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The Mule of the World: The Black Woman’s Overlooked Fight for Justice

June 15, 2020

Written by Shaniya Bethel

In the Fall of 1937, Zora Neale Hurston published Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel-based social critique that examines the relationshipbetween Black women and men. TEWWG follows Janie Crawford, a Black woman who—at the start of the novel—is arranged to marry a man against her wishes in order to obtain financial security. Her grandmother, referred to as Nanny in the novel, is a former slave who views life pragmatically; she ascertains the second-class nature of Black women in America, and wishes to protect Janie from social disparity once Nanny herself dies.

Nanny states, 


“So de white man throw down de load and tell de [Black]man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De [Black] woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see”

(Hurston)

Nearly a century later and Nanny’s words continue to reflect the disparity between Black women and their peers. At any given time, Black women are fighting three battles: Misogyny, racism, and colorism. The racism and colorism, stemming from white supremacy, tell her that she is subhuman, that she is “too dark,” or “manly,” or unlovable. The media paints her as aggressive or problematic if she fights back.

(Hurston)

The sexism, stemming from the world’s inherent hatred for women, tells her that, on top of being subhuman because of her race, she is further ostracized because she is a woman. She is brutalized by Black and white men alike; she is constantly criticized for her tone and constantly ignored about her pain.

These three -ism’s interconnect in a Black woman’s life, creating an occurrence called misogynoir. This term is defined as “the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward black women” (Dictionary.com). Further, the same way Black cis women are ostracized for their race and gender, Black trans women face that and transphobia. As Nanny calls it, the Black woman is the mule of the world. As Malcom X called it in 1962, the Black woman

“is the most disrespected person in America…The most unprotected person in America” and the “most neglected person in America”

Christine Emba

In this age of human rights protests, we see Black men at the center of the conversation. The advocation for their justice is valid—Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than a non-Hispanic white man. From the same study, we find that Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than a white woman (Clark Merrefield). Yet, Black women are often left out of these discussions, left out of outrage, and left out of the (very sparse) distribution of justice. 

“Police violence against black women is marginalized in the public’s understanding of American policing. There is a perception among many Americans that black women are somehow shielded from the threat of police violence. This perception could not be further from the truth.”

Jamaal S. Abdul-Alim states

On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was killed by police who issued a no-knock warrant at the wrong house. A no-knock warrant allows police officers to discard the act of announcing themselves during raids. In this case, police officers entered the home without knocking or ringing the doorbell; they entered in plain clothing. Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, mistook the police for burglars and exchanged gunfire with the officers. Breonna Taylor was shot eight times.

In the minutes that followed, her boyfriend was arrested for assault. In the weeks that followed, the story got little to no attention. In the months that followed, Breonna’s Law was passed, ruling no-knock warrants illegal in Louisville, Kentucky.

But Breonna Taylor’s murderers have still yet to be arrested or charged for her death.

This story is reminiscent of other Black women who, despite their murder, receive little to no media coverage or justice.
Sandra Bland in 2015.
Nina Pop, a Black trans woman, in 2020. 
Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley Jones in 2010.
 Rekia Boyd in 2012.
 Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.
 Kathryn Johnstonin 2006.
Natasha Mckenna in 2015.
Meagan Hockaday in 2015.
Malissa Williams in 2012.
Tyisha Miller in 1998.
Eleanor Bumpurs in 1984. 
Oluwatoyin Salau this week. 
The list could go on.
And it does. 
And it will continue to do so until we conduct major—and I mean major—police reform to ensure the safety of Black people around the world.

Every day, we mourn the loss of another Black person—either at the hands of direct police brutality or at the hands of police negligence. Every day, there is a new name. We get a maximum of twelve hours, if even that, to fight for that person’s justice and hold their killers accountable. But Black women especially get less time. They get less outrage. They get less protests and far less protection.

The Black woman, the mule of the world, the most disrespected person in America.

The best time to do better was decades ago. The best time to amplify their stories, dead or alive, was centuries ago.

But the second-best time to do that is now.

Say our name.

And say it loud.

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the entire credit to this article and its photos goes to Shaniya Bethel aka shaniya.jpg

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2 Comments

  • Reply herlibraryofspells June 16, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Such an acknowledging post!

  • Reply Juli June 16, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Love this article <3 amazing words, it’s important to give everyone the opportunity to speak up, I‘m glad Shaniya took it and talked about that on your blog ✨

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