TheGrio has launched a special series called #BlackonBlue to examine the relationship between law enforcement and African-Americans. Our reporters and videographers will investigate police brutality and corruption while also exploring local and national efforts to improve policing in our communities. Join the conversation or share your own story using the hashtag #BlackonBlue.
Early Sunday morning, 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons from Mobile, Alabama was brutally arrested inside a Waffle House.
According to AL.com, the whole incident started over a dispute about plastic utensils.
“[She] was told by a female employee that plasticware costs .50 cents.
When [they] told the employee that they had not been charged for utensils when they purchased food from the same Waffle House the night before, the employee canceled the order. At that point Clemons asked for the contact information of the Waffle House district manager who oversees the Saraland location.
‘They didn’t even ask her to leave, she was waiting for them to give her the district manager’s card so she could file a complaint on one of the waitresses. When they went to go get the card, that’s when the police showed up. The officer should’ve come in and said we need you to leave.'”
The graphic video of a Black woman being pinned to the ground by several white Saraland Police officers is currently circulating on social media. Her only crime is asking for some plastic utensils. As she struggles with the officers, you can hear her ask, “What are you doing?” One of the officers responded by saying, “I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do.”
Instead of an immediate outcry for justice that occurred after that now infamous video of two Black men being arrested at a Starbucks in Philly last week, the anger towards this incident has been more or less subdued.
The lackluster response to female victims has led many Black women to wonder, “Why aren’t people as upset when we experience racial injustice?”
It’s not because it’s not happening, in fact, according to FBI statistics, between 2010 and 2014, the rate of arrests for Black women has increased, while it’s actually decreased for men.
And like Angela Davis pointed out way back in the 80s, just because the number of Black women incarcerated is smaller than the numbers of Black men, doesn’t mean their experiences don’t have something to teach us about larger patterns of racial injustice and white supremacy in this country.
Time after time, all of us, even other women, continue to erase Black female experiences from discussions of racial profiling and police brutality. Lest we forget, Black women have to deal with the double threat of both their race and gender being exploited in these incidents.
For instance, when Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at Starbucks we were all devastated by the broken and almost resigned looks on their confused faces as the officers cuffed them and escorted them off the premises.
“How dare they embarrass two men for simply sitting and minding their business!”
Yet, in the cellphone footage captured by Chikesia Clemons’ friend Canita Adams, not only do you hear the same calm confusion, you also see her pinned to the floor with her breasts fully exposed as an officer places his hands around her neck. She isn’t resisting arrest and can only be seen asking for an explanation.
Again, where is the outrage?
There are so many racial and sexual overtones in this clip that we could literally sit here all day unpacking the historical context for that imagery.
The outcry however has not reached anything more than a mid-tempo rumble. While in the case of Nelson and Robinson, the #BoycottStarbucks backlash had already reached a fever pitch by now.
This all sends a clear message to women of color that you are here to fully support the movement, but you are not to be fully supported by it.
Even in rare cases, like that of Sandra Bland, where Black women get any sort of media coverage and public outcry, they must first be vetted by the Black community with a list of respectability politics questions made to ensure they are a “good enough” candidate for a hashtag.
“Well, what did she say to the officer though?” Black people immediately inquired about Bland.
As if the stereotype of the loud, mouthy, Black woman is all they need in order to dismiss the trauma of her being violated in public.
Meanwhile victims like Stephon Clark, who have a well-documented history of posting anti Black women sentiments, and racially divisive opinions about his own community are allowed to still be seen as an innocent victims, regardless of whatever human flaws they may have possessed.
This is not to say Clark doesn’t deserve our compassion, it’s to say that equally flawed Black women deserve it as well.
I once had a friend, who regularly announced in discussions of social justice that she refused to march on behalf of Black men until they returned the favor and consistently marched on behalf of Black women.
While my own views aren’t quite that extreme in feeling defeated by this trend, we must admit that it is mighty bizarre that even though Black Lives Matter was created entirely by Black women, it is mostly Black men who get mentioned whenever it’s brought up in discussions.
So much so, that the hashtag, #SayHerName, was created as a way to remind people not to forget that women’s lives were at stake as well.
Recently, Ellen Degeneres invited CNN host Van Jones to her talk show, saying she had “been wanting to address” the issues affecting the Black community for some time.
“There have been so many African-American men who have been shot by police and nothing seems to change,” DeGeneres said.
“I can hardly talk about it without getting emotional. I’m furious. As a white person, I’m ashamed. I see what’s going on and I think how is this possible that this keeps happening? There’s just blatant racism. And it hurts me, it really hurts me,” she continued fighting back tears.
Jones co-signed her sentiments sharing that as a father of two Black boys, he too worries about their well-being: “every single day.”
This was a touching moment and completely valid and yet, Degeneres and Jones did what the media and the public continues to do without a shred of self-awareness.
They said they wanted to address injustice about the Black community, and then turned around and solely discussed Black men. They even mentioned little Black boys, but not little Black girls, as if #MeToo is the only time we are to be acknowledged.
It’s time everyone, especially activists, stop using the words “Black community” and “Black men” interchangeably.
It feels weird even having to point this out but, Black women are part of the this community too, so can we finally start acting like it?
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric