Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The House on Imperial Avenue

By Wendy Smooth, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies with a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute

Over last week, I’ve experienced a flood of emotions vacillating between shock, outrage, anguish, sorrow and mourning as I watched news outlets report day after day the rising toll of bodies pulled from the Anthony Sowell house in Cleveland. The bodies extracted from the Imperial Avenue house had decomposed beyond recognition. Authorities could tell few things about the bodies and in some instances, only skulls remained.

Each time the news reported “bodies found,” I immediately knew, in that way that knowledge accumulates over time through experience, that these were the bodies of black women. I knew it from the report of the first body found. These were the bodies of the forgotten, the surrendered and they represented the bodies of so many black women over time that have gone unacknowledged. I knew these were the bodies of black women, because we look for white women. Their names ran through my mind like a ticker at the bottom of a CNN newscast, the names of all the missing white women that I knew off the top of my head, as if I had a long established relationship with them. We all are on first name basis with missing white women and girls—Laci, Jon Benet, Natalee, Caylee, Elizabeth… We all know them; we’ve been made to know them.

The house on Imperial Avenue reminded me once again that black women go missing everyday from communities across the country and we seldom hear of them on national news. Families are so often faced with the tragic reality that police, community officials, and media outlets have little resources or interest in looking for missing black women. My colleague Rebecca Wanzo’s new book The Suffering Will Not be Televised takes on this issue chronicling the ways black women’s suffering is so often overlooked and how their stories fail to elicit collective sympathies.

As a black woman, these are chilling realizations. Some might say, but the women of Imperial Avenue were lost to the streets, haunted by demons and battling a myriad of addictions. They were not representative of black women, they are not like you. While these women’s life circumstances were different from my own, they were black women and their realities are linked to my own. My heart mourns for the families who lost their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, lovers and friends at the house on Imperial Avenue. My soul also aches for all of black womanhood as we came face to face with the realities of how deeply black women’s lives are undervalued.

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely right. And why isn't it a hate crime when a black man murders a poor black woman whose family has given up on her?