Friday, October 27, 2017

No Country For Black Women

Kenneka Jenkins. 
Kenneka Jenkins/Facebook 

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, October 27, 2017

Jane Fonda SAID IT.  In America it takes a white person to say something before white Americans pay any meaningful attention where Black people are concerned.  And this week on a news program Jane Fonda said it: sexual harassment, rape, assault, domestic violence happens to Black women too.  Black women and other women of color have lived with the scars of these atrocities forever in America.  Black women in America -- their triumphs and accomplishments in general and their too-common experience with this timely and perpetual topic of harassment, rape and power specifically -- are too often ignored by the corporate news media. 

(How many people knew for example, that Tarana Burke, an African-American woman, founded the #MeToo movement?  "Me Too" was invented by Ms. Burke to say to rape crisis centers and counselors: don't forget Black women, Black trans and other women of color who have been raped or sexually harassed -- come to where we are and assist us too.)

Ignored too are the HIV incidence rates for Black women, far higher than for any other group as of 2004, though the number of HIV diagnoses for Black women has reportedly declined over the last two years.  The unpleasant things barely get attention, until they do. 

There are some exceptions.  Unless you are Serena Williams, Lupita Nyong'o, Oprah Winfrey or Ava DuVernay (whose superb "Queen Sugar", focusing on multi-dimensional and fully-realized Black women and their lives, is must-see TV on Ms. Winfrey's network), the corporate media virtually ignores Black women in general. 

If, however, you are Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida, you become the unwitting focus of a Donald/media-made "Scandal" Olivia Pope couldn't compete with.  Such is the bitterest-sweetest flavor of distraction killing social media-driven America dead, continually attacking the veracity of Black women in the process.  Yet what got next to no coverage at all was Los Angeles radio host Bill Handel calling Rep. Wilson a "whore". He doubled down on Monday.  To this day he hasn't apologized despite increasing pressure to do so.  KFI-AM radio, Mr. Handel's employer, hasn't suspended him, but they've suspended him for prior incidents.

For nearly a week the news media covered the soap opera regarding Congresswoman Wilson and the phone call from Donald where he hadn't remembered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed and left for 48 hours in Niger.  The surviving woman, a pregnant Myeshia Johnson, was on Good Morning America, 48 hours removed from burying her childhood sweetheart.  A grieving Ms. Johnson had the uncomfortable national business of telling white Americans watching that the liar-in-chief and his appointed circusmaster of ceremonies John Kelly, lied.

The veracity test has always been aimed squarely at Black women, whom I've repeatedly said are the most honest, patriotic people in America.  (Justine Skye took a knee during her singing of the national anthem before an NBA game in Brooklyn last week.)  That veracity test is like a gigantic letter at the top of an eye chart, except that the whole chart is full of these letters: YOU ARE NOT TELLING THE TRUTH. 

Over and over throughout America's entire history Black women have been doubted, castigated even as truth stared hard in America's face.  Yet it is Black women who have in large measure saved America from itself.  The call to conscience and a better more robust and just America has come from so many: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Amelia Boynton, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Cynthia McKinney, Brittany Packnett, Ashley Yates, Bree Newsome, Sandra Bland, Nina Turner, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, to name a few.

What is especially galling is that Black women are doubted to the point of painful absurdity.  It has happened repeatedly, including with Tawana Brawley in 1988.  Many people still think that a teenage Ms. Brawley crawled into a plastic bag after cutting off chunks of her own hair and smearing feces on her topless body, while also scrawling KKK and the N-word on her chest in upstate New York. 

Almost thirty years later Kenneka Jenkins is the new Tawana Brawley.  Found dead in a freezer in a Rosemont, Illinois hotel in September, the 19-year-old had been staggering through the hotel's halls -- until she wasn't.  The local police investigation -- when have Black people ever had reason to trust local yokels? -- was closed last week, punctuated by police posting to Twitter graphic pictures of a dead Ms. Jenkins in a freezer. 

The photos were a crude, grotesque punctuation mark to Black women and to Black America at large.  The effect was empty and insulting, as if to say to doubters of the police: case closed, no foul play, go home and stay home.  Those photos seemed more like a warning for the future and a retraumatization of the very recent past.  As you would expect, Tereasa Martin, the surviving mother of Ms. Jenkins, has not given up on justice for her daughter.  That is understandable.  And it is also patriotism.  Ms. Martin's belief in a country that has historically and consistently disbelieved her at best is as patriotic as it gets.  Protests continue and Ms. Martin's lawyers are conducting their own investigation, something the Feds -- surprise, surprise -- are not doing.

I can go on -- and maybe I should go on.  But as Jemele Hill, Tamron Hall, April Ryan and other Black women may tell you in quiet or louder conversation: the truth will win out for Black women.  Justice must too.  So must America.

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