Black feminism

#SayHerName: Memorializing Women of Color Through Hashtags

I have been coding over 400,000 tweets related to #SayHerName for the past few days. I wrote in an earlier blog what I’ve seen so far has challenged my preconceived notions about how this hashtag evolved. Violence against Black women gets lost in mainstream discourse, but #SayHerName gives voice to their experiences

I have learned about a number of Black women victims of police violence. However, this hashtag also references Black women who lost their life to domestic violence. Furthermore, I have learned about a significant number of Black women trans victims of violence. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of these findings, however, are the women who are immortalized only as hashtags because no mainstream media says their names.

Originally, I stated the hashtag centered on Black women. This remains true, however as I code the top ten hashtags associated with #SayHerName each day, I see that occasionally the dialogue centers on non-Black women of color too. Thanks to the #SayHerName data I learned about Melissa Ventura:

Melissa Ventura, a 24-year-old mother of three, was shot and killed by cops on Tuesday in Yuma, Arizona. Official accounts say she was holding a knife when they shot her and that they were called out for a case of domestic violence.1

My first thought while coding these tweets is: What do we do if Twitter shuts down? Social media has been a way to disrupt mainstream media and is a crucial way of generating and preserving information. Twitter’s format makes it relatively easy to spread the news and maintain community with like-minded thinkers.

I also noticed while on Twitter that the #SayHerName has been used for Renee Davis, a pregnant Native woman, shot by police in Washington just last week.

I’m not necessarily surprised to find that Twitter users see #SayHerName as a call to action for non-Black women of color. I believe #SayHerName demonstrates the marriage of Black feminism and social media activism.

Black feminism supports coalition-building and solidarity among members of marginalized groups. This approach to social justice recognizes that all oppression occurs within a matrix of domination.

Since multiple and interrelated oppressions exist, no single struggle should be characterized as more significant than the other.

Still Twitter continues to struggle to secure its financial future. So I have to ask – What happens if this channel of communication gets lost? How can supporters of social media movements gather to speak to how state violence affects them when these technologies fail?

These questions highlight the limitations of social media activism for marginalized groups. When they don’t own the the digital platforms they use, in this case Twitter, then a crucial tool for organizing gets lost.

I don’t believe Twitter will be the end all and be all of social media activism. People also use blogs, forums, and messaging apps to mobilize online.

People also use tools that amplify the experiences of women of color beyond one platform. For instance, Kimberle Crenshaw gave a recent talk at TEDWomen that highlighted #SayHerName.

#SayHerName plays a significant role in highlighting violence against women of color. I’m encouraged an initiative built on Black feminist principles of solidarity and coalition building will continue to grow.