Respectability Politics and Decontextualization in Media Coverage of Martese Johnson’s Arrest – Darkling

On March 18th, 2015, at 12:45am, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was violently arrested outside of Trinity Irish Pub by Alcohol Beverage Control Agents. Beaten into the pavement and brutally handcuffed while being pinned down, Johnson was left with a gash across his face requiring ten stitches. The blood pouring from his head wounds splattered the sidewalk.

In the days that followed, various media outlets reported that the arrest occurred because Johnson was in possession of a fake ID, but according to statements released by Johnson’s lawyer, the identification Johnson provided was his real driver’s license, and the discrepancy over which ABC agents initially approached Johnson was that he gave his mother’s current postal code instead of the one listed on the license (Kingkade). According to onlookers, the ABC officers rapidly escalated the situation through the use of unnecessary force. Video footage of the arrest shows Martese Johnson calling out in pain, repeatedly stating “I go to UVA,” and eventually shouting “F*cking racists. F*cking racists” at the officers arresting him (Heskett). Demands for an investigation posit that the violence of the individual arrest is situated within a widespread culture of antiblack racism: black boys and men are disproportionately targeted by police for minor transgressions, and Martese Johnson’s arrest falls into that pattern of racially motivated police brutality.

None of this is adequately addressed in the BBC’s March 19th article “Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” Although it is arguable that the absence of many significant details is due to the article’s brevity, the choice to exclude information that places the police brutality in a broader context of institutionalized racism is suspect. While the article quotes a student who believes the violence was unwarranted, and mentions that the Virginia Governor’s office has asked for an independent investigation into the use of force, the article does nothing to explicitly address the arrest as a symptom of institutionalized antiblack racism.

The BBC article quotes the white agents who arrested Johnson as saying he “was very agitated and belligerent.” This particular language is insidious: it implies violence, aggression, and defiance on Johnson’s part, but carefully avoids the specifics of the arrest. Later in the article, the charges against Martese Johnson are briefly cited to be “obstruction of justice without force, and public swearing or intoxication.” By quoting the officers earlier in the article, the BBC prioritizes their racially coded interpretation of the incident over the charges with which Johnson is faced. The charges show that Johnson did not physically resist arrest, and that there is no definitive evidence of drunkenness: the “public swearing” to which the charges refer occurred after extreme and unnecessary force was employed against Johnson. The language used by the officers to describe Johnson is subtly racially coded: it turns his justifiable anger into unwarranted aggression, and presents his use of swear words as more violent than the physical violence to which he was subjected.

The only quote from Johnson himself that the BBC chose to include was his request at a protest that “you guys…please respect everyone here [and that] we really are one community” (BBC). As with the rest of the article, the quotation does nothing to address the broader systemic injustice underlying the arrest. Video of the arrest, and subsequent interviews and statements show that Johnson recognizes his arrest as part of state-sanctioned antiblack racism. In this context, the BBC’s choice of quote from Johnson fits into a broader pattern of white people and media selectively choosing messages from black people that do not threaten current social order. Ignoring Johnson’s awareness of the racialized nature of the arrest, and his desire for justice, the BBC article focuses on messages of “respect” and “community” in a manner that decontextualizes the violence, and places responsibility on marginalized people to maintain peace by policing their emotions and methods of resistance to oppression. It creates a falsely egalitarian structure in which black student protesters are presented as having as much power to shape the outcome of protests as institutions of law enforcement—and therefore equal culpability in the event that further violence is enacted by police. These same tactics are routinely employed by white people and media to justify violence against black bodies by police elsewhere: in Ferguson, the use of teargas, rubber bullets, riot gear, and tanks by police was determined acceptable because the protesters were depicted as “looters” and “rioters.” As with white people who selectively quote Martin Luther King Jr. to tell black people how to respond to state sanctioned violence enacted against them, the BBC’s choice of quote from Johnson is meant to condemn expressions of black protest and resistance that harm institutions of white supremacy.

Something not mentioned in the BBC article, but brought up in most sympathetic media coverage, is that Johnson is the only black member of the university’s Honor Committee. This fact is brought up frequently because of respectability politics: often, violence against black people is justified in the media because of their attire, past criminal record, level of education, or other factors that make them expendable in a racist and classist society. Respectability politics tell black youth that in order to prevent themselves from being victimized by police, they must behave in a way that is not associated with stereotypical black masculinity. It is a form of victim blaming that is used to justify state violence against black bodies and lives, and devalues all black people who fail to meet the nebulous and unspecified criteria for acceptable blackness under white supremacy. Johnson, however, embodies politics of respectability: he is a double major at a prestigious university, a member of the school’s Honor Committee, involved in campus affairs; he speaks American Standard English, and dresses in clothes associated with an upper class position. In a society where education is presented as a “social, economic, and racial equalizer…Johnson’s educational success should theoretically protect him from [racist stereotypes] of violence and inherent criminality” (Bennett). Although not included in the article, video of the arrest shows Johnson repeatedly declaring that he attends UVA: by invoking his education, Johnson attempts to access a form of social currency that respectability politics dictates will negate or supersede his marginalized racial status. The failure of his educated status to protect him serves as a grim reminder of the reality of antiblack racism in the US (and globally): there is no acceptable way to be black under white supremacy.

