The extreme and enduring differences in murder rates between Black and white women in the United States have been highlighted in a new analysis published in The Lancet medical journal. The new report, experts and activists note, serves as an eye-popping reminder of Malcolm X’s well-known observations on the struggles Black women in America endure.

In one of his most famous lectures delivered over 60 years ago, Malcolm X declared, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Those words continue to echo today and are especially meaningful as this new data has revealed disturbing trends in violence against Black women.

The Lancet’s report, released as African Americans observe Black History Month 2024, analyzed homicide rates among Black women aged 25 to 44 across 30 states. The study, based on data collected between 1999 and 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlights a stark reality: Black women in this age group are disproportionately murdered compared to their white counterparts.

In 2020, the homicide rate among Black women was 11.6 per 100,000, a stark contrast to the rate of 3 per 100,000 among white women. This disparity has remained virtually unchanged since 1999, prompting concerns about the efficacy of ongoing efforts to address racial and structural inequities.

The study revealed disturbing trends at the state level, with racial inequities in homicide rates increasing in 11 states since 1999. Wisconsin emerged as the state with the highest racial inequity, where Black women aged 25–44 were 20 times more likely to die by homicide than their white counterparts in 2019 and 2020.

In Alaska, Black women had three times the homicide rate of white women from 1999 to 2003, and twice the homicide rate of white women from 2019 to 2020. Of the 30 states included in the analysis, eight states (Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas) had no change in the disparity across the 20 years of inclusion. In six states (Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, Alaska, and Virginia) the disparity decreased, with the largest decrease in Maryland, where the homicide rate among Black women was four times higher than among white women from 1999 to 2003, decreasing to two times higher from 2019 to 2020. For 10 states (Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin), the disparity increased. 

One of the key findings of the research is the increase in firearm-related homicides, with women in the USA having more than two times the odds of firearm-involved homicides from 2019 to 2020 compared to 1999 to 2003. This trend is disproportionately concentrated among Black women in every region of the country.

“Notably, Black women are murdered six times more often, on average, than their white peers,” the researchers wrote. “Further, Black women residing in the Midwest and Northeast were more likely to be killed with a firearm than Black women residing in any other area of the country. Importantly, we found the greatest inequities are in areas of the country where concentrated disadvantage is pronounced. This finding is a crucial initial step towards developing targeted solutions to reduce inequitable homicide rates among Black women.”

The researchers stressed the urgent need for action to address these disparities, suggesting that enacting federal legislation to reduce gun access is a crucial step. Additionally, they have urged policymakers to tackle long-standing structural factors contributing to elevated gun violence by implementing sustainable wealth-building opportunities, developing mixed-income and affordable housing, and increasing green spaces in communities where Black women predominantly reside.

Lead author Bernadine Waller, a postdoctoral psychiatry research fellow at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, expressed her disappointment at the lack of comprehensive research on this issue. Waller emphasized the devastating impact of high homicide rates on families, especially considering that many Black families have women as heads of households.

Approximately 45% of Black women have experienced stalking and physical and sexual violence in their lifetimes, with an estimated 51% of Black female adult homicides related to intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The Lancet’s report underscores the urgency of addressing deeply entrenched issues to ensure the safety and well-being of Black women in America.

“Our findings underscore pervasive racial inequities in homicide rates among Black and White women aged 25–44 years across 30 US states between 1999 and 2020,” the authors concluded.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored two major biographies, including “Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s Mother.”