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Misogynoir holds Black women to higher standards. Why activist Tamika Mallory is unbothered by her critics

Summary List Placement"Arrest the cops. Charge the cops. Not just here in Minneapolis," social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory decried during her fiery speech last year following the murder of George Floyd, Jr. by Minneapolis police officers.  Flanked by a mix of community leaders, actors, entertainers and athletes, the activist called on prosecutors to "charge them in every city across America where our people are being murdered." That speech later, having lit up the internet, inspired "State of Emergency: How We Win the Country." The exposure also kicked off a year catapulting the progressive even more into the two sides of...

Tamika Mallory speaks into a microphone with a bright purple screen behind her.

Summary List Placement

“Arrest the cops. Charge the cops. Not just here in Minneapolis,” social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory decried during her fiery speech last year following the murder of George Floyd, Jr. by Minneapolis police officers. 

Flanked by a mix of community leaders, actors, entertainers and athletes, the activist called on prosecutors to “charge them in every city across America where our people are being murdered.”

That speech later, having lit up the internet, inspired “State of Emergency: How We Win the Country.” The exposure also kicked off a year catapulting the progressive even more into the two sides of fame.

Although “State of Emergency” provides an unadulterated perspective on race and justice in America – imploring readers to understand the pathways toward real change, it gets personal exploring how the 41-year-old Harlem native and mother of a son fits in the world of activism, where the spectrum of respectability politics is wide.

She’s fully embracing celebrity, and the controversy that can come along with it – an opportunity seldom afforded Black women.

“If you’re looking for the Tamika Mallory that’s politically correct, and or only on one side of the track – whichever one that is that you may love – you’re not going to find me there,” she told Insider.

Mallory is embracing the controversy that comes with celebrity

From left, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour attend the TIME 100 Gala in April 2017.

Kicking off that theme, the forward veers from traditional one-person reflections to feature a conversation between two iconic Black women some consider opposite sides of that spectrum: activist and educator Dr. Angela Y. Davis, and hip hop superstar Cardi B.

The former exotic dancer-turned-reality-TV-sensation, now chart-topping rapper asks, “Is there room for someone like me?” Before the famed civil rights activist welcomes her with open arms, assuring her she is needed in the movement.

It’s Mallory’s favorite highlight. Black Americans throughout 2020 have called out institutions for their racism, demanding not just seats at tables of performative inclusion, but convening rooms that work toward justice and equality.

She told Insider that with the leader she aspires to be, at the tables she’ll “convene, Cardi would feel as comfortable standing next to Dr. Davis as any other scholar.”

“A person who twerks is as relevant in this movement as a person who’s the scholar, she told Insider. “The one who may be a janitor is not less relevant or more valuable to our work, than a pastor of a church, a doctor, a lawyer.”

“Everybody is needed at the table.”

But her outspoken style of activism does come at a cost, both personally and professionally. Long before co-founding the historic Women’s March, Mallory had increasingly become the subject of scorn from critics. 

If you’re looking for the Tamika Mallory that’s politically correct … you’re not going to find me there.

The backlash bubbled over following her appearance on the 2021 Grammy Awards. The activist delivered a rendition of “State of Emergency ” during the interlude of rapper Lil Baby’s performance. 

Soon after, Samaria Rice – the mother of Tamir Rice who was killed by Cleveland police officers while playing with a replica toy gun in 2012 – openly referred to her as a “clout chaser” and “a bitch,” in a Facebook post calling out the performance. 

Rice doubled down on her rebuke in a scathing official statement, criticizing prominent leaders, including Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt as well as Mallpry – demanding they “step down, stand back, and stop monopolizing and capitalizing our fight for justice.”

Mallory told Insider she was taken aback by the attack – contending she has never worked with Samaria Rice nor used her son in any kind of campaigning. Instead, the activist said she is proud to have the blessings of other mothers of the movement, matriarchs whose offspring were also killed by law enforcement officials.

“The families that I’ve actually worked with and been close to support me and will tell you that I’ve never utilize the children and or exploited their children in any capacity, and also that they support me and would like for me to continue to do the work that I have been doing alongside them,” she said.

She also defended her performance, rejecting accusations of “grifting” or profiteering from Black trauma, pain, and death, insisting  “it wasn’t a speech that was simply about police brutality, or about the loss of life, or for young Black men and women who’ve been killed.” 

“My speech was a result of racial justice,” she argued. “For anyone to say that I don’t have the right to speak on behalf of racial injustice in this nation is actually outrageous. I think all of us are obligated to use any space that we can to talk about racial injustice.” 

“All of us have the right to be experts, if you’re Black in America, on all of those issues,” she furthered. 

Mallory says Black, female activists are held to higher standards

Civil rights activist Tamika Mallory (C) of Until Freedom speaks during a press conference at Jefferson Square Park on September 25, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mallory – who also recently drew condemnation for appearing in a Cadillac promotional campaign – isn’t’ shy about attributing the backlash to another institution plaguing America: “misogynoir” – or the unique discrimination and mistreatment Black women face on account of racism and misogyny.

She contends that, in some parts, Black women are held to different standards. Criticism is therefore harsher when levied toward female activists on the front lines.

“To be a woman who is a leader, there is definitely always going to be even more scrutiny,” she said.

Now that the book – with its poetic prose – is out in the world, the truth to power speaker is looking forward to further expanding her movement in a peculiar landscape.

The woman former president Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett called a “leader of tomorrow,” is committed to forging a new kind of activism, one responsive to the digital and celebrity-focused climate that garnered the unrest of 2020.

Reality TV is one frontier that she’s immersed in thanks to Mona Scott Young’s wildly popular “Love & Hip Hop” franchise. Young, engaged and internet savvy people are who she says are needed in the movement.

“Those groups like that are our actual audience,” she detailed. “And I keep doing this work, because I’m looking at people who have less resources and less information, but they are the ones who are actually pushing for the most change.”

The COVID-19 survivor, who also battled an addiction to prescription medications on the heels of breaking ties the Women’s March organization, is working on an outline of her very own memoir – more focused on the personal life experiences of the “girl from Harlem.”

Not what’s next, the path she told Insider the path she forges will center and celebrate Black women in all their complexities so long as there are barriers that limit them.

“I don’t know what else is in the future, I do it,” Mallory said, wrapping up the interview.  “We still don’t have justice so I will keep doing this work for the long haul, probably something that I would actually go to my grave.”

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