Dispatch #43 August 16th 2018
Day 658 Post-Ascendency of White Supremacy & Misogyny
Day 583 Post-Installation of White-Supremacist-Misogynist-Pussy- Grabbing-Self-Aggrandizing-Demagogic-Bully-Illegitimate-PeeeOTUS & his White-Nationalist-Fascistic-Christian-Supremacist-Quislings
In her New Yorker Cultural Comment essay, “The Very American Killing of Nia Wilson,” Doreen St. Félix observes:
We now know Wilson, and we will never know her. The details of her killing are particular in their horror, but her death also brings into brutal focus multiple American crises….
…the CDC has found that black women die by homicide at nearly three times the rate that white women do. In the immediate aftermath of Wilson’s killing, some members of her family, and of the larger black community, expressed uncertainty that the police would find her killer at all. Their mistrust was not unfounded; the Washington Post has identified “pockets of impunity” in American cities where police often fail to solve homicides. Oakland has two such clusters. In a 2007 essay titled “The Missing White Girl Syndrome,” Sarah Stillman described how certain victims—typically white, upper middle class, and beautiful—become “worthy” of public fascination. The mourning of Wilson on Instagram and Twitter is a shrewd and agonizing kind of revisionism: the ubiquity of her smiling face reframes our cultural devotion to the innocent and beautiful dead girl, who has not previously been imagined as having brown skin.
There is a blinkered symmetry to the way Americans have been taught to understand violence that is gendered and violence that is racialized: the victims of the former are white women; the victims of the latter are black men. The same violence, when visited upon black women, falls outside the recognizable parameters of victimhood, and thus fails to register.
According to a study by Washington University published earlier this year, black women are more likely than any other demographic to have been unarmed when killed by law enforcement. (The #SayHerName hashtag, which has been used in recent days to mark tributes to Wilson, originated in the summer of 2015, to amplify the outcry over female victims of police brutality.) Black transgender women are murdered at a disproportionately high rate and have an abysmal life expectancy, a fact that is treated as an aberration rather than a systemic ill. As Linda Villarosa reported in the NY Times earlier this year, black women are three to four times as likely as white women to die in childbirth [and twice as like to have low-birth-weight and premature babies www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html]. And violence against black women is an often neglected part of our national history. In April, on the occasion of the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a commemoration of lynching victims, in Montgomery, Alabama, the Yale scholar Crystal N. Feimster, drawing on the journalism of Ida B. Wells, wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times, “When most Americans imagine lynching, they envision the tortured and mutilated body of a black man accused of raping a white woman. They rarely think of a black woman ‘stripped naked and hung.’ ” www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-very-american-killing-of-nia-wilson
Black girls navigating high school in America must struggle every day to survive and surmount the degrading and dehumanizing treatment nourished by white supremacy and misogyny. In Racist and Sexist School Dress Codes Make School Hell for Black Girls, Ashley Reese reports:
It turns out that school dress code policies—which prohibit harmless black cultural signifiers and draw attention and shame to individual body parts—make school disproportionately difficult for black girls. Imagine that!
Researchers at the National Women’s Law Center have released “Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools,” a report about the impact that school dress codes have on black girls’ education, body image, and confidence. Co-authored by 20 black girls who attend or recently attended D.C. public schools, the report unearths the extent to which black girls are asked to leave class or are suspended for defying overly restrictive dress codes.
Black girls are 17.8 times more likely to be suspended from D.C. schools than white girls. One reason for this disproportionate punishment is that adults often see Black girls as older and more sexual than their white peers, and so in need of greater correction for minor misbehaviors like “talking back” or wearing a skirt shorter than permitted. Race- and sex-based stereotypes result in unequal enforcement of rules.
The dress codes examined in the report are also culturally insensitive, often in the hopes of adhering to more mainstream (read: white) views of professional attire. According to the report, 68 percent of D.C. public high schools ban hair wraps or head scarves, a staple in many everyday hairstyles for black girls.
Additionally, girls attending these D.C. middle schools and high schools recounted instances of public shaming by administrators and manhandling as a form of discipline by staff. https://jezebel.com/racist-and-sexist-school-dress-codes-make-school-hell-f-1825514836
In her column, Are Black Girls Unfairly Targeted for Dress Code Violations at School? You Bet They Are, Petula Clark reports on her investigation of the Dress Coded report:
I mostly notice a discrepancy when it comes to body shape, I think, that’s most noticeable to me,” said Fatimah, the School Without Walls senior. “I’m petite; I could be wearing the exact same thing as a friend of mine who is curvier or thicker, and she’ll get dress-coded and I won’t.”
A school official in Virginia was recently telling me this was so obvious in his school system that three girls — all good friends and all different shapes, sizes and colors — wore the same banned outfit to school one day to make their point. And sure enough, the curvier and darker-skinned girls were singled out for a violation; the thin, white girl was not.
All the girls I talked to said the very early messages hammered into them about dress codes teach them to be self-conscious and ashamed of their bodies www.washingtonpost.com/local/are-black-girls-unfairly-targeted-for-dress-code-violations-at-school-you-bet-they-are
Bell Hooks calls out the deadly impact of this ritual degradation imposed on young women.
Shaming is one of the deepest tools of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy because shame produces trauma and trauma often produces paralysis. Bell Hooks www.azquotes.com/author/6871-Bell_Hooks
Brutal structural oppression that leverages both race and gender is a historical legacy in America. In her New York Times Op-Ed title “Ida B Wells and the Lynching of Black Women,” Dr. Feimster discusses how Wells published the first anti-lynching pamphlet, Southern Horror: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, to expose both the terrorism and dynamics of lynching.
In “Southern Horrors,” Wells made clear that white men perpetrated sexual violence against black women, while black men were brutalized by white mobs for having consensual sex with white women. And by showing that only about 30 percent of the black victims of lynch mobs had actually been accused of rape, Wells challenged the idea that lynchings resulted from it.
She argued that the portrayal of black men as rapists put them “beyond the pale of human sympathy.” And she suggested that such a focus concealed the rape of black women. And it gave cover to whites’ violent efforts to rob African-Americans of their rights.
Wells’s genius lay in her ability to flip the script, casting white Southern men as the lustful rapists of black women and the hypocritical murderers of innocent black men. Alone, she was not able to stop lynching. But with the help of other black women, she did put mob violence on the reform agenda and brought to light the rape of black women. www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/opinion/sunday/ida-b-wells-lynching-black-women.html
Dr. Feimster concludes with this unsettling but perhaps predictable observation:
Yet when most Americans remember Wells, they remember her solely as a campaigner against lynching. We hear little of the woman who linked economic exploitation, lynching and sexual violence. Erased is the person who believed that lynching was a way to control white women’s sexuality, especially those who had sexual relationships with black men. Gone is the radical feminist who insisted on women’s rights to sexual justice and equal protection.
Black women theorists and activists created intersectionality in mid-20th century; Wells identified this dynamic 100 years ago when she described the toxic brew of race and gender oppression wreaked on black women in service of wealth appropriation by white men. She also created the foundation for current arguments for reparations with her documentation that lynchings were more often driven by economic reasons.
No wonder her powerful legacy of radical feminism has been erased. Of course this legacy has been erased….overlooked….buried….forgotten.
Young women need to learn about the life and legacy of Woman-Warrior-Ancestor Ida B Wells and be inspired to reject shame. Indeed, Woman-Warrior-Ancestor Audre Lorde encourages all women:
For each of us as women, there is a dark place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises, beautiful and tough as chestnut stanchions against our nightmare of weakness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. www.azquotes.com/Audre Lorde quote/656720