Marjorie Taylor Greene’s co-opting of #SayHerName is egregious, but white people do this all the time

OPINION: The Georgia representative’s hijacking of the #SayHerName hashtag is just the latest example of white people stealing a phrase with significant meaning for Black people.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) wears a shirt and button showing slain Georgia college student Laken Riley ahead of President Joe Biden's State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

They want our rhythm, but not our blues. 

I say that a lot in my writing because a lot of my writing highlights the many ways in which (some) white people trip over themselves to co-opt and flat-out steal ideas, phrases, content, dances, music, and anything else Black people have. It is a founding principle of this country; it began with the enslavement and forced labor/wage theft of Black people in the 1600s. 

These days, it takes on forms both big and “small” (small is doing a lot, from commercial ad campaigns for skincare companies to Keith Olbermann running the phrase “Bye, Felicia” into the ground to the author who gets a huge book contract writing stories about predominantly Black characters using stereotypical Black tropes — and it’s later revealed she’s a white woman (she tried to explain herself, but …). 

Marjorie Taylor Greene showing up to the State of the Union address on Thursday evening wearing full MAGA regalia and a T-shirt with “Say Her Name” emblazoned across the front is the latest example of white people going too far when it comes to stealing things from Black people. 

#SayHerName was coined in 2015 by Kimberlé Crenshaw — co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Institute. Crenshaw, who is a civil rights activist and law professor, coined the phrase after the “mysterious” death of Sandra Bland — a Black woman motorist who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody after a questionable traffic stop in Texas. 

Crenshaw told the Associated Press this week that the point behind #SayHerName was to “break the silence around Black women, girls, and femmes whose lives have been taken by police.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene wasn’t wearing her shirt to uplift the name of a Black woman, however. She was wearing it to further politicize the death of nursing student Laken Riley, who was killed in Georgia. The undocumented status of the man accused of killing her has become a hot-button talking point for those on the right who want to criticize President Joe Biden and his border policies. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t really care about Lakin Riley. She is using Lakin’s unfortunate and undeserved death as a prop in her political agenda. It is less about the killing of a young college student than it is about “owning” Joe Biden and making this tragic situation into a contrived statement about the need for more border security. 

Lakin Riley absolutely deserves justice, as does her family; I am not here to diminish that. 

The #SayHerName hashtag, however, was not created for women who look like Lakin, nor was it created for women who die under the types of circumstances under which Lakin’s life was taken. 

White women’s deaths don’t go unanswered or unattended in the same way the deaths of Black women do. White women get all the attention in the media. Yes, Lakin’s story should be heard, but it should not be at the expense of the untold number of Black women’s stories that go unheard.

Politics

Black women are one of the most marginalized groups of people in the United States. We are overlooked, underprotected, unheard, mistreated and misunderstood in so many aspects of American life that simply existing on a daily basis can be an exhausting effort. 

Our needs go unmet. Our cries go unheard. Our humanity is repeatedly overlooked.

So when Marjorie Taylor Greene co-opts the #SayHerName hashtag for the political optics of it all, it diminishes the true purpose of the hashtag, and it is especially insulting because people like Marjorie Taylor Greene are the kinds of folks who objected to us using or having the hashtag in the first place. 

We were criticized for using it in reference to Black women killed by police, but there’s nothing wrong with using it to make the killing of a young white woman a statement on border security policies. 

As Crenshaw said in a statement to AP, “Everywhere, we see the appropriation of progressive and inclusionary concepts in an effort to devalue, distort and suppress the movements they have been created to advance. When most people only hear about these ideas from those that seek to repurpose and debase them, then our ability to speak truth to power is further restricted.”

She added that the appropriation of the phrase “undermines civil rights movements and pushes our democracy closer to the edge. The misuse of these concepts by others who seek to silence us must be resisted if we are to remain steadfast in our advocacy for a fully inclusive and shared future.”

My granny (and my mama, and yo mama and yo granny too, I’m sure) used to always say “We can’t have shit” when it comes to white people, and she was absolutely correct. 

We’ve watched this happen before with the way the word “woke,” which was also created for a specific purpose in the Black community before being bastardized by the same people who didn’t want us using it in the first place. 

It is an endless and repetitive cycle. 

They water down our movements while simultaneously stealing elements of them for their own use and personal gain. 

They. Want. Our. Rhythm. But. Not. Our. Blues. 

Majorie Taylor Greene doesn’t have it in her to be ashamed of her actions, and honestly, why should she?

She is a privileged white woman, in a white privilege society that upholds white supremacy and places an importance on whiteness above all else. 

She likely doesn’t even realize how disgusting it is for her to co-opt #SayHerName. 

We don’t have to let her or anyone else take over this hashtag the way they took over the word “woke.”

Reclaim the hashtag in the same way Maxine Waters reclaimed her time

#SayHerName is for, by, and about Black women. 

Let it stay that way. 


Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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