Why are we surprised? Shock, Stagnancy and the Disregarded Black Female Body

This past Friday I awoke to an alert regarding the abundant missing black female bodies in our nation’s capital. Many speculate that these girls have become involuntary organ donors. Others suspect that these girls have been sold into the sex trade. Irregardless, these cases received underwhelming coverage from mass media, which renders them in direct correspondence with the general treatment of black female bodies in traditional and contemporary history.

In Ain’t I A Woman, bell hooks states the following:

A devaluation of black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years.

This devaluement traditionally manifested in sexual assault, dismembering the familial unit, brutal violence, involuntary science experimentation and abduction. Despite minor alterations in appearance and delivery, the contemporary black female body faces many if not all of these same issues.

Rape
Traditionally carried out on the plantation by slave masters, their sons, brothers, colleagues, and even other slaves, rape continues to terrorize the black female body in action and in the lack of consequences our violation incurs.

From the prison cells, to places of employment, to their own homes, the black female body remains moments away from sexual violation.

Examples:

Tawana Brawley
LaVena Johnson

Dismembering the family unit

Systemically unfavored, the black male is more likely to be killed or in jail then allowed to perform normal tasks with an ounce of dignity. The surviving black man is temperate or reduced to a cowardice state. Therefore, black women often have to endure multiple responsibilities to manage the family structure.

Examples: The majority of black families in any black community throughout the diaspora.

Brutal Violence

From being attacked by police, or subject to offenders that do not meet consequences, the black female body remains a canvass for western violence.

Examples:

Sandra Bland
Renisha McBride
Korryn Gaines
The unnamed black child thrown from her seat in an American classroom

Involuntary science experimentation

Saartje Baartman and Henrietta Lacks illustrate the coerced black female science spectacle. Baartman and Lacks prove that consent is optional, and the black female body is one scalpel away from being jarred and objectified for centuries following their last breath.

Abduction
Phylicia Barnes functions as a contemporary illustration of the lost black body as merely a convenient ejection from western society. A missing black body evokes pain in their family and community, but the world does not see a loss in missing black bodies. Rather, they see a gain. A missing black body functions to illustrate blacks as dysfunctional, and irresponsible, attributes that function to justify white supremacy.

Examples:

Naiila Robinson
Relisha Rudd
Shaniah Boyd
Chareah Payne

For every example of injustice displaced onto the black female body there are hundreds of faceless black female bodies that fail to meet a national gaze. Thus, the consistent devaluement of black female bodies appears obvious, yet remains overlooked. So my query is:

Why is this news still surprising?

Simply put, news of abducted black girls existing under the radar of mainstream news sparks outrage largely because despite the immense disrespect and disregard the western world has shown the black collective, we somehow remain optimistic.

This optimism seduces us to patiently wait for a change many seem to believe will come in time. This optimism seduces many of the black collective to overlook racist behavior, words or images— somehow believing that if they refuse to acknowledge it that change has come.

To this, I reference Cornell West’s words from essay “A Prisoner of Hope,”

Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope.

In short, things will not get better until we do.

It seems much more accurate to expect of people and things to do as they’ve always done. The western world remains consistent in the oppositional gaze and malevolent treatment cast onto black bodies. Thus, it seems a stroke of insanity to expect of anyone or anything what they’ve never done or proved capable of doing. Yet, we as the collective continue to expect the unexpected, rather than acknowledge patterns ill behavior and use this as a platform for change.

Instead, black feminists continue to support “women issues” despite white feminists scattering like roaches when the  lights are turned on when these women in question are black. The term black feminist is an oxymoron and illustrates an optimism that allows black females to believe that they are women despite everything in history indicating the opposite.

White women should not and will not concern themselves with issues of black females on global scale—to do so would detract from important issues like white female wages and Melania Trump. It is not the job of white women or white America to concern themselves with our issues. It is our duty to report our own news and control our own knowledge.

When whites do report  news pertaining to melenated people, this news function to implement the white savior image or to depict black people as savages unfit for western “civilized” culture. Although, I remain confused as to how burning and castrating human beings, killing black youth in cold blood or systemically disenfranchising an entire race to foster a fictive superiority is civilized. But, nevertheless, I digress.

Every semester my students and I read “ Small Change: The Revolution will not be tweeted” by Malcolm Gladwell. This reading always results in several students vehemently arguing that technology is a positive attribute of contemporary society. Now, I do not write to discount that technology has not granted some advantages to the western world. It is technology that affords a platform for me to blog, and provides a direct connection between me and scholars throughout the world. However, for the black collective, technology serves as an unassuming terroist—illustrating our social injustice with a gory honesty reminiscent of the lynched, torched and mutilated black bodies that decorate our lineage.

Technology creates more stories and more access. However, the news functions to degrade and dehumanize blacks. Thus, much of would not have been reported in the past, now goes viral. The viral black body deflects from conflict, casting a comedic or judgmental gaze on prevalent matters within the black community. For example, Antoine Dodson went viral with the “Bedroom Intruder” story, where he discloses the details of his sister’s uninvited guest. The image of a stranger climbing through a bedroom window and jumping in bed with a young woman asleep with her child is frightening. Yet, the story becomes a laughing matter because never has America taken black female sexual violation seriously.

The best way to share news is to be involved in your own community, where you gain first hand knowledge about the happenings of your community. If even a handful of blacks engaged in said activity, we could exchange the happenings of all black communities throughout the diaspora and compose news unsullied by western interpretation.

Furthermore, racial injustice as surprising unveils a bludgeoned black psyche. Until shock turns into purpose we as a collective are destined to endure a cyclical disenfranchisement in place of a linear pursuit forward. In closing, the question should not be why did mainstream media not report these girls missing. The question needs to be, why didn’t we?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post CC! This issue can’t be brought up enough. Thanks for another educational post.

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