The De-Feminization of the Black Woman
Within the past week I’ve seen CNN report on two separate instances where a male law enforcement officer has been caught on video beating a Black woman. I’m not talking about a light slapping or shoving, even though that would also be inappropriate; I’m talking about a man wrestling, punching, and manhandling a woman in something similar to an MMA or UFC cage fight. The words “difficult” and “horrifying” don’t even begin to describe how tough it was nor the emotions that I felt watching both videos. It was shocking to say the least.
What was more shocking, however, was, both, the justification given for this violence and the seeming lack of outrage over these incidents. Ironically, both incidents involved pedestrian jaywalking. Pause, and let that marinate in your mind for a moment. Yes, I said jaywalking, not murder, drugs, or any act of violence or terrorism, but jaywalking is the crime that prompted such a violent response from the White male law enforcement officers. I make a distinction, here, because I believe that it is relevant. In both cases, the law enforcement officer held a distinct size advantage over the woman, besides the fact that the officers were male and both citizens were females.
In both cases, the person introducing the news story warned viewers of the horrific nature of the videos before airing them. It is immediately clear from the videos that both cases involved the use of excessive force, yet the anchors and the organizations responsible for the officers both maintained a falsely objective stance when discussing the actions of the officer(s). They even seemed to side with the officers in speaking of each case in its totality, thus prompting my use of the term “falsely objective.”
In the first case, which involved a doctoral-level university professor who was jaywalking as she walked home from the university after teaching her evening class, the university stood behind the officer, even going as far as to issue a statement on the officer’s behalf. Both the officer and the professor were both employees of the university, but no such support was given to the university professor even though a video clip of the officer literally slamming the 5’2″ woman into the ground was visible proof of his aggression.
The second incident, occurring on a California highway, was so similar to the first that it looked like a copycat case. Again, a Black woman was accused of jaywalking and approached by an officer. Again, the officer slammed the woman into the ground without being physically provoked. This time, however, the officer went a step further, punching the woman in the face and also repeatedly slamming her head onto the concrete. Again, the organization in charge of the officer issues a statement in support of the officer in the face of visible evidence that suggests otherwise.
This doesn’t end the similarities between both cases. Additionally, both cases failed to even address the severity with which the officers defended a somewhat minor traffic violation. Now, I want to be clear; I do believe in following the law. In fact, I’m often teased by those who know me because I am a staunch rule-follower and am often annoyed when people don’t follow the rules. I do, however, believe that the punishment for violating said rules should fit the crime, and in both cases, such was not the case. Getting caught jaywalking by an officer should never result in getting the living day lights beaten out of you. There’s no justification for that, especially if there was no violence to or endangerment of the officer during the initial confrontation.
In the interest of objective journalism, I will also share that the university professor did kick the officer that punched her and slammed her on the ground AFTER she was restrained and placed in handcuffs, which was also after he had repeatedly beaten her. There was, however, NO VIOLENCE from her (nor the other woman in the second incident) BEFORE being physically assaulted by the officer. This prompts me to ask the question that no one seems to want to address, the proverbial elephant in the room. Why do these law enforcement officials believe it’s ok to use such brute force on Black women for such minor infractions?
I ask this question out of sincerity and not out of a desire to be a shock jock. I have seen, throughout my life, a huge disparity in the way that Black women are treated in American society, as opposed to other women. I wrote an article earlier about Black beauty and Eurocentric standards where I addressed some of these same concerns. In essence, because Afrocentric features and cultural practices are almost the polar opposite of Eurocentric features and cultural practices, Black women aren’t valued on the same scale as others in American society.
This valuation system pervades every area in society. For example, in terms of beauty, Black women aren’t celebrated as beautiful to the extent that White women or non-White women who possess European features are because of Eurocentric standards of beauty in America. This belief also affects how the American psyche views Black femininity.
Again, because Black women are seen as the polar opposite of that which is beautiful, that which is European, Black women are often assigned a harder, de-feminized, and pseudo-masculine role in American society. In short, America has created an image of the Black woman that is hard, harsh, and manly, while women that have European descent and/or features are preserved as soft, delicate, and in need of protection.
This is not to say that women should be seen as weak and defenseless. It is, however, a statement about the injustice and discrimination that Black women must face within a society that has characterized Black women as less than women, as brute and evil monsters who deserved to be attacked for even the smallest indiscretions. In watching these news programs, I had to ask myself, “Would the response from the officer had been the same if the citizen would have been a White woman?” Sadly, my answer was a firm and honest, “No.” Why…because the American psyche sees White women as soft and delicate, as a prize needing to be treasured and protected. This is not to say that White women don’t experience discrimination, but it is not the kind of discrimination that would result in over-aggressively violent responses by an officer for jaywalking.
Black women in America, however, are not seen in this delicate light. Black women in the collective American conscience are seen as slightly (if at all) above animals. If you think that I’m spouting conspiracy theories, look at how the media characterizes First Lady Michelle Obama. Even though she has been tapped as a fashion icon, the media repeatedly attempts to paint her as an angry, almost animalistic figure. She is almost never characterized as soft and feminine even though she is the first First Lady since Jackie O, decades earlier, to be painted as a notable fashion icon. Why…because that does not fit into the role played by Black women in the American narrative. It is this same narrative that allows Black women to be beaten, unjustly and unmercifully, without the collective outcry of her fellow countrymen. Why…because she is not viewed as a woman and thus not afforded the same sympathy and protection of her counterparts.
It is truly sad that near the time when America celebrates its independence, it still holds some of its earliest inhabitants captive. I guess American society is less like utopia and more like Animal Farm. All Americans are free, but some are more free than others.