I became familiar with the story of Recy Taylor in my research efforts for a project I am assembling on the black female form and sexual assault. The late Miss Taylor was raped physically by six white men, but also raped by a system who failed to punish her attackers who after violating her continued to enjoy a life of privilege. But her story is not about them.
A new mother and young wife at the time of her attack, Taylor illustrates the black familial unit attacked by the white male phallus who feels big in disrupting the prodigious presence of the black family. Her attack and the sheer disregard to which she was treated illustrates the black female body as capital.
Recy Taylor’s case proved a harbinger for the 1959 gang rape of Betty Jean Owens, the 1988 gang-rape of Tawana Brawley , and the countless other attacks against black women never reported or not deemed newsworthy. Taylor’s case exposes white male terror as inflicted onto the black female form remains as isolated incidents of a few bad “apples.”
Hearing that Miss Taylor has passed at the age of ninety-seven placed a heavy feeling in my heart. At the risk of judgment, I will acknowledge that his heavy feeling had little to nothing to do with her passing—as death is probably the most natural thing to happen to Miss Taylor since the birth of her child. The heavy feeling in my heart came from knowing that for decades this Miss Taylor had to walk the earth in a body violated by both white men and the system created to normalize white terror by deeming it legal. Taylor’s story reflects the countless black bodies throughout the black diaspora born out out rape, forced to navigate life despite the psychological bruises imbued by the white phallus actualized in person and in law.
The popularized image of Taylor wearing a black veil also proved a psychological bruise to the black collective. It is not the black female form that wears a veil. It is the oppositional gaze that wears a veil, a veil that distorts justice to be any and everything that upholds the white republic.
So while the black female form who lives to be elderly fulfills the American dream to grow old, she does so with wounds inflicted and infested by sorcery of white supremacy who conjure racism as a spell solely reversible in the esteem targeted by every facet of white supremacy. So to live to see ninety-seven granted Taylor an ability to watching her child grow up, but through the same eyes that saw six men take turns entering her body, the same eyes that watched her rapists walk free while she remained imprisoned in the mental aftermath of the cavalier disregard to which the world holds the black female form. To live to see ninety seven, is to die over ninety seven times, to try to keep your head above water for nearly a century as those you love drown, or drift further and further away. I can only hope that Taylor’s transition issues her a peace simply not granted to her in life.
A peace deprived of the black female form that dares to speak up. Taylor’s life is most resonant in illustrating the cost of courage. Taylor did not bear her injustice in silence, she spoke up. She did not simply speak up for herself, but for every black women stifled in fear or systemically silenced throughout the black diaspora. She exposed the evil entitlement white men feel towards the black female form. She illustrates that hashtags like “metoo” still fail to acknowledge the black female victim of sexual assault.
The black woman—a sexual fantasy, a gender hybrid, canvass of misplaced sexual anxiety, is the invisible victim of sexual violence. To acknowledge black female victimhood is to acknowledge the evil that started this country, that populated plantations, that occupied white men on idle evenings, a violent pastime that produced white female privilege and maintained the white male patriarchy that dominates the globe.
Taylor’s story is a true horror story, epitomizing what Hortense Spillers referenced as porno-troping. The pornotroped black female flesh is a captive of the white supremacist gaze resulting in her habitual rape. Taylor’s life is best illustrated as what Spiller articulates “as a category of physical powerlessness that slides into a more general ‘powerlessness,’ resonating through various centers of human and social meaning” (Spillers 67). The individual and collective disregard Taylor experienced as a sexual assault victim deemed her a criminal for what functions as a crime when aligned with white women. Furthermore, Taylor represents black female powerlessness in a system of white supremacy where the black female form remains espoused to her status as property not person.
Thus, while the modern world continues to imply that things “are so much better,” Recy Taylor in life and death unveils the present as the spitting image of the past.
There is a sense of purpose in studying the persistent reality of whites as ruthless in ensuring their dominance remains stagnant. Whites have killed, stolen, raped, and eaten blacks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Taylor’s experience illustrates that there is nothing “they” won’t do to keep “us” down. Simultaneously, suggesting that there should be nothing we won’t do to “keep on” in the spirit of a woman who swam to sure despite the desperate attempts of the tides of white supremacy to drown her.
a living testament to the incomparable black female spirit.
They tried to destroy you-but couldn’t.
You are a hero to us all.
Rest in power, beautiful black woman.
With love and light.
Black Power ❤