For Toyin Salau

When I first saw that  Toyin Salau was missing I knew she was gone. African girls that go missing don’t get found alive.

Seeing her face made me think about what it was like to be 19 and an African girl. Now I am 34, a leader and a revolutionary, but when I was 19 I was a runaway, queer, homeless, and at any given moment a close call and a bad turn of luck away from going missing and never being seen alive again. So many stories where maybe that was almost the end. I have taken rides from men I didn’t know when lost far from home with no phone. I know what it’s like to feel the night closing in – you realize the last bus is gone and people like you can’t afford cabs and you don’t even KNOW anyone with a car and so you’re walking and walking and walking and a man stops or a car slows down and though you already know to be suspicious, even scared,  the desperation to get off the street and out of the world and into somewhere where you can be warm and safe and just be, just let go, just rest overrides everything. So you go with them. I understand why she made the choice she did. I have many times. It was often only luck and or maybe something watching over me that never let it go another way.

It is a particularly vulnerable thing to be an African girl and this is true in any part of the world. We are cast as sex objects and threats, stupid and insubordinate, obstinate and uppity. The perception is: anything that happens to us is our fault. We don’t know what’s good for us. You can do anything to us really.  We’ll have it coming. This perception exists across contexts, across national, and political, and racial lines – it is a true constant – even in our own communities. And so an African girl’s body – cis, trans, or however that body is configured – is a terrifying body with which to navigate the world for a time. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky. Unless you are one of the too too few that has a family and material conditions that hold and protect you. If you don’t: you are tossed about by the world and by your circumstances, doors shut in your face everywhere, people you don’t know and many you do expect things from you that you don’t understand, look at you with eyes that don’t really see you, take from you what they please. For a time it’s like this with almost everyone, almost constantly, until you find your place and your voice and your people –  as I did with the AAPRP. Then you are saved. Then you can save yourself….

Rest in Power, Toyin Salau

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