Ashley Yates has been on the front lines in Ferguson. She was among the thirteen demonstrators—nine women and four men, she points out—arrested in early October while protesting the response to the police killing of Michael Brown. At a recent event about gender and racial justice organizing hosted by Columbia Law School, Yates told the audience that when men in the movement for justice there thank her for standing up for them and for having their backs, she offers this response:
“I’ve got your back and I also have your front and your side,” Yates, an organizer with Millennial Activists United, recounted. “I hope you have mine.” After all, black women are not only themselves victims of police brutality, they also stand shoulder to shoulder with men and lead when it’s time to advocate for change.
Last week’s announcement that the White House will focus on the challenges facing girls and women of color is an attempt to acknowledge this shared struggle across gender lines, a struggle that extends far beyond Ferguson. The move comes after months of criticism that My Brothers Keeper, the White House racial justice initiative announced in February, is fundamentally flawed because it singles out boys and men of color for support and turns a blind eye to the girls and women in those same families, classrooms and communities.
The day the White House announced that it would form a working group to study this demographic it also released a report titled “Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity.” But instead of charting a course of action, it simply outlines everything the administration has already accomplished that may positively affect the lives of women and girls of color. Among these are passing the Affordable Care Act, establishing a campus sexual assault task force, and reforming sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. “The Administration supports numerous efforts to provide STEM opportunities to elementary and secondary school students, including many girls of color,” reads one section of the report, and sentences like this appear throughout. The report is a helpful reminder of various federal initiatives embarked upon in the past six years, but its implicit message is that great strides have already been made for women and girls of color—and that this group doesn’t merit the direct, explicit focus that boys and men of color do.