What is wrong with this picture?: The lives of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson and the responsibility of “us” scholars

jackson-and-britney-cosbyIn front of our eyes, we are witnessing the war against “the other.” Not only are our black men being murdered in the name of the destructive “Stand Your Ground” law, but it has recently become evident that black lesbian women remain at the destructive end of violence as well. Sure, there is progress being made in various states regarding same-sex unions. Well, that is what’s happening in the white, liberal society, but in the black, Southern world, black lesbian women are being murdered. Yes, murdered. One woman died of blunt force trauma, while the other was shot to death. That has hate crime written all over it—wouldn’t you agree? This is the reality that black lesbian women in the American South face on a daily basis.

The two young women, Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, were found near a dumpster in Texas early last week.  This information caused mix emotions of expectation and anger.  Ironically, I heard this news while debating on whether I should focus my dissertation research on African-American lesbian women in the South. I then realized that unfortunately, I live in their world. I live in a world where bigotry reigns in the name of “Southern Pride”. When I first started my research, I wanted to focus on the health disparities of African-American women in general. It was important to me to investigate what is making my sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers sick. However, African-American women are not a homogeneous group. In fact, we are very diverse. We have African-American women who are wealthy, poor, middle-class, straight, gay, queer, formally educated, “street smart”, married, single, mothers, aunts, “other mothers”, sisters, artists, businesswomen, etc. If two black women are in the same room, then, nine times out of ten, they do not live the same life.

African-American lesbian women are a diverse population within itself. It encompasses a community of black women who identify themselves as black women who love other women. However, some lesbians live in California, while others live in the American South. Some have been lesbians all their lives, while some “came out” later in their life. Some self-identify themselves in a certain way, whether it be “stud’, “fem”, “aggressive fem”, etc. Some have children, while others do not—like Cosby and Jackson, who both raised a five year old son together. Either way, black women lesbians live in a community that receives a lack of recognition in the public sphere. Their world is “underground” because they are shamed by society. Not only do they battle this “triple oppression” black women face (race, gender, and class), but they also experience the complexities of sexuality. Perhaps this complexity caused the two young women to be brutally murdered and found near a dumpster. The fact that their bodies were destroyed and found in a dumpster symbolizes how their lives were not valued. Not only were they young black women, they were gay black women in the South. Apparently, the only place worth finding them was in the trash.

While I was hesitant about researching health disparities among African-American lesbian women in the South, hearing this news made it more evident that my research needed to be done. I recognized the need to provide a voice for a community that lives within the Southern, Bible belt states. Perhaps doing my research will prevent another young couple from dying in the prime of their life. Maybe I could do my piece of shedding light on why young black people commit suicide? Through my work, I want to share how racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia hinder one’s health. That’s the purpose of the scholar and researcher. We should place a mythical mirror in front of society, probing serious questions regarding social ills. Our purpose is to highlight what is wrong with this world, and how we could fix it. It angers me to my core that these young women most likely died for being themselves. However, their death vindicated my desire to further my research. It reminded me that their stories, as well as the countless stories not told need to be shared. Again, I believe that perhaps my exposure will stop these senseless crimes. For this reason alone, I am no longer afraid to research this population of black women. I no longer live in fear of whether my prospective committee members will “accept” my research. Because, at the end of the day, my research will be important and life saving. All my future research will be in honor of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson. They, and their families, need to know that they did not die in vain. While they were brutally killed and dumped in a trashcan like worthless garbage, their lives are worth investigating.  So we can place that mirror up to society and ask, “What is wrong with this picture?”

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