It is possible that the BBC article is attempting to avoid promoting politics of respectability by not mentioning Martese Johnson’s academic success. It is also possible that brevity, and not a deliberate attempt to decontextualize the arrest, is behind the exclusion of many details that link it to institutionalized racism. It is more likely, however, that these omissions are the result of an inability to recognize black value, even when it appears to conform to white standards of acceptability. It is more likely that the BBC, as media dominated by white people and ideals, wishes to perceive Johnson’s arrest as an isolated, possibly deserved instance of violence, than as the symptom of a greater social ill.

Thanks for reading! It has been a pleasure posting here this semester. I hope that everyone in my group (and in our class as a whole) will continue to identify and combat systemic injustice wherever they see it.

-Darkling

Works Cited

Bennett, Amanda. “Your College Degree Won’t Protect You From Institutional Racism.” Huffington Post. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-bennett/your-college-degree-wont-_b_6905284.html>

Clifton, Derrick. “7 Phrases Everyone Needs to Stop Using to Describe Black People.” Identities.Mic. 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.<http://mic.com/articles/99182/7-racially-coded-phrases-that-everyone-needs-to-stop-saying-about-black-people>

Heskett, Chloe. “University Student, Honor Committee Member Martese Johnson Arrested.” Cavalier Daily. 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.<http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2015/03/university-student-honor-committee-member-martese-johnson-arrested>

Kingkade, Tyler. “Martese Johnson Did Not Have a Fake ID, Attorney Says.” Huffington Post. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/19/martese-johnson-fake-id_n_6906044.html>

Trudy. “Whites Dehumanize Dr. Martin Luther King, Kr. into a Trope to Silence Black People.” Gradient Lair. 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2015 <http://www.gradientlair.com/post/103591208648/stop-using-mlk-as-a-silencing-tool>

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-31965856>

A Look Into Feminism

Gender inequality has been a steady issue for as long as we can remember. It is the most widely talked about topic within the business industry, and it is a national known fact that women are not paid equally to men. In a video on Good4Utah, a reporter brings to our attention the controversy created by a bake sale held by Utah High School. The school’s Young Democrats Club held a bake sale, where they sold cookies to men for one dollar and to women for seventy-seven cents. This controversial difference in price was to represent the fact that for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only seventy-seven cents. The hegemonic monetary difference among men and women is a growing concern among society, and feminists are working harder than ever to even out the wage difference, and to eliminate this androcentric gaze.

Probably the most frustrating part of the video was when the students who were not a part of this club were given the chance to speak out, and one young man took his claim to fame by saying, “I believe in what they’re doing, I believe in their standing for a cause, but I just don’t believe the statistics they are using are correct. I would love to have a debate with them, about what they believe in.” It is ignorance such as this among young adults today which is furthering the issue of misogyny.

The fight for equal women’s right has been an ongoing process since mid-nineteenth century. First-wave feminists focused their attention on voting rights, second wave feminists focused on sexuality. The second wave took place from 1960-1990s, and the movement’s energy was very much focused on getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed, which would ensure the rights of social equality among the sexes. Following that, the third wave of feminism began in 1990’s and is still ongoing. The wave focuses its attention on the destabilization of terms such as heternormativity (Rampton, M).

Waves of feminism are very important for today’s society, however there are still members of society who believe that being a feminist has a negative connotation, and that men who are feminists are not  ‘manly’. It is important in society for clubs such as the Young Democrat’s Club of Utah High School to continue to get the word out there about the continuous gender polarization that so clearly still exists today. Although there has most definitely been a noticeable decrease in certain polarities among genders, it is not good enough.

Not only is there misogyny among the business world, however it is very present within the media. It can be argued that the media is a very patriarchal system, where too often are women portrayed as objects, rather than subjects. The oversexualisation of women in advertisements and television shows only continues to poison the brains of viewers. With the climbing amount of young children focused on the media, they are growing up believing that women are nothing more than a sexual object. Successful, athletic women are shown on magazine covers with nothing cover their bodies except for their hands over their breasts, and people pass by, glance at the cover and have no understanding of why they are on the cover, they just notice that it is an attractive, naked female. “Sex sells” is a widely used excuse for using nudity to sell beer or Axe. What makes all of this worse is the fact that men, although occasionally nude or topless, are rarely shown in the same sexualized light as females.

