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As protests continue, black women activists are leading again

The nationwide protests set off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are being led by a new generation of young activists, many of them black women. Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Keisha Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom,” to learn more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The protests set off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are being led by a new generation of young activists, many who also want to bring more attention to the stories of police violence against black women.

    I spoke recently with Keisha Blain, an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of "Set The World On Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom"

    Dr. Blain, it seems as we have this national conversation that's been prompted in part by George Floyd's death, that there is something else that we're missing when it comes to an entire gender that's struggling with the same things.

  • Keisha Blain:

    Yes, I think so. In fact, many activists in the last few weeks have been pointing out the fact that even before the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor was killed by the police, an EMT worker in Louisville, Kentucky, and activists have been insisting that we really pay attention to this case.

    To this very day the police officers who who killed Taylor have not been arrested. And I think more and more people are surely talking about Brianna Taylor. But that was just one example of how black women's experiences are often sidelined in national narratives about American policing.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There was a whole say her name campaign that was quite successful in trying to raise awareness of it. But it wasn't something that, and it still isn't something that creates the same kind of headlines. Why do you think that is?

  • Keisha Blain:

    Well, certainly, I think the data reveals to us that the majority of black people that are who are killed by police are young black men. So in some ways, the focus on black men is very much reflective of what the data tells us. But the truth is that there's also, I think to a large extent, perhaps we might say, sexism and even patriarchy, which is to say that the way people write about American policing tends to focus primarily on the experiences of black men.

    And even as we recognize that most black men are killed by the police. I think the key here is to tell the whole story that the key here is to make it clear that black women and girls are also vulnerable to state sanctioned violence.

  • Keisha Blain:

    What about the impact of the violence on everybody that's related to or connected to the individual, right, whether they are mother or sisters or daughters? That there is trauma that it's not just the one person that died that got hurt, so to speak.

  • Keisha Blain:

    Exactly. And we see that clearly with the recent case of Eric Garner. Within days of Garner's death we saw his daughter Erica, rising on the national scene, pushing the issue, demanding changes in American policing. But the key here is that black women are certainly affected. We can talk about trauma. We can talk about just the emotional turmoil that they go through. And it's not surprising then that they are often the ones at the forefront of the fight to bring an end to police violence and brutality.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And you literally have written the book on this, that being at the forefront of the fight is something that black women have been doing for quite some time.

  • Keisha Blain:

    Absolutely. In my book, "Set the World on Fire" focuses primarily on working class black women and impoverished black women. And I think that's key, too, because many of the women who I talk about did not have much of a formal education. Many of them did not have many did not have much material resources.

    But what they did have was passion. And what they did have were their voices. And what they did have was the ability to just open up and explain what the problems were in their community, took to the streets and demand changes. And even when they didn't have access to the vote at a time where black women could not vote in the 20 early 20th century, these women were still determined to to to make changes, to shape national politics and also go global politics.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Keisha Blaine, associate professor, University of Pittsburgh, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Keisha Blain:

    Thanks for having me.

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