For years there has been a lot written and said about how Black female bodies are seen in public. Still, for all of the conversation, most of it focuses on how Black men objectify Black women (particularly in music videos). White men have managed to overwhelmingly stay out of the debate, which could leave people to believe that maybe all the negative imagery around Black women’s bodies was only happening from other Black people.
It takes about one second of thinking about American history to (correctly) guess that’s far from true. While Black male celebrities might have made thonged Black dancers the new normal, the real danger in how Black women’s bodies are treated publicly does not come from a music video. It comes from a smartphone video, like the one released showing McKinney, Texas, police officer Eric Casebolt manhandling a 15-year-old girl named Dajerria Becton, who is wearing only a bikini.
The video, which went viral since being released, shows him grabbing her by her braids, forcing her face-first onto the ground and grinding his knee into her back and continuing to scream at her, though she is sobbing and crying that he is hurting her.
Many of the videos that have been released lately of police brutality against Black people show isolated situations, where few are around other than the victim and the cop. Yet in this situation, there are many people watching as the officer assaults her. And the ones who try to help her are the other young Black people who had been attending the same pool party as Dajerria. The white adults do nothing and can not be heard on camera telling the officer not to hurt the girl. Apparently, their silence tells us, her presence was such a threat to them that she is deserving of the treatment. Her Black girl body is not seen as worth saving or stepping up for.
This refusal to see the full humanity in Black bodies is not new. A study done last year showed that a shocking number of Whites believe that Black people don't feel pain as much as they do. Such ridiculous thinking affects everything from the medical care Black people get to situations like this one, where people like the McKinley spectators are not concerned that a grown man with his knee ground into the back of a sobbing girl could be hurting her in a way that should make them step in and say something.
There’s another group that has been silent about this video, though typically they are the ones who protest against how women’s bodies are mishandled and assaulted. White feminists have not stood up en masse, have not blogged or condemned the policeman or his department. Their quiet prompted a tweet from community organizer and activist Rosa Clemente, who wrote, “White feminists where are you? A 14 year old girl in bathing suit is assaulted by the police and you stay silent. Seriously, where are you?”
The video in Texas does not leave us feeling a lot of hope. It is difficult to watch children attacked as people watch and do nothing. But perhaps Clemente is correct — in the midst of this, nothing is better than knowing our enemies. The clarity puts us on more solid ground as we figure out the best way to fight.
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