You've likely seen the now-viral video of the still unnamed girl at Richland County, South Carolina's Spring Valley High being thrown to the floor and then dragged across the classroom floor (opens in new tab) by police officer Ben Fields.
If you have not watched it, you should, though I entirely understand why black people might not be able to. It is a reminder that your life, your body, your identity and your self respect is not fully yours. I understand the pressures that you are under to protect your black body, and I cannot judge the decisions you make when faced with choosing between watching black bodies being abused on video and your own self-care.
I watched it. And this is the first thing that came to mind when I did: Do we need more videos of black girls dragged across school floors and front lawns to know that this is how black women are treated when they have the misfortune of encountering the police and the white male rage that so often seems part and parcel of the job? A rage so virulent, that Niya Kenny, the classmate that videotaped the Spring Valley High assault, was arrested and held on a $1000 bond.
Of course, she was a black girl too. Are we ready to accept the fact that Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than White girls (opens in new tab)? Once we do, perhaps it will become clear that the assault at Spring Valley High is not an anomaly or even an extreme, but merely an incident caught on tape.
Note: If your first thought when watching that video was, "What did she do to make him do that?" then you need to head back to square one and try again.
Too recently, in June, I wrote about Dajerria Becton (opens in new tab), a young girl who was also dragged by a white man in uniform, in McKinney, Texas. (White parents called police to a pool party in a predominantly white part of town when black children had the audacity to swim in the same pool as their children.) The videos are hauntingly similar. In both assaults, the young women are darker-skinned, slight, and handled with a ruthless, swift force that would make even a WWE wrestler blush.
Violence against black women has been all too absent from the discourse of police brutality. But there's a macabre sensationalism in watching black girls and women assaulted, and then watching it again. A weariness sets in when we have to witness helpless female bodies try to survive a confrontation with patriarchy that has every possible resource at its disposal.
To understand how two black girls who have never met each other could have so similar an experience at the hands of the law, it is necessary to understand how heavy the double penalty of being black and being a woman weighs. If we can accept that black lives mattering is still up for debate for too many white people, then we have to accept that black women are some of the most vulnerable people in this country. Lord help the black woman who is queer or transgender.
When I wrote about Dajerria Becton in McKinley, I asked you to #SayHerName. And you should continue to say her name. And this girl's name from Richmond County, South Carolina, once it is confirmed and released. And Sandra Bland's. And Rekia Boyd's. But you should also look at yourselves. Because we have accepted this disgrace in America as policing, as a continuation of the American tradition of assaulting, dragging, lynching, shooting, raping, and ignoring black female bodies. And if this is accepted as a cost of doing business in America, then we must be willing to accept that this rage, this hate, this ignorance, this plundering is who we are. We must be willing to accept that the reason that #BlackLivesMatter is so radical in its simple truth is because they do not and even less so, the lives of black girls and women.
Not everyone can change policy or join protests. But there are actionable steps that you can take:
SIGNthe petition to fire Ben Fields (opens in new tab).
READBlack Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Over Policed and Underprotected (opens in new tab). It is a breathtaking research study that breaks down how and why black girls are more than six times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls and how this correlates with how they enter the prison pipeline.
READ Campaign Zero (opens in new tab). It's the most comprehensive agenda of proposals as to how to reduce police violence in America.
READ Ta-Nehisi Coats and bell hooks. If there are two writers that you should read to begin to understand the history of violence against black people in America, it is these two. Start with Coates's, Between The World and Me (opens in new tab), and hooks' Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (opens in new tab).
And then you should move on to James Baldwin. There's a quote from his 1984 essay (opens in new tab) "On Being White... and Other Lies," that I couldn't get out of my head as I was writing this. On white racism he writes:
"[I]n this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defamed themselves. And brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers."
Because I wonder if those that are white—or need to believe they are white—are ready, willing and able to ponder whiteness and all that has been done in its name and for its privilege. I think about how deeply black people want white people to see them as human enough to stop killing and harassing them. I wonder when white people will want the same of themselves.
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