White womanhood and black men who love them
I’ve had enough of black men defending white women and their perceived innocence. From the days of slavery and segregation up to now, we’ve seen the workings of white womanhood and its impact on black male bodies. Whether it’s women like Carolyn Bryant Donhan — who admitted to lying on Emmett Till, despite him being brutally murdered because of it — or people like “Fanny” who said a black man raped her, which later turned out to be false, and became an impetus for the 1923 Rosewood Massacre, we know that white womanhood has never been here for black people.
And yet, many black men fall for it every time.
We see this, now brainwashed and Stockholmed, connection to how some black men are deeply invested in the perceived innocence of white women — a benefit of the doubt never given to black and brown women. We have seen this play out over the past two years with Rachel Dolezal, and recently, we have witnessed it with Kendall Jenner’s quickly pulled Pepsi ad.
Make no mistake: Our investment in white women profiting off the fetishization of black aesthetics did not begin with a now defunct leader within the NAACP, and it certainly did not begin with a racist Pepsi commercial.
But, let’s start there.
Kendall Jenner is part of a long line of white women that profit from the love affair with black people and associated aesthetics — without the critique of being black. It’s safe to say that much of Black America don’t particularly care for the Kardashian-Jenner clan. The name alone conjures up extremely layered feelings about non-black women who almost exclusively date black men and are praised by said men (and the masses) for their appropriation of black women. Because of her and her family’s attention-seeking history, it’s difficult to accept any commercialized aspect of their lives as good. These feelings were exacerbated over Pepsi’s latest ad.
By now, you’ve probably cringe-watched Pepsi’s short-lived ad featuring Jenner. The ad, rightfully criticized, has triggered a necessary conversation around racism, insensitivity, white womanhood, and capitalism. The ad features Jenner first watching, then joining a protest — one that’s guarded by (white) law enforcement. Jenner approaches the front lines, hands over a can of Pepsi, and the crowd cheers; the fight is over, world peace won, the demonstrators can all go home.
The commercial fell flat and was quickly pulled. So, what’s the big deal?
It’s difficult to watch the Jenner ad and not see the co-opting of not only #BlackLivesMatter writ large but especially the viral image of Iesha Evans, a Baton Rouge protestor who was arrested in June 2016, protesting the death of Alton Sterling. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., also tweeted about the Pepsi commercial: “If only daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
Kendall Jenner: Can I copy off of you?
Iesha Evans: No.
Kendall:* Looks over shoulder anyway*
Damn that. I’m getting this Pepsi money. pic.twitter.com/NUXwCZnM7p
— C I L L My Landlord (@GuruBluXVIII) April 4, 2017
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
Despite this, some still aren’t clear why the black community was in an uproar over the latest ad. Here’s why: a white woman is using a capitalistic product to say that a can of soda is singlehandedly enough to stop the racist, imperialistic, profiteering carceral state from enacting violence on the lives of black people who are on the front lines every day. A white woman who has remained silent in the face of police violence against the black community — one whose family fetishizes black aesthetics and profits from that fetishization. And a woman who recently said she was devastated over the Pepsi commercial pull.
Then, we have a corporation that hasn’t used its First Amendment rights to speak out against violence of protesters but instead uses black bodies to sell products. One who apologized to said white woman, and not those actually impacted, as if she was forced into her contractual obligations. And a carceral state that has taken the lives of many black people with no signs of slowing down. One that recently reprimanded a black woman cop, Officer Gwendolyn Bishop, for tweeting a pro-BLM statement.
To be clear, Jenner being the face of this issue doesn’t mean this isn’t a big deal. Capitalism, racism, trivializing protesting, and the idea of solving problems by handing over pop/soda are interconnected and circular.
On social media, I was disappointed — though not surprised — to see some individuals defending Jenner. This is par for the course when it comes to superhero capes, white women and mostly straight black men. Just ask Rachel Dolezal (please don’t though). We saw this play out in the viral tweet, “Rachel Dolezal isn’t a black woman. How do we know? Look at all the black men defending her.”
It’s almost as if American history has focused too much on the indoctrination of oppression that slave masters, predominately white and male, had on the enslaved, and not enough on the contributions white women had on the mental, physical and emotional psyche of black men.
Perhaps what frustrates me more is that if either of these white women were black, we know how this would play out. Remember Mary J. Blige’s Burger King’s obviously racist commercial about fried chicken? Many indicated that she “set us back” but placed little blame on Burger King for proffering that terrible excuse for an ad. In 2013, Beyoncé faced backlash for her Pepsi commercial, as some argued that she contributed to the unhealthy image of Americans because of the extreme amounts of sugar in soda. These are black women who were quickly blamed, but suddenly there seems to be shock, among some circles, as to why Jenner shouldn’t be critiqued; or, in the alternative, why Jenner should be critiqued less.
Jenner participated in Pepsi’s insensitive concept, thought it was appropriate, and was likely paid millions. She isn’t innocent.
Unlike black women, white women are naturally given the perception of innocence. It would be nice if more black men were vocal about the experiences of black womanhood. But this is impossible when we’re instead spending too much time perpetuating what we see every day.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with The Root and theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.