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Op Eds

When Black Women Die, White America Does Not Cry at Their Funerals

By Marissa J. Joseph
Marissa J. Joseph ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Kirkland House.

Breonna Taylor was an emergency medical technician. Every shift she leased her breath to restore life into strangers’ lungs, but no one came to her rescue for 20 minutes after three officers sent five bullets into her body and left her family with one less daughter. Black families across the country cry familiar and familial tears for another Black life lost. Cities burn in Breonna’s honor to caution racist institutions of their looming fate and Black women apply pressure to society's chest, trying desperately to resuscitate justice for one of our own.

Black women do not hesitate to provoke chaos because we have never known peace. Slave masters forced their wretchedness into our wombs and denied our femininity. Real women were made to be loved, so white men told the world to screw us. Our ingenuity is discounted and upcycled for white women to make chic. Somehow we still find space for joy and laughter despite being the punchline to every adolescent Black boy's joke. When those young men call on us to protect them, our answers too often go unrequited. Our humiliation, exploitation, and death is always a prerequisite as America pursues her degree in progress.

Political scientists mutated Breonna Taylor’s death into an antibiotic ointment to treat the nation’s wounds and gave corporate witch-doctors and white-guilt-driven healers instructions to apply each dose of the drug liberally. Black women outline our condition to legislative physicians and request preventative care, but instead, for our cries of pain we are prescribed indifference and malpractice.

Designers fashioned Breonna Taylor’s death into an accessory to accent the costumes that celebrity pacifists, masquerading as activists, don for their performances. Black grief was commodified into hoodies, tee shirts, and masks, and its price included neither shipping nor intentional handling. Her family watches “socially conscious” businesses build prosperity off their bereavement and waits to collect residuals that will never come.

Influencers memed Breonna Taylor’s death, transforming a woman into a mascot. Her name punctuated every Instagram caption, and “arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor” became a jingle before it ever had the chance to triumph as a rallying cry. Newly enlightened and self-proclaimed allies bark her name until it loses its bite and Black women are reminded we can trust no one to take our lives seriously but ourselves.

White America does not even bother to ask for forgiveness; they got so busy manipulating Breonna Taylor’s movement that they forget their obligation to produce her justice.

But the day after National Voter Registration Day, the only thing found guilty for Breonna’s murder was her Blackness, and the summer’s ensemble composed of blackout squares and vocalists who belted “I’ll never understand, but I stand,” stood silent. Their white noise was replaced by a harmony of neoliberal democrats and campus political challenges begging the Black community to vote. Their pleas are so loud that they muffle the demands of the Black women still demonstrating in the streets. It seems we are the only ones still singing the song for our liberation. The police abolition our chorus calls for knows no home in either party, and paper ballots are not durable shields against bullets that never cease fire, generation after generation. They urge us to dampen our protests and pour into the polls, confirming no one is listening.

After long days fighting to preserve our existence, Black minds are offered no recess. The grand jury’s decision not to seek justice for Breonna Taylor weighed so heavily that it should have been the elephant in every Zoom room, but instead, it went unaddressed by the same institutions who vowed to promote anti-racism. Professors and preceptors pile problems sets and essays onto their Black students’ heartbreak and require our full participation because a Black woman’s funeral is not an excused absence.

When a Black woman dies, white America does not cry, and Harvard does not send its condolences.

Marissa J. Joseph ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Kirkland House.

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