Treva B. Lindsey’s ‘America, Goddam’ Explores How State And Sexual Violence Impact Black Women

Invoking #SayHerName, this new book fuses together history, data and first-person stories to envision a world free of violence.
Author Treva B. Lindsey
Author Treva B. Lindsey
Courtesy of Treva B. Lindsey

It’s no secret that Black women are caught in the crosshairs of violence — not just when encountering the police, but in our own communities and homes. Despite Black Lives Matter being sparked by three Black women, the movement’s efforts often center on the lost lives of Black men and boys. Meanwhile, women such as Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau and Riah Milton receive a fraction of that same support, outrage and empathy.

Who is saying their names? Most importantly, why does it seem like their lives matter less?

In Treva B. Lindsey’s new book, “America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, And The Struggle For Justice,” the Ohio State professor not only says their names but also provides readers a rich fusion of history, data and eye-opening personal experiences to tell a 100-year-plus story about how and why the complicated violence we encounter exists and the factors and structures that uphold and benefit from that violence.

Looking at slavery, intracommunal violence, medical mistreatment and poverty, Lindsey explores how the intersections of capitalism, anti-Blackness and misogyny are a constant force in Black women’s lives, but she also carves out space for hope and what freedom can mean for Black women — the right to live “a liveable life” in America.

HuffPost sat down with Lindsey to discuss what prompted her to write about Black women and violence, sexual assault by the hands of police, and how, despite everything, she continues to stay hopeful.

Can you explain the title “America, Goddam” and its connection to Black women and violence?

Nina Simone’s music is always a place I go to when I’m writing and thinking. I changed the book’s title to this because her song “Mississippi Goddam” just spoke to me in a certain way. She’s laying out all these different places where harm is happening, and in my book, I’m looking at the history of the U.S. and the harm we face. It’s not just in one state or the South, but everywhere. When I hear about another rape, another sexual assault, another serial predation, my reaction is “Goddamn.”

Nina’s also calling out what’s happening to Black folks in the ’60s, and identifying the struggle and protest. Meanwhile, I’m calling out what’s happening now and what has been happening. As long as we have a “goddamn” response to what America does, we will be warring against that.

And I would love a world in which we’re not at war, but we’re deep in it right now. Like the song, the book is hard and melancholy and lays out the history and the stakes. But there’s also a fire that undergirds it all and believes that Black people will grow and persevere.

Why was this the book you wanted to write now?

The book I was supposed to write was about Black women, the ’90s and hip-hop soul, but the idea of the violence we face kept me up at night. Part of this was going back to what the words were telling me, what the stories were telling me, what my convictions were telling me, and whether I felt equipped to write the book. This book just felt inevitable, even though I didn’t want to do it, sit with it or deal with it. But I started writing it anyway and made sure to ask myself hard questions because these topics are very heavy.

How do you do this type of project without exploiting the tragedy? How do you tell these stories and invite people in without their trauma? No shade to anyone else, but there’s a tendency to do this work and do it in a way that I don’t think is necessarily ethical or accountable. I wanted to approach this differently.

"America, Goddam" by Treva B. Lindsey
"America, Goddam" by Treva B. Lindsey
University of California Press

The heaviness is real. Whenever Megan Thee Stallion’s name is trending, especially around Tory [Lanez], I get a pit in my stomach. I know not to look, but I have to, even if it makes me feel hopeless. We can’t walk away from the grasp misogynoir has on our lives.

These topics are so heavy, but we have to talk about them. Ignoring them isn’t going to make it all right. I talk a bit about Megan in the book, but it physically and emotionally hurts watching it unfold in real time. It’s hard to see people lining up to discount her, call her a liar, and then rally around the person she has alleged harmed her in robust and powerful ways. They are bringing up his name because they want to defend him, not because he is a fantastic artist, but because they merely want to defame her.

With this in mind, the book was an attempt at a radical kind of honesty, especially in the chapter about intracommunal violence, which was the most challenging chapter to write. I had to be forthright about what it means to endure violence and unequivocally protect those who harm us silently. There’s not just a cost to that for us, but one for Black men and boys, too. Patriarchy kills all of us. I wish more of us, including sisters who defend abusers, could see that and want to divest and dismantle it.

