“This post sounds like a lot of rationalizing to avoid facing your own markedly egocentric behavior. It’s always about you, and if it isn’t, you make sure to see that it becomes so.” – A commenter on this blog
Writing about race and racialized experiences in mixed racial company at times has become increasingly difficult for me. The reality is that we bring our own personal lens to the table and unfortunately that lens doesn’t always allow us to truly understand someone else’s reality that differs markedly from our own.
This is a personal blog and while I do write often about race, racism and current events, what I write here is filtered through my lens as a Black woman. Unlike work that I have done for publication, in this space I often talk about my personal experiences and while that may be taken as a sign of egomania, the hard reality is that as a Black woman in America, rarely are my words heard. Rarely are the words of any Black woman heard and believed. That uncomfortable truth went national this week with the trial and conviction for former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw.
Daniel Holtzclaw was a police officer in Oklahoma City who intentionally sought out low-income African-American women with criminal records to sexually assault. Women with less-than-perfect backgrounds whose tales would be questioned and frankly, on the whole, not be believed. Holtzclaw is of mixed ancestry (Japanese and White) though from various accounts it appears that he identified as white. Proximity to whiteness makes that possible but that’s a story for another post.
Holtzclaw was accused of sexually assaulting 12 women and 1 teenage girl. Until this week, the case received little in the way of media coverage outside of Black bloggers and writers who for the past year refused to let the story die. Law enforcement officers accused of such misdeeds isn’t all that uncommon an occurrence but the mainstream media’s lack of interest in such an extraordinary case speaks volumes to who we choose to see as victims and who we choose to ignore. Often when one white woman goes missing or is harmed, especially if she is a “good” victim, we are bombarded with the story. Yet 13 Black women/girls were harmed by one rogue police officer in a major-ish city and it’s barely considered newsworthy?
That Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 of the 36 charges against him by an all-white jury is extraordinary given that we know racial bias is often at work on such juries. I suspect that Holtzclaw’s legal team was banking on that reality as well. “After all,” many people would say, “why would a guy like Holtzclaw want to assault women like that?” That few Black women, including yours truly, expected any conviction speaks to the lived reality of just how rarely our words as Black women are heard and believed. When the news of the conviction broke, I cried as did others in my circle but even in rejoicing over the conviction, one can’t help but notice that clearly not all the women were believed.
Several of Holtzclaw’s victims have been quoted as saying that the reason they did not initially contact the police was because they didn’t think that anyone would believe them. In a report by the African American Policy Forum, their research found that Black women were disproportionately sexually assaulted because they were often assumed to be promiscuous and less likely report to the crime. This hearkens back to the days of slavery when white masters sexually assaulted Black female slaves assuming them to be promiscuous anyway. One of the many racial stereotypes against Black women that still endures is that of the Jezebel. Racialized violence against Black women lays at the foundation of the United States. Violence against all women is a problem but there is a very specific type of violence that is specific to the experience of Black women and it is a double attack against both our womanhood and our Blackness. It is often that place where support even from other women (non-Black primarily) is lacking because of the societal hierarchy that often relegates Black women to being less than other women.
As I watch my own daughter start her slow departure from childhood and move a step closer to womanhood I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a Black woman in this society. I think about how often I have had to fight to be heard and to be validated as a human, and just how tiring it is. I think about how even in this space, I am not heard and in the grand scheme of things, it sounds rather minor until I realize the weight of it all. The enormity of constantly struggling for a voice in a world that wishes you would cease to exist, a world where solidarity is not for you. It’s too much for a body yet for the bodies that look like mine, it is our life.
Yet tonight, I take solace that for once, the words of a Black woman were heard and that a man will pay for his racialized violence against Black women. In this moment, that is enough. To know that we were heard.
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