Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Black women are precious

I love hearing Black women laugh.

I was leaving the gym yesterday and I walked into a car (um, still building the stamina for hour long classes). The car jerked to a stop and there were two smiling sisters waving at me, but also not paying attention to me as they were caught up in their own conversation. They were giggling, one of them said, "okay, play the song" and they continued to laugh as they drove away.

I was struck by the interaction. There wasn't anything out of the ordinary about it. Under normal circumstance, I wouldn't have given it much thought. But, because of the events of the past two days: Sharmeka Moffitt was set on fire, number one and most important, and the perpetrator of the violence came into question. Because of these events, those two women, their smiles, their laughter made me stop and pause. If you haven't heard, earlier this week, Sharmeka Moffitt was set aflame while she was out for a jog in a park in Winnsboro, Louisiana. Initially, she claimed that three men in white hoodies doused her and set her on fire. The FBI hesitated on declaring it a hate crime--you know, a Black woman's body being set on fire (let me repeat: set. on. fire.) while her car is scrawled with the words KKK and Nigger isn't enough to equal hate crime. Yeah, we'll get back to you on that. Quickly, news surfaced that Moffitt, in fact, set herself aflame. Now, we call it a hate crime, as in the recent headline "Sharmeka Moffitt may have faked hate crime." Now, it's a hate crime. Now someone has done something wrong.

Look, this is all too stunning and heartcrushing to really write a full on critique of the media or go into the ways that racism has structured not only the media and federal response to Moffitt, or her setting herself ablaze at all.

This is racism. This is what racism looks like. This is what racism does.

That's all I got. But, I want you to hear it (and by you, I mean me too). Sharmeka Moffitt is not crazy. She is not an attention seeker. She is not someone who hates white people or is racist against white people. She does not hate the KKK (I do, so come at me if you will, gladly).

No, she's a Black woman living in the U.S. Not the U.S. South, although that's where she is physically, but in. the. U.S. And this was her response.

I'm not going to speak for Sharmeka Moffitt, because I can't and I wouldn't dare. But, I will say that this is a response. And it speaks to how confused people are about racism in this particular moment--that it's not as bad as it was, that it doesn't exist, that any feelings oppressed people have as a result of systemic, lifelong encounters with racism and being born in a racist society are our own problems, our own inability to turn the other cheek. Maybe Moffitt's response can be read as that, as  a response to that kind of organized denial and resistance. Maybe.  And we've seen this response before. Years ago, Tawana Brawley, a teenaged Black girl from New York was found with the words KKK and Nigger written on her feces covered body after being raped by six men, including police officers. Later, Brawley was accused of making up the entire incident (a charge she maintains is untrue) and was simply a girl trying to avoid the violence of her mother and stepfather, who were consistently abusive towards her.

I was a teenager myself, 16, when Tawana Brawley was found. And I remember following the case intently, every chance I got. I couldn't articulate why it was so important to me at the time--the media attention, the supporters on both sides, the images of Brawley in the news--I was just drawn to it and needed people to hear her. And it stuck (sticks) with me. I was moved and thankful when Mookie walked away from the brick wall in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and, on the wall, were the words "Tawana Told the Truth" in white, chalk letters. Because she did. She told the truth. The truth about her experience. The truth about the violence in her life. She had a response. And, like Moffitt, it is a response that is a call to action. A call for all of us to remember:

Black women and girls are precious. All of us. Every single Black woman you know. Every one that you see. Sharmeka Moffitt. Tawana Brawley. The two Black women in the car at the gym. Rihanna. My sisters. My nieces. My grandmother. My aunts. Me. You, if you're reading this or not. All of us: The Black women who have written responses about this. The women (and men) of the Crunk Feminist Collective, who never cease to organize amazing responses to racism, sexism, violence, transphobia and homophobia. Stephanie Troutman who, with David J. Leonard, turned our attention to violence against women here. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who has never forgotten about articulating violence, particularly as it's directed at Black women. Bettina Love, who has prioritized remembering this and demonstrating this in her work with young, Black girls. Micia Mosely, a dear friend that I love, who uses comedy in a way that allows Black women, Black lesbians in particular, to laugh, hard. Ava DuVernay who is telling an incredible story about Black women's lives.

Yes, I'm giving shout outs again, but you need to know these women and the work that they are doing, highlighting our worth. And this is a short list of many. There are more, many of us with different responses to the racist and sexist society we live in. You should know all of us. But, mostly you have to remember the preciousness, the worth, the humanity and beauty of us all.


s. mandisa moore said...

yes!!! I cry when I read it because you reminded me that I am not crazy when I instantly questioned why we are so quick to discredit her.

I just retweeted your post from the cfc. Im @disamo.

I think it is really sad how we work to discredit the stories of black women. This is clearly embedded in our society. The quickness with which we believed her story was fabricated says less about her (because-again we do not know what she is going through-she is always in need of our prayers and support) and more about the racialized gendered construction of who "victims" are. I am not invested in picking apart the fabrication-Im more invested in why we are so quick to believe law enforcement. This happens again and again and one thing seems to be the common factor-the value of black women's lives. Thank you for bearing witness-queerblackfeminist.

Kat said...

Hi. I'm sorry if this comes off as awkward (or long!) but this post made me tear up and it made my heart swell. I'm 17 and from rural Wisconsin. I'm a senior and also the only black woman in my class (there are only 5 black students total in the entire high school of about 300 students. I know I'm lucky to have friends and to come from a middle-class to upper middle class family in a safe little town, but I have experienced assumptions and sadly, even blatant racism just from the color of my skin and it's been a hit on my self-esteem. I've had teachers assume my family is not able to pay for school/ supplies (I do not believe there should be any stigma attached to lack of wealth but it's so disheartening to have someone ASSUME based on skin color alone that I come from a lower-class background), and I've also had teachers at the start of school years be openly (overly) impressed by my knowledge in a way that I do not believe they would be shocked if I were white.

My self esteem plummeted when I was a freshman in high school after a series of events (one - a boy saying I would be "actually really cute" if my skin was lighter - not to my face, but it got back to me).

I also remember after Kanye West interrupted that country singer at that awards show my friends were going around saying he was "even/ way worse than Chris Brown". It made me feel awful because I realized that although most people would say hitting a woman is worse than cutting somebody off when they are speaking, one girl in this case was a blonde, wealthy white girl and that's what made Kanye's crime worse. Rihanna looks more like me (although she has lighter skin) and I will never be a blonde, white girl. Although certainly unintentionally, I felt like my friends were telling me that myself and girls who look like me are worth less than someone who looks more like them. It was hard and high school has been a struggle.

So thank you for this. I really love being reminded that yes, I AM worth just as much as my light skinned friends. :) Sorry to be so long winded, this piece just really touched me.

Anonymous said...

Charmika is another in a long line of women who faked hate crimes. Bethany Storro, Charlie Rogers, and Ashley Todd all white women who faked hate crimes. what I get from your article is that even though she did create a hateful hoax that could have gotten innocent people hurt or killed it's still whitey's fault because a racist society drove her to self immolate.

queerblackfeminist said...

thank you mandisa and kat, for your words. i appreciate them so much. <3 <3.