The other difficult part in writing about this type of violence is that I’m calling in people who I love. I’m calling in people that I feel should be writing alongside us. But I also know this book couldn’t exist if I didn’t talk about violence against Black women and girls and not include it.

One of the most powerful points you make in the book is the idea of our homes being such a potent source of danger for Black women, especially when it comes to police violence. For us, it’s not just about being pulled over on the streets.

Absolutely, it’s mind-blowing. When I think about the police violence so many Black women encounter, I think of how much of that happens in our homes — the private sphere we don’t see in the public. We don’t see that as structuring the public ways we think about anti-Black violence or the logic of white supremacy operating. But the home is never right, whether that’s coming from inside it or those entering. So whether it’s Aiyana Stanley Jones being asleep on the couch and the police killing her during a failed raid, or Breonna Taylor being asleep in her bed next to her partner and being killed, again on a failed raid. Or Atatiana Jefferson being home and a neighbor thinking something was wrong. Or Deborah Danner, or Tanisha Anderson, and we can go on and on in terms of how the home becomes this visceral site for police violence.

Then, we have to look at the home and how over 90% of Black femicides are perpetrated by someone that this Black woman or girl knew. The home is dangerous; the home is unsafe. What home can be for Black girls and women becomes thrown into this chaos because it’s both an external and internal battle not to be rendered vulnerable to fatal or irreparable harm.

You also address that police violence against Black women isn’t only being shot or killed. It also includes sexual assault. Why was that an important point to make?

It is so important, yet we don’t talk about it enough. I wrote a three-part series for Cosmo about ex-police officer and predator Daniel Holtzclaw, who was convicted of sexually assaulting Black women and girls. He knew who to prey on: the ones who were criminalized for drug addiction and other minor offenses, and their ages range from 17-year-old young girls to women in their 50s. Sadly, these are not uncommon instances. Sexual misconduct is the most significant police misconduct among women, specifically targeting Black women and girls. This includes everything from asking people to remove their tampons or being sexually assaulted while being pulled over.

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of the book for me was writing about my own encounter with sexual violence and policing, which I had never talked about before outside of my therapist. It was hard to say I have a #MeToo moment, but you realize that you’re not alone. What I encountered was not an exceptional experience but rather one that is indicative of how sexual policing is happening throughout this country. While Holtzclaw is an exceptional case because we got the trial, a conviction and sentencing, there are certainly more cases that we never hear about.

Even though your book tackles these dark themes, you make sure to talk about hope, calling it a “discipline.” With everything Black women face, how do you stay hopeful?

Hope resides in that active practice that I’m engaging in daily. The good news is that so many of us are doing the work — writing books or articles, organizing, creating films and art, building community — to interrupt and intervene in violent encounters. I believe in these possibilities because we’ve seen what our ancestors accomplished. And one day, we will be ancestors, and the work we do will answer the question: What is the world we want to leave behind? What we create, imagine, envision, and love despite everything is hopeful. Had all that been crushed and beaten out of us, I would lose hope. But every day, I wake up with reasons to believe in us.

You end the book with this beautiful letter to Ma’Khia Bryant, the young girl in foster care killed by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer in 2021. What urged you to do that?

Everything was set for production, and the same day the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict came in was the day Ma’Khia was killed. And I sat at home processing. Not just as a writer, historian or professor, but as a Black woman who lives in Columbus, who is connected to the communities feeling the brunt of this child’s killing. What does it mean to shape a world that cares for Black girls like Ma’Khia in the foster care system, which rips Black families apart at unprecedented rates? Or to feel that the only option was to call the police, who we know don’t serve Black girls well.

I also thought a lot about her TikTok videos, laying down her edges, and those sweet moments. She should be here, but also, her name should be part of this project. So, I immediately emailed my editor, “I don’t know how, but this has to be in there, and I am not even sure what that means, but if you give me a week and pause production, I can figure it out.” Thankfully, my editor said, “Of course.” The letter is about her life, the possibilities of what she could have achieved had she lived, and the recommitments I have to take on in her name, even when it gets hard, because there’s no justice for her.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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