For far too long black female suffering has been pretty much invisible. Recently though that’s begun to change: In May, there was the video of a pregnant woman being forced on the ground into handcuffs, and then in June, video of a teen being slammed to the ground outside a Texas pool went viral. This week yet another video of violence against black girls is making the rounds—this time against a high school student in Columbia, South Carolina—we’re once again revisiting the topic of excessive force and black women.
And once again, after shaking our heads in sympathy and horror, most of us are likely go back to our daily lives having been no more scandalized than, say, an actual episode of “Scandal.” Because in our society, it is now assumed that black women don’t really need our help—they will endure regardless. But personally, I’m not sure how many more of these videos I’m going to be able to take. The reality is, we’re not surviving; we’re merely existing. And we deserve more.
I’m not sure how many more of these videos I’m going to be able to take. We’re not surviving; we’re merely existing. The constant assault and exploitation of the black female body has long been a part of American history for as long as we have had American history. Whether it be the rape of black slave women or the beating of students by police, the message is still the same—black women don’t have control over their bodies. Our bodies aren’t valued. They’re to be gazed at, sexualized, and exploited in public as befitting the rightful property of those in power. (This is in contrast of course to the “feminine.” “demure,” “pristine” white female body.)
Despite the fact that we don’t know the full story of what exactly conspired in that Spring Valley High classroom, I—like so many others—was shocked and outraged by the ostentatious display of privilege and power displayed by this white man overcoming this black woman, really a black child, in school.
Many studies highlight the disproportionate rates of suspension that black girls in school have compare to white girls (12% versus 2%) and the startling arrest rates of black women in places like San Francisco, where black women are 13 times more likely to be arrested than women of other races. But I still winced as I watched that child hit the ground and heard the chair smack against the tile. I wondered if she would ever be able to trust those institutions that were supposed to protect her. Or if she should.
But I am conflicted, too. Many in the black community (and also outside of it) have heard witnessed and read about how our young black women are treated. We know about the disparate arrests and assaults, and the persistence of dreams and hope despite all of that and have fought against it—sometimes with force and sometimes non-violence. And yet we’re still subjected to the same type of treatment as women in the antebellum South.
The most cynical side of me says these videos go viral so quickly because they make for good television while the optimistic in me hopes they also can lead to real reforms. Lately, however, the constant looping of clips showing the black female body under siege has caused my pessimistic side to get the better of me. If watching dogs attack non-violent protesters in the 50s and 60s didn’t lead to substantial change and if reading about our first black president being compared to a monkey hasn’t brought about real change, then what will watching these videos over and over again do?
Is it possible that the repetition of such images is actually subtly reinforcing the same notions of power that have existed since slavery? Or worse, is it possible that the repetition of such images is actually subtly reinforcing the same notions of power that have existed since slavery? We’re still being gawked at, dissected, and watched for exploitation by the masses and I wonder how much will really change.
At the end of the day, I’m tired of having to convince a country that our lives matter; that black girls need support and programs too. It seems that the statistics, anecdotes and videos aren’t enough to convince Americans that black women and other people of color are victims of injustice. That we face oppression because of race, gender, and sexuality. Perhaps we have too many Cookies, Olivia Popes and Annalise Keatings in finely dressed garb on television for anyone to believe our suffering.
I should be more hopeful. I should be grateful at the outrage against this attack. I think video cameras, body cameras, and smart phones are a powerful tool in the fight against injustice. And I hope it leads to change and prosecution not just in South Carolina, but across the country. But I also hope more of those videos can be confined to courtrooms and boardrooms instead of for mass consumption. I’m tired of convincing the world of our suffering by watching young women get battered over and over again.
And yet, I don’t have enough faith believe that we’ll overcome without these visual displays.
Clearly our grievances aren’t enough. Our rap lyrics aren’t enough. The statics on the school to prison pipeline aren’t enough. The deaths of Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd weren’t enough. Watching Eric Garner being choked to death wasn’t enough. I’m just so damn tired of watching videos like this. I want to look away, but I can’t.