This op-ed is authored by three Black women who—for safety reasons—cannot reveal our names. We have chosen to tell our stories by releasing an anonymous report: We All Deserve Peace, which details our experiences and recommendations as frontline leaders living under threat (trigger/content warning: the linked report includes detailed accounts of doxxing, stalking and threats made against the authors and other Black women in movement spaces). View the report here.
We are mamas, daughters, sisters, and aunties. We are teachers, social workers, community organizers, and researchers. We are activists and changemakers, taking on the crucial social and environmental issues of our time. What we have in common is that we are Black women working to achieve a just society.
And we are under attack.
Today, one only has to read the latest headlines to see that hate and violence are on the rise in the United States. And Black women are disproportionately targeted, as a toxic brew of racism and misogyny saturates American life.
We know this from personal experience. We have been threatened — online and in person — with rape and murder. We have been stalked and surveilled, in our homes and on the street. Our online meetings have been “Zoom bombed” by hackers who fill our screens with pornography and horrific images of racial violence. Our names and addresses appear in social media and on hate-filled websites, with exhortations to do us harm. Our families, too, have been targeted.
Our calls for help have gone unanswered by the police, who have sometimes cared more about the “rights” of our tormentors than about our safety and well-being.
These incidents have caused us real and lasting harm. We have been forced to leave, and even sell, our homes. Gone is our sense of safety and peace. Our physical and mental health has suffered as a result.
And we are not alone. Living at the intersection of racism and sexism, the historic and systemic socio-economic circumstances of Black women mean that too often we have lower pay and less wealth than white people and men. As such, many of us lack the resources to cope with these threats. Many of us are carrying our households singlehandedly. We hold outsized responsibility in our families, communities, and organizations — formally or informally. We’re more likely to be supporting a family member who has a chronic health condition, or to have a chronic health condition ourselves.
It’s a lot.
We are deeply committed to the work we do. But, to keep doing that work, we need support from our communities, and from the institutions to which we give so much — including nonprofits, philanthropy, and government. So, here are our recommendations on how to bring a measure of safety and peace to the lives of Black women fighting for a better world.
Institute proactive privacy measures. Teach activists to engage proactive measures to protect our personal data. This includes using aliases on social media and being careful not to live-post one’s location. As we have learned, once your data is out there, you can’t get it back.
Provide professional in-person security. Few of us have security escorts, beyond volunteers who mean well but lack training. In a nation with more guns than people, some of us will need professional security. This is tricky because we don’t want to turn comfortable spaces into militarized zones. At the same time, we must be able to protect ourselves.
Finance and facilitate relocation. Create a fund and a network of safe havens so that those under threat have the option of relocating temporarily or — if necessary — permanently.
Establish a comprehensive security case-management organization. Set up a one-stop shop for security services that are proactive, preventative, and responsive. This organization would have expertise in keeping us safe, individually and organizationally, by providing the services detailed above under one umbrella. This organization would be semi-internal to social justice movements and provide these services in a way that is in keeping with our principles and culture.
Cultivate peer-support communities. Having a good support system is critical. And connecting with others who have been targeted reduces isolation and enables us to learn from others’ experience. One promising model is the Unicorn Fund, which “supports under-resourced grassroots leaders in the United States who face attacks for expressing their ideas, telling the truth, and taking a stand on the front lines of narrative change.”
Strengthen and enforce internet regulations. As January 6 revealed, the internet is a largely unregulated incubator of violence and hate. We are wary of regulations enforced by the state or tech companies — institutions that have long upheld white supremacy — and we do not want to increase the surveillance we already experience. But it is past time for greater public accountability and stronger guardrails for online behavior.
Ensure the availability of mental health/healing justice resources. Being targeted impacts mental health. Not surprisingly, we are fearful and anxious; we may also feel guilt for potentially endangering others. Access to mental health services is essential to support coping. At the same time, mental health support is needed for some of the perpetrators of violence. Too often, people with mental health needs are weaponized by purveyors of hate.
Black women have long been the heart and soul of struggles for civil rights, environmental justice, and more. We will not stop or be silenced. But in this time of rising hatred and violence, support and protection for those who risk everything by speaking up is critical.
Together, we must stand up against hate and stand up for love.
View the report and take action here.