I am not saying that men do not have the same issue, just that women face this issue in a greater light than men. Women are paid less because they are more often “interrupted” from their jobs due to children, or because they do not have as high of a degree as a man. These are not reasons, they are excuses. The business world is one that is very patriarchal, and the fact that women are being stripped from their rights to be paid equally is a growing concern, which needs to be put to an end before it can get worse. The world needs more Young Democrat’s Clubs, more awareness, and more people need to admit to and accept this polarity between male and female pay. However, it is easy to say that they will be more awareness, what truly needs to happen is for people to step up and work harder than ever to ensure this issue is evened out once and for all. It is a necessity to ensure that our voices are heard, for the society we live in is slowly progressing, and we need to be the society that changes the world for the better for future generations to come.

Thanks for reading,
gndsgirl11

Works Cited

Carlisle, R. (2015, March 17). Gender equality bake sale causes stir at Utah high school. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.good4utah.com/story/d/story/gender-equality-bake-sale-causes-stir-at-utah-high/10246/0gE6cCkPA0mvNkLZEjyO4Q

Rampton, M. (2015, October 23). The Three Waves of Feminism. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/three-waves-feminism

Social Media – A Tool For The Enforcement of Misogyny?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. These forms of social media, which have become entrenched within our everyday vernacular and daily routines, are in their infancy. The first forms of modern social media were developed less then 20 years ago and, though still in their juvenile stages, social media has had a profound impact on the nature of relationships, communication, and societal functioning. This newly fledged medium, centred about user generated content, has showcased and facilitated innovation and goodwill, spurred on change and reform and fostered relationships. However, social media is far from an autocratically positive innovation, but rather it is a tool that has been utilized by many to instill hate, perpetuate hetero-patriarchal, racist, cisgender and colonial scripts and to devalue personhoods. This phenomenon is not rare or isolated to a select few instances, but rather an issue that has been synonymous with the construct of social media from the get-go, and is only becoming more and more normalized within society.

This disparaging and innately harmful use of social media takes on many forms; however, the intent is analogous – cyber harasser’s chief intent is to exercise and gain power and dominance over the intended subject, through the infliction of psychological, sexual or verbal torment and insult via virtual forms of communication[1]. Such practices have become so ingrained into the fabric of society, and seemingly condoned, that such harassment is publically solicited to heighten the amount of damage inflicted against the intended target. One such example is the overtly hateful, disparaging and vile response and backlash that actress Ashley Judd received in response to a quip she posted to Twitter about the sports rival of her alma mater during March Madness[2][3]. The backlash was swift and severe, but out of respect for Ms. Judd and all others who have been victim to such forms of harassment, I shall not validate or award any additional reiteration of the comments themselves. The slanderers’ remarks were pervaded by misogynistic themes that sought to humiliate and embarrass her through the degradation of her personhood by leveling violent and overtly sexualized responses[4]. These responses further questioned her qualifications as a woman, and subsequently her capacity to comment on and have an opinion on sports[5]. More importantly, they are emblematic of the egregious institutionalization of the sexual violence, objectification and harassment inflicted against females, both verbally and physically, which has occurred at every level of society. That is, in today’s society, a woman’s character, physical appearance, reputation and identity, are seemingly all qualifications of her merit and validity as a person and key qualifiers of any act enacted by or against her[6]. The scrutiny leveled against Ashley Judd in response to her post were by no means limited to her knowledge and qualifications of college basketball, which may have been appropriate to question, but rather included responses that addressed her appearance, sexuality, intellect and age. It is here where the misogynistic and hetero-patriarchal rhetoric is overtly obvious, and the construct of hegemonic masculinities becomes evident – if a male had posted the same tweet, any responses leveled would have been contained to the realm of college basketball and not situated about the reduction of a person’s character. It is not until one critically evaluates, through an intersectional analysis, that the true nature and depth of disparagement leveled against women and other minority groups by social media users becomes evident.

This apparent institutionalization of language and conduct has thus conferred and established a quasi-pseudo status quo, which is situated about a phenomenon termed culture of humiliation[7]. That is, we live in a society situated about binary thinking and polarities, where social validation and acceptance comes at the expense of social humiliation, where such humiliation is ultimately puppets of misogynistic, patriarchal power structures[8]. The continual public and private verbal raping and disparagement of females’ qualifications across social media outlets are emblematic of the androcentric and gender polarization themes that pervade our culture. This culture of humiliation is thus utilized as a policing agent to dismember and abate any acts or qualifications that threaten the established hegemonic ideologies.

