Kenneka Jenkins: An Unfortunate & All Too Familiar Story
"And since we all came from a woman Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman I wonder why we take from our women Why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it's time to kill for our women Time to heal our women, be real to our women And if we don't we'll have a race of babies That will hate the ladies that make the babies And since a man can't make one He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one So will the real men get up? I know you're fed up, ladies, but keep your head up"
-- Tupac Shakur, "Keep Ya Head Up"
"The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the black woman."
-- Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), Excerpt from speech delivered in Los Angeles on May 22, 1962
I was deeply saddened by the news of young 19 year old Kenneka Jenkins being found in a hotel freezer in Chicago. My sense of sadness, which is not even sufficient enough of a word to describe it, was amplified by the fact that this was a young Black girl. It was heightened by the fact that I did not learn her name or the horrendous story of her death through national news outlets (at first) that reach and influence millions, but I received the news early last week from Twitter, specifically "Black Twitter." The hurt was felt deeper because there seems to be conflicting stories about what actually happened to her, which is compounded by the perceived complicity of her friends. The sadness then became overwhelming because I understand that what happened to Kenneka is not unusual, and too many either ignore it, try to justify it, or lack the empathy to want to know what exactly happened to this young lady and have whoever is responsible held accountable!
I tried to avoid talking much about Kenneka Jenkins and what happened to her because it triggered something for me. Most of last week I spent disengaged from conversation and then the growing news coverage that came. The trigger for me can be found in the two quotes at the beginning of this post. One of these is an excerpt from one of my favorite songs by the late rapper, poet, actor, and activist Tupac Shakur, "Keep Ya Head Up." This song is an ode to Black Women, as he empathized with the struggle that he had observed many sisters go through. The second quote comes from a speech Ancestor Malcolm X delivered. In that speech, he begs the question, "Who taught you to hate yourself." The highlighted portion I featured here shines a light on the precarious situation that Black African American Women have faced since the the first enslaved Ancestors from Africa were brought to what would become the United States. Black Women have faced racism from white America, sexism from the Black Men who are supposed to love and respect them if no one else does, and they often have dealt with this along with socioeconomic factors that must be considered.
I said all of this to say that what Ancestor Malcolm X said and what Tupac was rapping about is unfortunately true. Black Women and Black girls are too often disregarded, ignored, and discarded like they have no value and are not even human beings. That is what was triggered for me. After being raised by an amazing mother, having a younger sister who is also dear to me, and having experienced nothing but love, nurture, and empowerment from Black Women in and outside of my family, I have a visceral anger about the disrespect and disregard for Black Women and girls that society has deemed as permissible.
Kenneka Jenkins' story highlights the reality that this country and society treats Black Women and girls much differently than white Women and girls. If she were a white girl, especially of any affluence, her story would have been a national one that captured the attention of an entire nation (i.e. Jonbenet Ramsey). This is a well documented reality. Black girls are seen as more adult like than white girls. They also are punished more severely than white girls (insert link here). These are socio-cultural factors that lead to far less news coverage, and that lead to the death of Black girls like her (if in fact someone or multiple people forced her into that freezer).
In addition to all of this, one of greatest reasons I attempted to (temporarily) avoid the conversation and news coverage was social media. People actually attempted to blame her, with statements like, "That's why you should watch the company you keep." This was worthy of vomit! I needed to avoid that to heal my spirit, but I am avoiding it no longer!
I'm here to get answers for what happened to this young girl. I'm here to help lift up the conversation surrounding how we treat Black Women and girls. And I am most definitely here to challenge and eradicate the attitudes and assumptions about Black Women and girls that lead to their mistreatment and erasure!
Peace and Love