Say her name.
On the night of 22nd July 2018, Nia Wilson was stabbed by a white man and bled to death while exiting BART station in Oakland, California.
Protests erupted over concerns that the police would neglect this murder. These concerns are not unfounded. According to a Washington Post analysis of homicide arrest data on 55,000 criminal homicides over the past decade in 55 of the largest American cities: “ … Black victims, who accounted for the majority of homicides, were the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest. While police arrested someone in 63 percent of the killings of white victims, they did so in just 47 percent of those with black victims … ”
On the other hand, the media were quick to label the perpetrator as “mentally ill” - a term that is often used to describe white men who commit heinous crimes, but fails to make the editorial cut for men of other races in similar positions.
One particular media outlet, KTVU, posted a picture depicting Nia holding a gun. In reality, it was a gun shaped phone case. This misrepresentation by KTVU implied that she was involved in violence, thus enabling audiences to distance themselves from her. There are several wonderful pictures of Nia to choose from and their choice to use that particular photo reflects the criminalisation of black victims to validate existing public bias about them.
The media perpetuates this blinkered perception of victims of violence that is gendered, being white women. The 2007 essay “The Missing White Girl Syndrome” describes how certain victims - typically white, upper middle class, and beautiful - become “worthy” of public fascination. For KTVU, Nia Wilson did not tick these boxes.
The police caught Nia’s attacker after a one-day manhunt. KTVU have since apologised for the incident: see more details in this Daily Dot article.
I wonder if this would have happened had the case had not garnered so much public attention through protests and celebrities such as Anne Hathaway and Viola Davis using their social media platforms to call attention to her death.
The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) has found that black women die by homicide at nearly three times the rate that white women do. The vast amount of public attention and the speedy capture of Nia’s attacker is not an indication of changing times. Unfortunately, it’s the exception that proves the rule.
This notion of being seen as and told that you are “unworthy” because of your skin colour resonates with our Too Much of a Person participants, many of whom have shared their experiences of being told that they are “too black”.
Anne Hathaway’s facebook post below calls out white privilege and urges white people to focus on Nia’s death. Race is not the sole privilege that one can have, but it is an extremely powerful one. The text of her post is reproduced below the image, but here is important sentence:
So, how can you use your privilege it to enable change? An article titled “How to spend your privilege” on The Cut suggests:
Apathy towards these issues is validation of the oppressors’ continued belief that your skin colour determines your “worthiness” to exist in this world. Speak up: use your privilege to enable the change we need. Let’s put an end to the Nias of this world being forgotten.