Black womanhood under attack…a wild week

“As Black people, if there is one thing we can learn from the 60s, it is how infinitely complex any move for liberation must be. For we must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves. Through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision. Not to condemn that vision but to alter it, construct templates for possible futures, and focus our rage for change upon our enemies rather than upon each other.” – Audre Lorde

The past week has been a very wild ride for Black women in America as we watched a strange confluence of events involving Black womanhood and how our bodies are viewed in this culture. The week started off with the now viral story of the McKinney, Texas pool party where Dajerria Becton, a 14-year-old Black teenager, ended up being manhandled and assaulted by police officer Eric Casebolt. To recap, a party was being hosted by a young Black woman in a predominantly white subdivision, apparently too many non-white bodies showed up, local white residents verbally accosted some of the guests and eventually called in law enforcement as they were convinced that the Black bodies on the premises were holding space illegally.

What followed was a clusterfuck of events that included a cop doing a barrel roll through a very “dangerous” group of young Black teens armed with bathing suits. Apparently the teens unsure of what crimes they had committed, spoke up or…depending on who tells the story…”mouthed off” to the cops, clearly not knowing that daring to speak up or speak out to law enforcement is a criminal violation of our great police state.

However, in a video that has been seen by many, we see a very young teenage girl in fear of a police officer who in the heat of the moment disregarded the fact that he was dealing with a child. Instead of letting her words, annoying or not, roll off him, he ends up whipping her around by her hair, eventually slams her to the ground where she ends up face down on the pavement with his full weight on her back, knee planted on her spine for several minutes.

This story probably would not have made it to the national conscience had it not been for the fast thinking of a young white teenager who upon noticing that all his Black and Brown peers were being rounded up and shackled…oops handcuffed…decided to film the happenings with his phone.

The disgraced officer has resigned, and for many that is enough since we now know that the officer had been “having a bad day.” A day so bad that apparently a young teenager not obeying him was all it took for him to lose his shit. I guess we should be glad he didn’t let out any rounds especially since at one point, the officer is shown running around with his gun in his hand and drawing it on a pair of unarmed teens at one point. One can never be too cautious when dealing with bathing-suit-clad teenagers who happen to be Black. They might pull out guns from thin air.

Of course, in many pieces written about this horrific event, while the focus has been on the police officer, few have considered the implications of his actions on Dajerria Becton. To be treated in such a way, to have her name, her story and her body spread across the media landscape. In a piece that came across my desk, Becton’s attorney reports that the girl is struggling with eating and sleeping in the aftermath of this event. Um…yeah, she was brutalized and her humanity denied in a public venue. I think such events might start to affect one’s eating and sleeping; however, we live in a world where Black girls and women are rarely seen as humans worthy of feelings, so there are many voices ridiculing her claims while defending the psychological distress claim by the officer, who wasn’t brutalized or put in danger at all.

In pondering the aftermath of this story and reading some of the pieces written about it along with the comments (never read the comments. Never) I was transported back to my own youth. The feelings of being utterly invisible outside of my family, the subtle and not-so-subtle signals that society sends that to be Black and female is to be a lot less of a real person than other people. To be admired for our “strength” but to rarely ever be acknowledged as a human with feelings even in spaces with other girls and women. To be asked to always stuff ourselves down to our own eventual detriment and almost certain early demise as our bodies eventually break down under the weight of these stressors and a clear lack of support.

Just as I was pondering this week’s piece for this space, the Rachel Dolezal story broke. On the surface, it’s a silly little tale but in reality it is anything but silly. Rachel is a white woman who has turned herself into a biracial Black woman and created a career as a civil rights leader, instructor of Black studies and artist. Turns out Dolezal attended a historically Black college, married a Black man and frankly was living the middle class Black dream in the Pacific Northwest. However, her parents…her very white biological parents…decided enough was enough and went public about Rachel’s deception. At this point the story is still unfolding so who knows what’s next but what I do know is in reading up on Dolezal, her deception is anything but a laugh to me. This is a woman who taught classes in all aspects of Africana history including the struggles of Black women.

To study the struggles of Black women on any level is to understand the role colorism plays in Black life. Thanks to the racialized history of this country, dark-skinned Black women have occupied the lowest rungs in our society, yet to be a light-skinned, nearly (or completely) white-appearing Black woman is to occupy the perceived sweet spot in Black life and to the larger world. For a woman who spent time at a historically Black college and would later go on to teach the struggles of Black women, there is no way that Dolezal could not know what she was doing. As a quote on author and scholar bell hooks Facebook fan page said: “Why waste time being at the bottom of a lengthy hierarchy of white women, when you can be fast tracked to the top of the hierarchy of Black women?”

Dolezal’s actions aren’t simply internet fodder for a good laugh but rather another in a long line of attacks and slights that are leveled against Black women and girls. She skimmed the cream of Black womanhood to advance her own personal agenda and in a day and age when Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty and  other unpleasantries. Many are speculating that Dolezal might suffer from mental illness, that this still does not absolve her from the impact of her very calculated actions which have included making numerous reports of being the victim of hate crimes due to her “blackness.” As someone who has received death threats as a result of my work, I know all too well how hard it is to be taken seriously by law enforcement when these threats occur. If her claims are false, as many have asserted (and which seems pretty likely), that makes it harder for those of us with legitimate claims.

It seems that while Black Lives Matter has become a call to action, we need to inject that Black Women and Girls Lives Matter too. For if they start to matter to more people than just other Black women and girls, perhaps the larger culture will realize that we are more than strength, we are complex humans capable of the full range of the human experience. Perhaps then attacks on us whether at the hands of the police or white women who leverage their white privilege to ascend to the top of Black womanhood will start to outrage everyone.

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2 thoughts on “Black womanhood under attack…a wild week”

  1. Shay, i am so glad to find your essay today. I am mortified and disgusted that national womens’ organizations did not stand up for Dajerria Becton (doing so days later is even worse). And your perspective on Rachel Dolezal was enlightening for me to say the least.

    In my lifetime, the women’s movement has never concerned itself with the monstrously different obstacles black women face compared to white women. I will never forget the moment I fully understood the difference between being a white woman and a black woman in America.

    I hope I learn a lot here and become a better ally, a better woman, and a better person.

  2. I would just note one little thing, that bell hooks doesn’t have a facebook page (that is a fan page) since I saw & reposted the same quote ~ and then read the comment thread where they said so.

    Thanks for this article! It was great and draws the two incidents together and a very long & arduous week for black women, girls, and people everywhere.

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