The semblance of anonymity allotted to social media has resulted in a vicious and damaging double standard, where the words spewed across the dark abyss of the Internet and social media sites are insults and slander that would never be spoken in the real world. However, there is a paradoxical disconnect on how we, as society, view the Internet versus reality. That is, we understand the Internet as being a space that is fluid, instantaneous, fleeting and thus nonpermanent, which seemingly is justification for some to insult and disparage[9][10]. This understanding is erroneous and obtuse at best, and there is a deep and urgent need for a transformation in understanding of the implicit and lasting impact that cyber harassment has on individual personhoods, as ones’ presentation across social media is now an analogous form of the public and permanent record.

To find out more about this story, read Ashley Judd’s articulately and eloquently penned essay, which you can access here.

~ Elin

Bibliography

[1] Nuccitelli, Michael. “Cyber Harassment: Internet Defamation & Internet Trolls.” IPredator. IPredator Inc, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

[2]Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” TIME 19 Mar. 2015. Web.

[3] Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Identities Mic 19 Mar. 2015. Identities Mic. Web. 1 Apr. 2015. <http://mic.com/articles/113226/forget-your-team-your-online-violence-toward-girls-and-women-is-what-can-kiss-my-ass&gt;.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lewinsky, Monica. “The price of shame.” TED. March 2015. Lecture.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Judd, “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” 2015.

Target Practice: The Unfair Treatment of Black Bodies and Institutionalized Racism By: Rosa Queen

After reading the BBC news article, “Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest,” which is dated March 19 of this year, I was overwhelmed by the increase in such race based violence within recent years. This got me thinking of whether this is truly an increase in such violent acts, or rather the increasing media coverage and reduced “hushing” of such incidents. Dating back to the days of slavery, violence against Black bodies has never really ended, with the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner a sore reminder that it still exists. It is theorized that this is deeply rooted in slavery, and has become amalgamated into modern culture as a result of long standing colonialism. Slavery provided non-government personnel with the ability to discipline and hold power over another person’s life, especially when these persons were considered lesser. This is easily translated in the inappropriate use of power in the case of Martese Johnson. Who’s safety is sacrificed to allow for this power?

The ongoing anti-blackness that has been engraved into society has reached a point where young Black men especially have accepted this discriminatory violence as a natural and rationalized part of life. There is an underlying dichotomy in today’s society even in the appearance and understanding of bodies. A young White man is seen as the safe, average Joe that we are accustomed to seeing on the streets every day. However Black masculinity is seen as animalistic and intrinsically violent, a constant threat. Black women are also dehumanized and overly sexualised, simply for the colour of their skin. This dichotomy of appearances is evident in the case of Martese Johnson, who according to witnesses was arrested by Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents with unfair and unnecessary violence. Although these White officers were witnessed, the only punishment they received was being placed on administrative duty. This begs the question, if the roles were reversed, would the Black officers receive more punishment for using unnecessary violence on a White young man?

This plays into a larger pattern of institutionalized racism, in particular, Black bodies being unfairly treated by law enforcement personnel. There have been numerous accounts of White officers assaulting or even killing unarmed young Black men, however although some of these cases have gained much media attention, the perpetrators of these crimes have gotten off scot free. It is also interesting to see that the victims of these crimes are then branded in the media as deserving of such treatment for being “sketchy.” This is not isolated to just violence in public, but also in arrests. Black males make up 40% of the male inmates currently incarcerated in the U.S., with more Black males in jail than in college. What does that have to say about the way law enforcement works? That this minority group is more likely to be arrested either through over-surveillance or through unjustified police work. We have reached a point in society where fathers of young Black boys must tell their sons to be afraid of the police force, is this truly representative of an inclusive and progressive society? This is in fact representative of a collective failure of a society to provide non-biased treatment of a group based on race.

In order to combat this, many White politicians and media personalities have brought up Black respectability politics as a method of combatting this inequality. The worrying aspect of this is the concept of White bodies informing Black bodies of how to dress and act in order to avoid being victimized. The way to do this is through acting and dressing “more White.” How is being or acting White automatically associated with being respectable? This ethnocentric view imparts these suggested improvements in order to avoid discrimination. These include practices such as not wearing saggy pants, not wearing kerchiefs on your head or using vile language in public places. This is based on the underlying truth that Black bodies are seen as broken and in need of fixing, although this “undesirable behaviour” may be rooted in poverty. How has society decided that undesirable behaviours, poor social class and Black bodies intersected and were punishable? Simple, systematic discrimination in order to maintain the race based division of the economy. The interplaying power structures allow for these kinds of racialized statements, with Black bodies and their cultural practices being seen as unrespectable. But even these methods have shown to be useless. Keeping your hands visible proved useless to Michael brown, visual proof through a body camera also proved useless to Eric Garner, even staying in your own home still resulted in the death of 7 year old Aiyana Jones during a botched police raid.

