How Misogynoir Limits our Empathy for Black Women Like Chikesia Clemons
What happened to Chikesia Clemons shows how dangerous it is to be a Black woman doing anything at all.
I haven’t watched the video of two white police officers assaulting 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons at a Waffle House in Alabama; part of my self-care practice is not subjecting myself to images of violence against people who look like me. Let white people who don’t believe in institutional racism watch it and get an education—I don’t need to see it to know it happened. However, the video illustrates the misogynoir that exists in the country and how dangerous it really is to be a Black woman doing anything at all.
When Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, the outrage was immediate, and the company announced that they would be closing on 29 May for a company-wide racial bias training. When video emerged of Clemons’ attack, Waffle House said they agreed with the police action taken, and that was that. Even with video depicting the violence that she endured, the reaction elicited a pathetic “meh.” There was no justice. No immediate interviews. Just a video of a Black woman being brutalized and circled around the internet for the voyeuristic pleasure of others who consume the brutalization of Black bodies and the abuse of Black women.
This is common history though. The bodies and lives of Black women have always been something that was considered up for consumption by any and everyone. From Sarah Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus”, to Aunt Jemima smiling back from boxes of pancake mix, the pain and service of Black female bodies is expected and goes without comment.
In the culture of white supremacy, we are seen, automatically, as unruly. We are not women in the same sense that white women are seen as women. We are seen, perhaps better explained, as female, a sexual object at times but more so as a receptacle of white supremacist culture’s fetishes. We exist to receive and serve so when we step outside of that role, as Clemons did, as Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, and Amia Tyae Berryman did, we are brutalized, we are killed. And the problem isn’t just police officers, it’s the society we live in.
This is why a video depicting such violence is barely a blip because yes, we live in a culture that does not respect Black bodies, but we also live under patriarchy which respects Black woman/femme bodies even less. People sat and watched this happen to Clemons. The staff made a decision to call the cops over a disagreement regarding plastic tableware. Had Clemons been a white woman, this would have not happened. If she had been a man, the backlash would have been different.
This video is harrowing because it could have been literally any Black woman. The fallout is important because here was barely any fallout. Our empathy for Black women is limited and confined to perhaps a few minutes every week, in the meantime people find the range and ability to see the injustice faced by Black men. We mobilized for justice for Nelson and Robinson, while Black women see ourselves brutalized on a loop throughout social media. This is misogynoir, this is our pain being used as trauma porn for the masses.
Black women and femmes are not seen as a class of people who deserve protection and support, so these violent acts will keep happening. Misogynoir creates dangerous environments where we are blamed for the pain subjected upon us. We’re born as the sassy/angry Black girls whose mouths gets us into it, and we grow into strong Black women who don’t need any support. These are myths created to continue to oppress and violate Black women and femmes in our culture. It builds the narrative that Clemons must have said something to deserve that treatment and that she didn’t need help, and that she could be treated like that—that I could be treated like that. That any Black woman or femme could be treated like that.
This is why misogynoir is so dangerous. This is how it kills. It tells society that Black women and femmes can not only handle the violence enacted against them, but that they deserve it. But here’s the truth: We cannot handle it, it is killing us and we do not deserve it.
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