IN 2014, the Kimberlé Crenshaw–led African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName campaign to raise awareness about the Black girls and women killed by police yet erased from the national conversation about police brutality. In the years since, #SayHerName has become a rallying cry as Black girls and women continue to die at the hands of police officers, vigilantes, and the men they know and love. A 2018 report from the Violence Policy Center found that Black women are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence, with Black women being murdered by men at a rate of 2.85 per 100,000—nearly three times the rate of white women murdered by men. The recent movement to “Protect Black Women” began in earnest after police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, murdered Breonna Taylor in her own bed on March 13, 2020. Online and offline, Black men have vowed to treat Black women with care, to protect them, and to love them—even if the relationship isn’t romantic. Meanwhile, white liberals, specifically white women, have adopted the dehumanizing “Black women will save us” mantra without actually considering Black women’s specific social and political needs.
Though these are beautiful sentiments, what does protecting and loving Black women look like in practice? It’s a question artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has been exploring in her work since 2012, when she began the street-art project Stop Telling Women to Smile to raise awareness about gendered public harassment. Since then, Fazlalizadeh has used her distinctive calling card—powerful street murals accompanied by simple phrases—to center Black women. Her new project continues her powerful mission with a simple question: What would it look like to love, value, and celebrate Black women? If we truly embrace the call to protect Black women as more than a social media hashtag, we must consider the question carefully. Fazlalizadeh challenges us to do just that.
What would it be like to love Black women? What would it be like to actually love Black women?
What would it be like to celebrate Black women, not just as a performance or a trend? Without using them as a mascot for a movement. Without relying on them to save this country. What would it be like to love Black women without expectation of our labor or strength? For you to take up the work, to pick up the fight, and to let us rest. What would it be like to detangle yourself from sexism, racism, transphobia, and fatphobia and to radically love Black women, Black femmes, and Black people who move beyond and around gender?
Even if they don’t want you. Even if they don’t caress your ego. Even if they reject you. Even if they ignore you. Even if they never did anything for you. Even if they’re not related to you. Even if they have nothing to offer you. Even if they don’t fit into your ideas of respectability. Even if they don’t fit into your ideas of politeness. Even if they don’t fit into your ideas of desirability.
What would it be like to love them in an active way? In a way that requires you to examine yourself and how you mistreat them? To hold yourself accountable before trying to “Protect Black Women”? To acknowledge the ways you have harmed, abused, harassed, ignored, disrespected them? How have you contributed to the suffering of Black women? How have you tried to create a safe society for them?
What would it be like to show them care? To listen when they are in pain. To treat them as subjects. To be curious about them, their lives, their experiences. To not kill them. To not kill them. To not kill them. To put their autonomy over your entitlement. To let us rest. To let us rest. To let us live freely. To let us live.