What does this mean in a broad sense? In relation to Martese Johnson, this systematic brutalization of Black bodies condoned for this young man to be unnecessarily assaulted without showing any sign of aggression himself. It condoned the murder of several Black bodies such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and the victim blaming culture to brand these two young men as terrors to society in the wake of their deaths. Even the officers responsible for the assault on Johnson reported that he was “agitated and belligerent,” although this was not corroborated by witnesses on the scene. We live in a world where Black bodies are seen as lesser, animalistic and always dangerous, no matter if they are 20 year old men or 7 year old girls. What are the scary implications for Black bodies today? That their victimization has been engrained in society and that safety is not a right, but rather something that cannot be counted on. Until we as a society are able to analyse and reform the pre-existing power structures based on racial prejudice, we will be unable to neutralize this underlying threat to Black bodies. In conclusion, until there is mutual respect for all bodies, it will be impossible to live in the progressive and inclusive society that has seemed so elusive to us.

By: Rosa Queen

Works Cited

“”I Hate Myself!”: What Are Respectability Politics, and Why Do Black People Subscribe to Them?” A Line in the Sand. September 5, 2013. http://alineinthesand.com/respectability-politics/.

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. March 18, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31965856.

Abbey-Lambertz, Kate. “Charges Dismissed Against Joseph Weekley, Cop Who Fatally Shot Sleeping 7-Year-Old [UPDATE].” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/28/joseph-weekley-charges-dismissed-aiyana-stanley-jones_n_6566032.html.

Edwards, Breanna. “From Slavery to Ferguson: America’s History of Violence Toward Blacks.” http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/09/from_slavery_to_ferguson_america_s_history_of_violence_toward_blacks.html.

Mauer, Marc, and Ryan S. King. Uneven justice: State rates of incarceration by race and ethnicity. Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2007.

Freedom of E-xpression: Overt and Covert Policing of Woman-Produced Internet Content

The infinitely expanding, ultra-dynamic place that is the internet in 2015 is a fascinating and sometimes terrifying place. The anonymity, viral potential, and a sense of “unrealness” that the internet provides has led to a very “real” culture of harm that is pervasive across social media and internet forums. In particular, this culture of harm seeks to silence certain voices and amplify others. I argue that the internet is a space in which policing of expression of marginal bodies (in this article, women) is increasingly prevalent, and that abuse and harassment are increasingly common and tolerated in this same space. In particular, these women who are silenced are those who tend to defy heteropatriachal standards of “acceptable” production: for example, those that encroach upon stereotypically masculine topics (sports, video-games, etc.), that are vocally anti-mysogynist, and those displaying their body in a way that does not gratify straight masculinity. In exploring this proposal, I will draw upon several very recent instances of anti-woman internet policing and covert “hushing”.

To begin this exploration, I would like to look at overt examples of content policing and silencing. A sickening example of this can be seen in the Twitter hailstorm endured by actress Ashley Judd. Judd tweeted during a Sunday TV basketball match that the opposing team was ‘playing dirty & can kiss [her] team’s free throw making a—‘ (Alter). The response was swift and malevolent. Fans, presumably in defense of the team that was “playing dirty”, began to tweet physical and sexual threats and insults towards Judd’s intelligence, age, and body. To compound the awfulness of the situation, this onslaught was particularly triggering for Judd, who had faced sexual abuse and incest in her youth. She took down the tweet shortly thereafter. Thus, simply by speaking up about a topic on which her “expertise” is questioned (due, by no stretch of the imagination, to stereotypes about women and organized sports), Judd was abusively silenced.

