were taking pictures of themselves holding “Biden and Harris 2020” signs, and placing them on the monument. People popped bottles of champagne, and poured it on a memorial that honors Black people who have been murdered by the police. Many who occupied the Marcus-David Peters Circle that day have expressed their certainty that we somehow no longer have a white supremacist as a president, and that electing Biden and Harris somehow brought justice to Black people whose lives were taken by police. However, they brought a great injustice by using the space to celebrate the victory of a white man who co-authored a piece of legislation that sustained mass incarceration, and a Black woman whose complicity in that system has traumatized Black communities. Not only were they disrespecting the Black folks being honored in that space, but they were ignoring that the state violence throughout the summer of 2020 was orchestrated by our Black Democratic mayor who was re-elected that week.
More recently, much of the discourse about the riots at the capitol was centered around the idea that this somehow no longer represents what America was built on, basing it on the fact that Biden and Harris were soon-to-be inaugurated at the time. Many of the same people who quoted MLK’s warning of the white moderate last Monday have spent the past two weeks – let alone many election cycles – embodying the white moderate by silencing the critiques of Black abolitionist feminists, setting the timetable for Black liberation by telling us to “let them enjoy things.” Some of the same people who claimed to have cared about Black lives, and supported protestors during the uprisings are now idolizing militarized police, despite their continuous attacks, surveillance, arrests and imprisonments of Black people.
Given that many liberals spent the remainder of 2020 telling Black abolitionist feminists in our own spaces that the “stakes are too high right now” to not appease the white moderate, I was unsurprised to find that they were not actually going to “hold them accountable.” In April of 2020, I wrote that a Biden presidency would be my biggest fear, in the sense that many liberals would become complacent with the idea of not showing up for Black lives, as long as the endangerment on Black life is orchestrated by the oppressors of their liking. Liberals who only “listen to Black women” who are exploiters and incarcerators of other Black women will continue to silence Black women who are abolitionist feminists. Liberals who spent the past four years claiming to have cared about Black lives will continue to disrupt our agency to grieve Black people who have been murdered by the state.” Black women deserve so much better, and much more, especially the agency to root ourselves in keeping us and each other safe, beyond seeking freedom from the electoral system, or the prison industrial complex.
Stephanie Younger is an 18-year-old based in Richmond, Virginia, whose work centers the intersections Black feminism and womanism have with prison and police abolition.