The most recent news story of white police officer brutality against unarmed black civilians really highlights, to me, the importance of intersectional feminism.
In case you’re unsure which instance I’m referring to, it’s the one from this past weekend in McKinley, TX. There are so many reasons why this story is upsetting to me. But to name a few, it is upsetting because it is another instance of police brutality (and we know there are countless more unrecorded acts for every act we do see – not to mention all the instances of such violence that happened prior to the prevalence of smart phones). It is upsetting because an armed adult did this to unarmed teenagers (who are still only children, after all). A unarmed teenager who at worst was verbally rude, which while perhaps disrespectful, is by no means a reason to take aggressive police action, never mind police brutality (for which there is, by definition, never an excuse). It is also upsetting because it is so clearly racist and sexist and I’m not the only one who is picking up on this dynamic. To me, it seems obvious that the 15 year-old girl who was subjected to this violence would not have been thrown to the ground and had her hair pulled had she not been both black and female. This police officer’s actions were terrifying because they seem to be so clearly fueled with white supremacist and misogynistic beliefs. Unfortunately, all I could think of was rape when I heard that this man had pinned down and pulled the hair of a young woman, especially given she was wearing a bathing suit. I have no doubt that if I, as a 30-something white woman, were thrown to the ground while wearing a bathing suit by an armed man who then pulled my hair and took out a gun, I would be both humiliated and terrified. Whether or not he was an officer would be irrelevant, because as a woman, I live in a society where women are second to men and where rape and/or the threat of rape is used to keep women “in their place.” So I can only imagine how a young, black woman would feel, given the institutional misogyny and racism she endures daily. I shudder to think of the implications of being a black woman thrown and pinned to the ground by a gun-wielding, white man (officer or not) when black women have disproportionately experienced violence/violence against women because of slavery and ongoing violence due to societal white supremacy.
I feel horrible that this happened to a young girl recently. I am truly sorry that our society can’t treat women and people of color (and other marginalized groups) as human beings. This assault on a young girl vividly demonstrates what it means when there is an intersection of multiple oppressions in one person’s lived experience. Even though I haven’t heard any of any white women trying to take ownership of this tragedy, I think it’s worth putting out there to us white ladies, we cannot simply see acts like this as violence against women and misogyny (though of course those are aspects of it). In reality, it is so much more complex (and terrifying) than that. It is this country’s history of systemic white supremacy that treats all black people terribly and that has degraded and horribly mistreated black women by holding both their gender and their race over them. If we can’t recognize why this isn’t a one dimensional issue then it is going to be really hard for us to get to the root of these issues. And getting to the root issues without simplifying them is essential for creating a safer, more peaceful world.
PS Random ending note – I haven’t spoken yet about The Black Lives Matter movement much, well, not really until this post. And I regret that. Nonetheless, I just have to say do not even get me started on the All Lives Matter backlash. It’s just like, well, no sh*t but that’s kinda the point of Black Lives Matter. Because all lives do matter but American society does not treat black lives as though they matter.
PPS/Added comment – I just found this article, which is very, very powerful. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard that two white women were racially harassing these children (I actually wasn’t clear on what had happened before the police showed up). I think it’s telling though that this fact is so easy to miss. It speaks volume to recognizing that misogyny for women of color is more complicated than it is for white women. It speaks to the many privileges white women get that women of color do not and it is a reminder that white women can be aggressive perpetrators of white supremacy.