This experience of abuse parallels startlingly well with the harassment that has plagued other female internet contributors that are vocal on stereotypically “male” subjects, especially in a subversive manner. One of these women is Anita Sarkeesian, the producer of the YouTube series Feminist Frequency (Sarkeesian 2012). Her series of videos focuses on the objectification and exploitation of female characters in video games, and uses apt and fairly conservative modes of analysis to do so. As such, it is by no means “radical” (in the popular sense of the word): for example, Sarkeesian may explore how female bodies are killed and maimed for no gainful purpose in games. It is hard to imagine that anyone could disagree significantly with her straightforward analyses, however, the internet does not fail to amaze. Sarkeesian has begun a page dedicated solely to the threats she receives on a daily basis. These comments range from threats of rape to threats of murder, explicit descriptions of sexual acts that (mostly) gamers would like to inflict on Sarkeesian, and detailed descriptions of her home and whereabouts posted for all to see (Sarkeesian 2015). In 2014, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a University lecture about her works of resistance after a message was sent to the school threatening a mass shooting if she were allowed to speak. And this is the crux of the issue: Who is allowed to speak? What does “free speech” really mean – i.e. when death threats are employed regularly?

The internet speech and internet-cultural productions of women are restricted in violent and terroristic ways such as those mentioned above, as well as by more subtle and pernicious methods. For example, in the summer of 2014, Instagram user Samm Newman’s account was deleted after she posted a photo of herself in a bra and boyshorts (Rose). For users of Instagram, this outfit should raise no red flags. Women are constantly featured on Instagram wearing less than this all the time. The only difference between Samm and these women? Samm is plus sized. After a pushback from Newmann’s supporters, Instagram apologized for their “mistake”. However, the message was loud and clear: Newman’s internet expression was not adequately palatable or gratifying to the sizeist gaze, and did not meet hegemonic standards of “sexiness”. Thus, it was relegated to the black hole of “unworthy” content, and “unworthy” female bodies. Another Instagram user and artist, Rupi Kaur, was banned from the site just weeks ago for posting works of art in which a small amount of her menstrual blood was visible (Cascone). Her response was incisive, and critically exposes what “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of the female body/female expression look like on the internet. She states: “I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but no be okay with a small leak, when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women…are objectified, pornified, and treated [as] less than human” (Cascone). In both of these cases, the “imperfect”, unregulated, autonomously expressive products of women were squelched and hidden away, deemed unacceptable for consumption. And another question emerges – unacceptable for whom?

In this short exploration of the internet’s treatment of woman derived content, we have come across two major questions. For whom is freedom of expression and speech a reality, and who “benefits” when this right is curtailed for certain groups? The first question is one that often raises venom and spite. Many, especially those that are part of a very central (non-marginal) group, will argue that everyone has the right to free speech – and they should expect others to as well (i.e. they should expect harassment if speech is to be free). However, I see this understanding of free speech as facile. There are far more ways that speech and expression are policed than through litigation and a charter of rights and freedoms. I argue that abuse, threats, and harassment are just as effective in silencing people as laws and regulations. Indeed, this understanding of free speech also falls flat when one considers the policing of content considered “inappropriate” or “unacceptable”: Why is it that hateful comments and abuse are “Freedom of speech” that should be expected and protected, but the mostly covered body of a plus sized woman is so out of line that it must be deleted and the internet shielded from it? This leads into the second question: who is benefiting from the double standards of free expression? When abuse is tolerated but the expression of something as simple as a large body or menstrual blood is banned, it is misogynist and anti-woman society that benefits. It is individuals and systems who only want to see women as sexy and gratifying to their gaze, or not see them at all. And this certainly does not stop with women. Being on the margin means that your freedom of expression is curtailed significantly by these same factors. LGBTQ+ individuals, racialized individuals, disabled individuals, female and feminine individuals. With the amount of work being done to silence the margins, on might draw some wry optimism from wondering how powerful our words might be if they were to go unchecked.

Works Cited

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks out about Twitter Abuse and Rape”. Time Magazine. 19 March 2015.

<http://time.com/3750788/ashley-judd-speaks-out-about-twitter-abuse-and-rape/>

Cascone, Sarah. “Artist Rupu Kaur Criticizes Instagram for Censoring Photo Showing Period Blood”. Artnet News. 3 March 2015.

<https://news.artnet.com/in-brief/instagram-slammed-for-censoring-period-283123>

Rose, Rebecca. “Instagram Apologizes for Deleting Plus-Size Woman’s Account”. Jezebel. 16 July 2014.

<http://jezebel.com/instagram-apologizes-for-deleting-plus-size-womans-acco-1605831194>

Sarkeesian, Anita. Feminist Frequency: Conversations with Pop Culture. 2012.

<http://www.feministfrequency.com>

Sarkeesian, Anita. “One Week of Harassment on Twitter”. Feminist Frequency. 26 January 2015.

