Renisha McBride shooting: Is gender a factor in the slain Detroit teen's case?
“I’m sick and tired of seeing black women murdered, raped, beaten, shot, and nobody’s talking about it,” a woman attending a protest in support of Renisha McBride said.
Just one voice in a film by cultural critic dream hampton, she spoke for many who think the case should be garnering greater attention.
“I do think that if she was not black, that she would be alive,” African-American image activist Michaela angela Davis told theGrio.
McBride, the victim of a fatal shooting on November 2 in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was only 19.
Comparisons to Trayvon Martin
Her potential was cut short when Dearborn Heights resident Theodore Wafer, 54, shot her in the face through his locked screen door. It took almost two weeks for prosecutors to indict him on charges of second degree murder and manslaughter.
This type of story often inspires widespread calls for justice — but outside McBride’s native Detroit, there’s little visceral interest.
“So where is the Million Hoodie march for Renisha McBride?” asked writer Zerlina Maxwell on the RH Reality Check news site.
“There is no question that Black men are under attack by a racist criminal justice system and a society that forever suspects them to be criminals,” she continued. “But when a young Black woman suffers the same fate as Trayvon Martin, the outrage appears to be concentrated among Black women, instead of a universal outrage with mass protests. That has got to change.”
Black women: Devalued?
McBride’s shooting death is being compared to that of Martin, who was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman in February 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense and, like Wafer, maintains he feared for his life.
But unlike Martin’s case, there is little outpouring of public sympathy for this black, female teen.
What does this mean?
“Black women are the ones that don’t matter,” Davis concluded about this developing story. “The message is we’re not worthy of protection,” she added.
Black women: Stereotyped as “strong”
Writing for Time.com, Professor Noliwe M. Rooks of Cornell University supports the idea that black women are seen as impervious to harm.
This projection separates them from white women — typically depicted as soft and vulnerable — and leaves African-American women unable to partake of social support.
“It’s a complicated and dehumanizing stereotype,” Rooks writes, “and its debunking seems somehow at odds with feminism. No one wants to project the message that black women are weak and helpless. And yet when a 19-year-old with a broken-down car knocks on a door only to get shot in the face, we know that something is severely wrong in how society perceives black women as criminals or not, victims or not, and even women or not.”
Did stereotypes of black women as “manly” and “strong” influence McBride’s treatment? If so, this adds a layer of nuance to a narrative in which a black man is, unfortunately, usually the victim.
Retracing McBride’s final hours
On the morning of her death, McBride had hit a parked car several blocks from the spot where she was shot. She was disoriented and bleeding. Witnesses called police, but they did not arrive, later admitting to not dispatching officers because the accident was not deemed a priority.
Those who had called the authorities watched an injured woman walk away from a car crash. Would they have left a white, female teenager to her own devices?
“Yes, [in] that part of the story,” Davis said of how bystanders might have seen McBride, “I see this idea that we’re strong, we don’t need help,” adding people might have seen her situation as “a ‘she’s got this’ kind of thing.”
And what of how Wafer may have perceived the girl knocking on his door, likely for assistance? Instead of being concerned, Wafer was scared. Wafer pointed his shotgun at McBride, which he said accidentally went off.
“I feel like he felt threatened and scared, and her blackness triggered his fear,” Davis said. “I don’t even know if he had time to figure that she was in need of help. He saw her as criminal, as deviant, dangerous, before he saw anything else.”
Davis does not believe gender necessarily played a role in Wafer shooting McBride. But is it impacting the aftermath? Tepid reactions to this case by the media and the black community beg the question: If McBride were a man, would there be more outrage?
A call to defend black women
In her essay, Renisha McBride and Other Black Women Need to be Defended, Dr. Julianne Malveaux writes, “in the cases that are highly publicized, usually it is the massacre of a young man that is at the center of a case. It is important to note that young black women are too often at risk. And it is important to ask what we plan to do about it.”
She says black women need more of the kind of protective consideration McBride failed to receive.
“We need allies,” Davis said of black women. “I feel like this could be an opportunity.” McBride’s tragic death could be the chance for mainstream feminists, black community leaders, and white progressive activists to rally around this black woman, she added.
Until then, McBride’s supporters must remain vocal.
“The best thing that we can do is what we are doing now,” she added. “Is keep telling stories, and keep staying on it, keep saying out loud, ‘This is craziness.'”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb.