White Feminists, Come Get Your White Women — Their Gaze Is Doubly Victimizing Us

This is how Black women are silenced.
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Tiffanie Drayton
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This is how Black women are silenced.

Mabel Jansen, a White South African judge has sparked some necessary outrage after claiming that rape is a part of Black culture. It came to light earlier this week that Jansen had written that Black men find the rape of a “baby, daughter and mother a pleasurable pastime" during a 2015 Facebook conversation with social activist Gillian Schutte discussing the treatment of women by black men. The activist re-shared the conversation, still grappling with the racist implications of a judge publicly espousing such racist and stereotyped views:

In response to the backlash brought about by her racist remarks, the judge claimed that her words were taken out of context, and added via Twitter, “What I stated confidentially to somebody in a position to help has been taken completely out of context and referred to specific court cases."

The blatant racism displayed by this judge is perturbing. But beyond that, it represents a specific brand of White female racism that undermines the safety and well-being of Black women, while disguised as feminism. It is time that White feminists come get their White sisters, because this brand of racism is doubly victimizing Black women.

As a 26-year-old Black woman who frequently writes about both racism and sexism, I understand very well the precarious nature of my intersectional identity. Far too often, I find myself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea — between Black men who reinforce patriarchy and sexism to the detriment of my womanhood and White feminism that constantly invokes racist stereotypes to the detriment of my Blackness. Thus, the victimization of the Black woman never has a valid platform to be addressed.

This is how Black women are silenced.

When Judge Mabel Jensen invoked racist stereotypes about Black men, she did precisely that. She silenced South African Black women who would far rather be quietly victimized than to publicly speak of their rape by a Black man that may possibly reinforce the notion that Black people — men and women — are culturally inferior, dangerous, or savages who glean pleasure from the abuse of their own. Her White gaze cast upon the struggles of the black community rendered Black women voiceless and powerless; forced them to stand in solidarity right beside the very men who could have possibly been their tormentors.

Black men are not all rapists, these Black women surely protested. While the Black men who are — those who victimize Black women and children — smirked in their Black cloak of protection. And the Black victims of intraracial rape are left unheard, their voices drowned out by screams against racism.

This is how abused Black women are silenced.

Just this morning, a White woman sent me a message on Twitter thanking me for a piece I penned about the intraracial, Black girl-on-girl violence that claimed the lives of teenagers Ta’Jae Warner and Amy Joyner. The piece was published on a website for Black women and received some comments from other Black women that highlight our fears of the White gaze:

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To a large extent, the commenter was right, as demonstrated by White reactions to the piece:

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And about that White woman thanking me on Twitter? Here’s what she wrote: 

As I work on another article, trying to get to the root of this Black girl-on-girl violence, attempting to address it in a meaningful way to help ensure no other little Black girl loses her life in a fight with another Black girl, I feel the weight and pressure of this White gaze. The weight of understanding that each and every one of my words may be used to reinforce old racist tropes of Black inferiority and savagery. That the story I paint of a people whose history of enslavement, disenfranchisement, psychological and physical torture cyclically continues to haunt them, will be reinvented as a narrative used to perpetuate Black oppression.

This is how Black women are silenced.

There is onus here, a responsibility that lays upon the shoulders of White women who consider themselves to be allies: please come collect your fellow White women.

Remind them that violence is but a sapling; it only grows when stabilized by strong roots. And when we dig deep into the roots of Black violence, we find White supremacy. When we dig into the roots of Black misogyny, we find White patriarchy. These are facts of our history just as much as they are facts of our reality.

To cut this violence at its roots, we must weed out the remnants of our colonial past.

The past that put a dollar amount on both Black male and female bodies and taught society that these bodies should be treated as mere property — beaten, raped and abused at the behest of their owner. Yet some struggle to understand why, in our collective consciousness, there still exists the underlying belief that Black lives do not matter, that Black women’s bodies are property. 

While it is true, Black people scream BlackLivesMatter to challenge White oppression, we also do it with the hopes that we begin to believe so ourselves. To cast out the internalized messages of Black inferiority that society continues to reinforce, which allow for a White officer to shoot an unarmed man because he looked like a devil and similarly allows young Black girls to brag about taking the life of another Black girl by slamming her head against a sink and stabbing her with pencils. At the end of the day, the roots for this disregard for Black life are one in the same. Only when it is pulled will we ever be free to move on.

This is where White women need enter the conversation.

Black women need White allies who are in this fight to get dirty. Not standing on the sidelines casting shade on those who need light to grow, while trying to remain unblemished and clean of burden. We need White feminism that promotes the value and worth of all Black lives and all Black bodies. Black women need to be free to speak about the issues we face. 

And we will never be able to claim that freedom until women like Judge Mabel Jansen understand the grave impact of invoking racist stereotypes against Black men in the pursuit of justice for women.