<http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/109319269825/one-week-of-harassment-on-twitter>

A Response to Laverne Cox’s Speech by gndsgirl11

Although society has come a long way from the days of segregation and the hatred of gay marriage, there are still obvious signs of old beliefs in the new age, which is seen particularly strongly among the LGBTQ community. As Laverne Cox informs us in a video where she explains the intersection of transphobia, misogyny and racism, transwomen (MTFs) experience 54% of all violence within the community (Cox). They will receive further hatred and violence if they do not conform to the ‘societal norm’s that come with being a women in today’s society. It is automatically believed that women must behave in a certain way in order to be accepted. Women are portrayed in advertisements as thin, sexual objects, and often times due to the brainwashing of media, if one does not conform to these beliefs their womenhood is degraded.

After the male-to-female transition a transwomen experiences, they are often treated with contempt. There have been cases in the United States where transwomen have been walking down the street and have been beaten or stabbed to death simply due to the fact that they are transgender (Cox). It is an unfortunate reality that even in our present society, transwomen experience gender harassment simply because that is who they truly are. Gender harassment is something that majority of transwomen suffer from due to the fact that they are no longer receiving the privileges one does from simply being a man. It can be argued that this is because men feel intimidated and unnerved by MTFs because that do not understand the meaning or reasoning of transitioning, and many of them refuse to even try to understand what MTFs feel.

Another thing that transwomen may experience after their transition is quite the same as to what women who are born as women experience through the act of misogyny. Misogyny is similar to contempt in the way that they are both aggressive forms of hatred towards an individual group, however misogyny is directly inflicted upon women. The fact that women are portrayed in such a poor light in media is only furthering the allowance of misogynistic remarks and unrealistic expectations towards women.

Laverne Cox is a MTF black woman. Being black and transgender is an ultimate form of intersectionality, and one that is most difficult for some people among society to understand. Black people are constantly discriminated against by the power structure that cisgender white men seem to have over black transwomen, and that white transwomen do not experience the same levels of violence as black transwomen (Cox). Laverne Cox provides us with an excellent example. One day when she was walking down the street, a Latino man and a black man were catcalling her, the Latino called her ‘momma’ and the black man tried to correct him by saying that she was an N-word. Cox had the two struggles among today’s society of being black and a transwomen, neither of which affects who she is as a person. It is unfortunate, again, that these women are exposed such degrading behavior just for being who they really are.

It is extremely important for all members of society to move past their fears of all members of the LGBTQ community in today’s society. There is no way violence and aggression towards members of the community; MTFs in particular, will come to an end until there is all around acceptance of the differences of others. All members of society need to be aware that just because someone is different than you are, does not mean they are a bad person, nonetheless do they deserve to be beaten or stabbed to death. The known violence towards the LGBTQ community often results in them being too afraid to be open about their preferred sexualities and gender which can result in an unintentional segregation between members of our society. If members of our society were more open about everyone’s sexual and gender preferences, it would create a more accepting society where all people could feel comfortable in their own skin. To further one’s education about the dangers the MTFs experience in their day-to-day lives, I would recommend everyone to watch Laverne Cox’s speech about transgender awareness. If more people were to educate themselves on this issue, it could very possibly lead to a more positive society for all.

Works Cited:

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.

White Queerness, Black Alienation: Exploring the Link Between Racialized Transmisogyny and White Queer Racism

Laverne Cox’s Speech: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/

In a speech on the intersections of racism, transphobia, and misogyny, Lavern Cox, black transgender actress and activist, identifies ways that hate crimes against members of the LGBTQIAP+ community disproportionately target trans women of colour. She proposes that most violence aimed at queer people, regardless of whether they are cisgender or transgender, is derived from a desire in the mainstream to enforce binary models of gender performativity. As a black trans woman, Cox also discusses encountering transmisogyny at the hands of black cisgender men in a way that her white trans counterparts do not: she immediately counters the notion that black men are more transphobic, and instead identifies racial trauma as contributing to black male unease with black trans women. Cox attributes the trauma to slavery and Jim Crow era lynchings, during which “the men’s genitals were cut off [and kept by white lynchers, betraying a] historic fear and fascination with black sexuality” (Cox). According to her, some cisgender black people see her “trans woman’s body, and feel that [it is] the embodiment of this historical emasculation” (Cox). Quoting Cornell West’s statement that “justice is what love looks like in public,” Cox suggests that to counter transmisogynistic, racialized violence and bigotry, there needs to be honest, genuine communication stemming from a place of love. As long as white members of the LGBTQIAP+ community blame and alienate black people, and present whiteness as ubiquitous with queerness and transness, the world is made exponentially more dangerous for trans women of colour, and black trans women in particular.

Stereotyping black communities as being more transmisogynistic, transphobic, and homophobic than any other racial group fosters white supremacy: it functions to erase systemic oppression on multiple axes, putting the onus on black people for the perpetuation of violence and bigotry against the LGBTQIAP+ community. When whiteness is seen as synonymous with queerness, the priorities of white, economically advantaged, cisgender community members become the sole focus of LGBTQIAP+ activism and organizing, leaving trans women of colour vulnerable to systemic violence and exploitation. With the trans community already marginalized within mainstream LGBTQIAP+ organizing, the role of white supremacy serves to utterly devalue and alienate trans women of colour. In an article for Slate Magazine, journalist Parker Marie Molloy uses the suicide of Leelah Alcorn to critique the media’s pattern of ignoring racialized transmisogyny: when “trans women of colour [are] murdered at a rate of roughly one per week, [the media should] recognize this violence for what it is—an epidemic” (Molloy). While the reaction to Alcorn’s death is good, the contrasting lack of regard for the lives and deaths of trans women of colour highlights the degree to which only white lives are valued by the media and mainstream LGBTQIAP+ community.

A troubling historical precedent of ignoring trans women of colour exists within the LGBTQIAP+ community: journalist Eunbyul Lee points to the Stonewall Riots as “a classic example of the whitewashing of trans legacies. [While Stonewall is lauded] as a cornerstone of the white gay liberation movement…crucial TWOC leaders like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Miss Major [are ignored and erased]” (Lee). The whitewashing of trans and queer history serves to reinforce that these marginalized sexual and gender identities are inherently white, and positions trans women of colour as aberrations. It is not difficult, then, to see why the street harassment Lavern Cox experiences from black men is derived from a sense that she is “a disgrace to the race because [she is] trans” (Cox). For decades, white gay and lesbian movements have actively set themselves in opposition to blackness as a means of gaining social status and security. Instead of recognizing the marginalization black trans women experience, they actively distance themselves, and present white gay and lesbian identity as confined to a gender binary and social normative. In order to achieve acceptance within a heteropatriarchal, white supremacist, imperialist society, “[white] gay and lesbian [activism lays] claims to imperilled domesticity, privacy, and kinship” (Bassichis, Spade 195). The emphasis on marriage equality—compared to the lack of focus or resources directed towards violence against trans women of colour—illustrates the desire among white, cis, middle-to-upper class queer people to integrate into an oppressive system. Other projects, like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, also illustrate “a form of gayness implicitly linked to whiteness and upward mobility” (196) and “generalize a particular narrative in which white queers can ‘escape’ homophobia…[unlike] queer and trans people who will remain targets of policing [and other state sanctioned violence]” (196). Trans and queer people of colour cannot attain the social status afforded white, cisgender gay people, or participate in respectability politics that treat cis, white bodies as normative, and trans, non-white bodies as Other. If LGBTQIAP+ politics make inclusion within the state a priority, they invariably participate in a system that devalues black life. From housing and employment discrimination to criminalization and mass incarceration, black people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are harmed by the institutions to which white, cis gay and lesbian organizers look for validation and support (200).

White discourse within mainstream gay and lesbian politics frequently places the blame for homophobic legislation upon black voters, as with the passing of Proposition 8 in California, during which white, cis, gay organizers actively accused black people of being more homophobic than white people (197). When white, middle-to-upper class subsets of the community are actively dismissive of and hostile to the ongoing struggle for black humanity to be recognized and defended, cisgender, heterosexual people of colour are implicitly taught to connect LGBTQIAP+ organizing with their racial trauma. As Laverne Cox points out, the homicide rate for trans women of colour is the “highest in the LGBTQ community [comprising] 54% of all LGBTQ homicides” (Cox). This damaging and dishonest binary between white queerness and blackness ensures that trans women of colour, and black trans women especially, have no community to turn to for support and protection. To reduce violence against trans women of colour, it is vital that mainstream LGBTQIAP+ organizations actively address the racism they perpetuate, and work to provide support for trans and queer women of colour.

Until next time!

-Darkling

Works Cited

Bassichis, Morgan, and Dean Spade. “Queer Politics and Anti-Blackness.” Queer Necropolitics. Eds. Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, Silvia Posocco. New York: Routledge, 2014. 191-203. Print.

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.     <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/&gt;

Molloy, Parker Marie. “Trans Women of Color Deserve to be Mourned as Much as Leelah Alcorn.” Slate. 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. <http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/ 2015/02/13while_the_media_focuses_on_leelah_alcorn_murders_of_trans_women_of _color.html>

Lee, Eunbyul. “Who Gets to be Human in Death?: Leela Alcorn and Trans Legacies.” Black Girl Dangerous. 6 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/ 2015/01/gets-human-death-leelah-alcorn-trans-legacies/>