How Jemele Hill Reinforced That Black Women Are Easy Targets

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28:  Jemele Hill speaks onstage during the Genius Talks presented by RushCard at the 2014 BET Experience at L.A. LIVE on June 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/BET/Getty Images for BET)

How Jemele Hill Reinforced That Black Women Are Easy Targets

I shouldn't be surprised people came to her defense, but I am.

Published September 21, 2017

Just last week, ESPN newscaster Jemele Hill had the [dis]pleasure of being a Trump target. This development was unsurprising, seeing as Jemele is both Black and a woman. Her offense? Well, it was merely stating the obvious:

That Trump is a white supremacist.

But as it's been already stated, Jemele being an easy target made it so that stating the obvious was enough to get her on the radar of the White House, as they attempted to drag her name through the mud and get her fired from ESPN ... which would be a gross abuse of power and a violation of Hill's first amendment rights, but what else is new under this "presidency"?

Such was expected. And it was also expected that ESPN would spineless-ly fold under the pressure and let Jemele go.

But what I did not expect was for her coworkers to stand up for her. I was not expecting Michael Smith to refuse to do their show without her nor was I expecting her other Black coworkers to refuse to do the show in both Michael and Jemele’s place. Hell, I wasn't even expecting the passionate response (in her favor) that she got online.

Of course, this (pleasant) left turn shouldn't have shocked me so bad, but it did. And here's why:

1. There has always been hypocrisy about who gets to speak truth to power.

The irony does not escape me that while Jemele Hill was being skewered for a tweet she posted on her own timeline, Miss Texas, a white woman, was tangentially being praised for saying the same damn thing — that Trump is a white supremacist... or at least sympathized with them by remaining silent on them and refusing to speak out sooner.

Indeed, not too long after I made an observation on how white woman can subvert white supremacy, Miss Texas got on stage at the 2017 Miss America pageant and denounced Trump for not calling out the white supremacists in Charlottesville and denouncing their actions as terrorism. She didn't mince her words and, as expected, she was praised for it. I lost count at how many times the clip of her saying those things was retweeted on my timeline on Twitter, but I did take note of who was surely quick to retweet them (read: white liberals).

Mind you, while I'm glad she said what she said (as this is privilege used right), I must say that I am beyond over white progressives scoring accolades for saying things that Black people have been pointing out forever.

It reinforces the nasty being that is white exceptionalism and makes it so that Black people continuously get lambasted for saying the exact same thing in the case of Jemele. Now combine those conditions with someone like Jemele — who exists at the intersecting margins of being Black and femme — and "the angry Black woman trope," and we are often maligned for speaking up in our *own* community.

And speaking of our own community:

2. Oftentimes, the only love in the world for Black is the love we show for ourselves.

This honestly requires much more attention than one singular article. But if I were to summarize this problem using my surprise that our community has rallied around Jemele, I'd start with all the times the community has failed to rally around us during similar flash points and points of contention.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lil Kim attends VH1's Hip Hop Honors: The 90's Game Changers at Paramount Studios on September 17, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Phillip Faraone/WireImage)
(Photo: Phillip Faraone/WireImage)

There is a reason why no one took Kehlani seriously when she discussed her mental health but rallied around Kid Cudi when he discussed his. There is a reason Kodak Black gets his psyche analyzed and carefully considered and discussed in regards to colorism while Lil' Kim just gets pointed at and laughed at. There's a reason people take LeBron James seriously whenever he discusses racism in sports and also consider him one of the greatest athletes alive, but still don't think someone like Serena Williams is worth the same consideration:

Black women/femmes don't get the same support from the community that they give out.

I always think about this when I hear someone say that "we are all we got." I've always mentally placed an asterisk right next to we, mentally taking note that specifically, if you are a Black woman, it is other Black women that are all we got. Any sense of love, peace, and — most importantly — justice is never just merely given to us. Not readily anyway. Not by our community and not by the world at large. We often have to rely on ourselves for these things.

And every time I discuss the particular issue of justice, I am reminded of the examples of the women of the Holtzclaw trial, Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines. The women of the Holtzclaw trial are hard to discuss mostly because while rape culture doesn't discriminate based on race, there was always a keen awareness during that ordeal that Daniel Holtzclaw wouldn't have gotten as far or that more outrage might have been heard had his victims been white women.

The only reason I know as much as I do about that trial is due to the tireless efforts of Black women on social media. Women like Jamilah Lemieux, Leslie Mac and many others. They made sure those women and their stories didn't fall through the cracks.

But for Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines, it was a slightly different but familiar beast.

Those who work in social justice and specifically deal with organizing know how painfully hard it is to get people to organize on a fallen Black woman's behalf. I saw this in action with Rekia Boyd while I was still in college and the same thing might have happened to Sandra Bland had it not have been for her own mother, Chicago organizers like BYP100, Assata's Daughters, and celebrities like Janelle Monae. And even then, I still hear and remember the distinct comments of Black people who believed Sandra "got what she got" for "mouthing off to police." That her bravado and "attitude" (read: her anger, so to speak) killed her. Korryn Gaines was much worse. A "less respectable" victim than Sandra, Korryn, even in her death, endured comments about being a bad mother, about putting her kids in danger, about the validity of her mental health, and about specifically her status as a single mom. Everything she did at the time for social justice was instantly discarded because of who she was and how she was perceived.

Barring the fact that perfect victims do not exist and should not have to exist, I found (and always will find) it disturbing how many Black folks — particularly cis Black men — put qualifiers on these womens' lives to explain why they didn't deserve their empathy, protest or rage. It gave me a sense that when it comes to supporting us unconditionally, I should expect there to be some asterisk or some "but..." along the way.

And perhaps that is why I am and will remain shocked at the quickness that Jemele's Black ESPN family went to bat for her. Summing up their defiance of ESPN as "internal pressure" doesn't really quite sum up the magnitude of what they did. Because really and truly, what they did was radical. Somewhere along the line, in our collective history as a people, it became simultaneously rare and radical to show Black women the same love and compassion they have freely given since the dawn of time.

It shouldn't be. Jemele's situation shouldn't be an anomaly. But it is. It should be the norm. But the truth of the matter is it is not.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Written by Clarkisha Kent

(Photo: Jonathan Leibson/BET/Getty Images for BET)


Latest in style