By: Virgil Hayes
When the video of the 16-year-old black girl being assaulted by Deputy Fields surfaced; I was hesitant to watch. As a black male who grew up in the south I’ve seen racism manifest itself in a plethora of ways and truthfully; I felt that a large part of me had become numb to it. After watching the video, I scrolled through my news feed reading and reposting any status that could accurately convey my thoughts. Like any other act of racism that circulates on social media; I knew that it wouldn’t be long before racist commentary from the white majority and respectability politics being advertised by “conscious” black people, Don Lemon, and Raven Symone made its way to the spotlight. The comments and post concerning the “rebellious” behavior of the girl and her lack of respect for authority told me what I already knew. Between chattel slavery and 2015 “progressive” America, violence against black girls and women had become normalized.
When I learned that the 16-year-old had recently lost her mother and grandmother I immediately replayed the video. My frustration became palpable; the anti-black violence against the young girl, the fear that gripped the young black males in the classroom, the reminder that black youth don't get to be rebellious teenagers, the officers’ excessive force, and the plight of black girls, was all a sick and twisted joke that America loves to tell. I watched the video searching for something that made sense; when I found it, my heart shattered. The girls silence was just as haunting as it was familiar. Coping methods and responses to such a loss can vary from person to person. Isolating yourself from the rest of society becomes easy, depression turns into anger, and at times that anger leads to rebellion. While I have never experienced the loss of a grandmother, I know that losing a mother can bring about a rage that's so volatile it scares you. You shut people out as a way of protecting them from the storm that is tearing you apart on the inside. At times, you find yourself being forced to interact with others when every part of you is begging to be left alone.
While this is obvious to me, I understand that there are many who “don’t get it". As of late I've heard and read arguments centered around victim blaming. These statements that are devoid of empathy, usually start off with, "The officer was out of line, but....". If you find yourself investing time, energy, and effort into such arguments, regardless of your intentions, your statements are as harmful as the actions of the officer. When a 16-year-old black girl whose world has been destroyed by the loss of loved ones, is physically assaulted by a police officer, your parenting advice, cries for black liberation that clearly don't include black women/girls, and any other commentary that provides damning evidence that you are in fact basic beyond belief, is neither wanted nor needed. As a black man I am well aware of the oppression that black men have to deal with. I am also aware that our oppression, both historically and in the present, has never been equal to the plight of black women. The dual oppression of patriarchy and racism is physically, emotionally, and psychologically damaging to black women/girls. For centuries black women have fought, cried, pleaded, and prayed for black men only to have their needs pushed to the back of the line. If you watched the video of the 16-year-old black girl being assaulted by a white police officer, and saw this as an opportunity to offer up advice on “what we as a people” need to do, you are in fact a part of the problem.
As a race of people we have spent centuries constructing ways to avoid and dodge racial oppression. I personally have never experienced police brutality, but I’m aware that racism is ubiquitous and complex in America. I have no doubt in my mind that if the 16-year-old had been a black male the number of “conscious brotha’s” engaged in victim blaming would significantly decrease. But here are the facts, it wasn’t a young black male, it was a 16-year-old black girl who has recently lost the only world that she has ever known. Instead of providing examples of how she could have “gone about it differently”, invest that time and energy into educating yourself on the intersectionality of race and gender. There are a number of books, articles, blogs, YouTube videos, and hopefully friends, who can provide you with the knowledge needed to see the ONLY issue at hand. For every black woman or girl who has been able to avoid or dodge racial myths, there has been thousands who have been crushed. It is not fair to hold a representative of an oppressed group responsible for knowledge or power that they do not possess. Any black man engaged in victim blaming, is supporting ideologies that seek to add weight to the shoulders of a black girl who has recently learned, that if she sustains bruises while fighting oppression, the same men who call you “Queen and Goddess”, will criticize you for not being fast enough to dodge a punch! When discussing things such as race and gender, I find it easier and dare I say healthier, to speak on facts rather than focus on opinions. As a black male, I’m wise enough to know that I don’t know enough, but reading Sister Citizen, Living for the Revolution, and We Should All Be Feminist, have caused me to be sensitive to the needs of a group who have always placed our struggle above their own.
For those who are interested in severing ties to systems of oppression that plague black women/girls, I hope that you take this criticism to heart and use it to grow. For those who are adamant about blaming the victim, I’ll leave you with this. As someone who has lost a mother, I know what it feels like to cherish anything that contains the memory of a loved one. That phone might contain a video of her mother and or grandmother and maybe she watches it to hear their voices, maybe she stares at pictures to see their smile, maybe she dials their numbers just to see if they’ll pick up, maybe she wanted to believe that this was all a dream, and if she punched and kicked hard enough she would wake up to the voices, smiles, and faces of loved ones who are no longer here. If you read this and say something to the effect of “I understand what you’re saying, but (insert basic logic here)”; as I stated earlier we cannot “agree to disagree” because doing so would imply that I’m ok with you having your opinion. I refuse to break bread with someone who will howl at the moon, hunt and kill sheep, and then ask to be called anything but a damn wolf! Take that to the face, straight no chaser.