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Black Women And The Absence of A Benefit Of The Doubt: I Ain't A Woman, Still?

A Black Women in Saraland, Alabama, identified as Chikesia Clemons, was wrestled to the ground by 3 white police officers, breast exposed, threatened to have her arm broken - and white people can be seen in the background of the video still eating their food. No one appears to be outraged that this is happening in this Saraland Waffle House, with the exception of Chikesia's friend who is taping the entire encounter. Even as her breast are being exposed on the filthy Waffle House floor, and as she asks repeatedly, "What did I do?" "You're not telling me what I have done wrong," none of the police officers make a point to answer her question, tell her why she is being arrested, or even, at the very least, consider her humanity and do the basic work of getting this woman off the floor in a way that is respectable and humane.

A thing I notice very often when there are viral videos of black women and girls being harmed is that someone will inevitably find a way to say, “There has to be more to this story.” There is an assumption of black women's guilt above all else. "She must have said something before the cameras started rolling." "She must have done something to deserve this treatment." We see these kinds of discussions about black women and violence in a way that we do not experience it with any group of people. There is a history to this intentional creation of black women as "angry," as "aggressors," or as "able to endure more pain than white women".

In "Black Feminist Thought," Patricia Hill Collins refers to racial and gender stereotypes of this nature as "controlling images." She writes:

As part of a generalized ideology of domination, stereotypical images of Black womanhood take on special meaning. Because the authority to define societal values is a major instrument of power, elite groups, in exercising power, manipulate ideas about Black womanhood. They do so by exploiting already existing symbols or creating new ones... These controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life.

So seeing a black woman wrestled to the ground can appear "natural," "normal," and "inevitable parts of everyday life" proven by the way white folk are in the background continuing their meals like nothing is happening. 

Melissa Harris-Perry writes that this kind of narrative is essentially a "silencing technique." She writes that "The angry black woman myth renders sisters both invisible and mute." In "Too Heavy A Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength," Dr. Chanequa Walker Barnes says, (these silencing techniques) "obfuscates the real, structural causes of the economic, health, and interpersonal struggles of African American women by displacing blame onto Black women themselves."

This is abuse.

This is essentially equivalent to saying that a battered woman must have done something to deserve the abuse she received from her partner. But isn't that a product of cis-hetero patriarchal white supremacy? If we know that women's voices are silenced, in general, then just imagine the ways that a sexist AND a racist society impacts the reality of black women from day to day. Rapper, MuMu Fresh once rapped, "Being a (black) women is like being black twice." There is no maleness to protect black women the way that patriarchy affords black men some form of power over. There is no whiteness to protect black women the way whiteness affords white women some form of power over.

I think about Sojourner Truth, who was an educated woman with a great handle on language, so she likely never said these words - but of black women's inability to be treated, at the very least, with the kind of gentle handling that white women, historically receive from the world - even that of the just being offered the benefit of the doubt, I wonder "...Aint I a woman, yet?" 

 

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EbonyJanice Moore is a womanist scholar and activist doing community-organizing work, most specifically around black women’s body ownership as a justice issue, and equal access to education and pay for women of color in the U.S. and in several African countries. Her research interests include issues pertaining to blackness, woman-ness, and spirituality - most specifically black women's use of spirit, conjure, and/or the supernatural as a tool to impact social justice, and the pluralism of Black Christianity and the interconnectedness of the Southern Black Christian experience with Indigenous African religions and African Spirituality. EbonyJanice has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Political Science, and a Master of Arts in Social Change with a concentration in Spiritual Leadership, Womanist Theology, and Racial Justice. Plus she knows all the words to "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" and mostly wants you to be impressed by that.

 

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