On Sunday 22 July, an 18-year-old woman was fatally stabbed on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station platform in Oakland, California.
Her name was Nia Wilson.
The following day, John Cowell (27) was arrested for the attack, which killed Nia and seriously wounded her sister, Latifah. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
In the days since, thousands of people have gathered to mourn Nia’s death and honour her life, and tens of thousands of social media posts tagged #NiaWilson, #JusticeForNia and #SayHerName have swept the internet.
Although the BART Police Chief has reportedly said that there is currently no evidence to suggest that Cowell is part of any terrorist or white supremacist group, Nia’s murder – along with the subsequent police and media response – have reignited national and international debates on race.
Celebrities, artists and all those horrified by the brutal, unprovoked murder of a young woman have been speaking out against the racism, white supremacy and misogyny that – as writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted, “is so deeply embedded within our culture that we marinate in it at every level.”
In the past, when #SayHerName has been used to shine a light on murders of black women, I am ashamed to say that I have stayed silent. I’ve worried that it was not my time to speak, not my space to occupy – worried that I’d say the wrong thing. But I see now that those worries are privileges in themselves, and that the choice to remain silent is one that many women do not share with me when violence and fear remain threads woven tightly through the fabric of their daily lives.
As a white young woman, I cannot call myself a feminist if I don’t express the sorrow and disgust I feel about what happened to Nia with the same outrage, and at the same volume, as I would if a white 18-year-old was murdered where I live. Feminism that is not intersectional is irrelevant, and in this instance, silence is compliance.
What can I do? What can you do?
Firstly, you can donate to the Wilson family’s ‘Justice for Nia’ page. Then…
– Ask yourself what you are doing to disrupt systemic racism, answer honestly.
– Challenge yourself to acknowledge the ways you have personally benefited, and will continue to benefit in the future, from that racism.
– Think about how, as a white person, you can use your words and actions and networks and finances to help make the world a safer place for black people.
– Call out people around you who demonstrate hateful or oppressive behaviour. Stop ignoring racist comments or laughing at racist jokes.
– Read and learn and be willing to change. Listen to people when they tell you about their experiences, while remembering that asking black people to explain racism, or for guidance on how you can help, is asking those already doing the majority of the emotional work to dismantle white supremacy to work even harder and carry an even heavier burden. Do your own work, challenge yourself and those around you.
– Notice when the media uses language to vilify black people, or to excuse white people.
– Educate yourself on the intricacies of white supremacy. Admit to yourself if you find it uncomfortable and difficult then carry on anyway.
– Remember that good intentions are not enough.
We have to do better. We have to stand with black women. Please share any other suggestions you have! None of us are free until all of us are free.
Nia was 18. She deserved a full and long and safe and joyful life. Say her name.