the fact remains that this is a disabled man and for some reason it took 14 cops to take him down, and even if no one was killed we should question how mundane such an incident appears to us.
These incidents are so quotidian, so mundane, that they do not merit a mention in even passing on the local news. Which is to say, this is everyday harassment. Which is to say, that we’ve normalized and habitualized the kind of policing in San Francisco and the rest of America that brutalizes the most vulnerable people, which strips them of their human dignity, the agency to their bodies — to walk with crutches when physically disabled, to have this body unviolated — when in actuality, they are whom the police are especially supposed to be protecting.
Also, she marvels at the proximity of the offices of Twitter and Uber, saying that workers at these companies should be working to figure out how “to use the powers of innovation, access and capital to change the narrative of police brutality in San Francisco and America.”
Is this brutality? You be the judge.
It’s been four harrowing years since we discussed the rats currently splashing around in your toilet bowl, and if for some reason you don’t spend at least part of your day freaking out about this, here’s a new video from National Geographic designed to scare you straight. Press play, and never leave the toilet lid up again. [ more › ]
This post contains spoilers for the film Straight Outta Compton.
Straight Outta Compton crushed the box office this weekend, providing commentary on street life and shining a bright light on police brutality in the 80s and 90s. The film is groundbreaking in terms of subject – a biopic of Black men whose names are not Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Much like the lyrics of NWA’s anthem “Fuck Tha Police,” Straight Outta Compton gives the police industrial complex the middle finger with many scenes involving police confrontation and shakedowns that extend beyond “driving while Black,” and explore “living while Black.” Those scenes are especially poignant in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement and the renewed focus on police brutality and violence towards Black people.
This exploration happens alongside the disbelief of the primary white character, Jerry Heller, of what he witnesses as the everyday experiences of these men. No scene makes this more clear than when the members of NWA step outside of the recording studio only to be confronted by multiple police officers who happen to be in the area. The officers rough them up, demand that they lie face down on the ground, and refuse to believe that they have a purpose for being near the studio other than to cause trouble and “look like gangsters.” The first officer to arrive, and the most active in the shakedown, is Black. Jerry Heller takes in the scene and vocalizes his incredulous bewilderment at what he perceives to be the violation of constitutional rights. It’s a complicated and nuanced scene that exposes the many layers of lived experiences throughout different segments of society. We see Heller confronted with his own privilege and disbelief at actions by the police, and we also see the complex nature of living in a racist society that bathes everyone in White Supremacy, including Black police officers.
Straight Outta Compton is bold, invigorating, and reminded me of all the things I do love about rap music. It also reinforces, affirms, and glorifies the systems in place that dehumanize, commodify, and erase Black women.
The portrayal and treatment of women in the film is despicable, completely glorifying the misogyny laced in some of NWAs lyrics without restraint or critique. Alongside the brutal critique of policing in the United States exists a dangerous ambivalence and disregard for Black women. The male characters in the film paraded around throngs of topless women like trophies and reflections of their status of achievement. At points, these women were literally cast aside, and at one point Ice Cube pushed a topless woman – named Felicia – out of the hotel room in retaliation for her boyfriend searching for her and interrupting the party. With a simple “Bye, Felicia”, the audience was instructed to make light of her rejection and subsequently her status as replaceable and easily discarded. To compound the visual treatment of women, only four women had reoccurring speaking roles in the film: Dr. Dre’s mother, and three women who played girlfriends of Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre. Other than Dre’s mother, they were all light skinned. The only Black woman of a darker complexion who spoke regularly in the film was the stereotype of a tough loving matriarch trying to keep her kids alive. She lacked depth as portrayed in the film.
Straight Outta Compton may focus on the lives of five men, but that does not give the film a pass to literally cast women aside and continuously objectify them, or completely leave out Dr. Dre’s own history of violence, in favor of stories that “better serve the narrative.” Nor is this the first time when a strong social critique of society’s treatment of Black men that completely tosses aside Black women. There is an uncomfortable thread through social movements and media portrayal that has constructed Blackness as male, consistently placing women on the margins. This is not just a Straight Outta Compton problem. It is a social, political, and pop culture problem.
The fight to see the names of Black women incorporated into the litany of chants and tweets in the #BlackLivesMatter conversations exist in the shadow of the Civil Rights Movement and Black women fighting to be seen alongside the men recognized as leading the movement. Until Sandra Bland, there had not been a comparable national outcry about the death of a Black woman to that of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, despite the fact that many Black women have lost their lives.
The political sphere does not exist in a vacuum, instead functioning in tandem with popular culture to influence society. Whether it is movies, music, or comedy, elements of culture heralded as strong representations of Blackness consistently mistreat Black women.
Straight Outta Compton is the kind of movie people will talk about for years, but it is important that we don’t just discuss police brutality and social commentary. Just underneath the surface lurks the legacy of neglect and violence inflicted upon Black women that demands to be seen. Black women deserve the justice of recognition and acknowledgement. Straight Outta Compton should have done better, as should we all.
Header Image Credit: Genius
Garza and the other Black women activists are unbossed and unbought, following in the footsteps of Shirley Chisholm, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer. They have made it clear that there can be no business as usual while Black people are dying in the streets.
BLM is also working in the tradition of ACT-UP and Code Pink, both mostly White organizations that have embraced the tactics of disrupting public gatherings and officials. The hostility directed at BLM, given the celebration of these White-led movements by White progressives, begs the question: Is it the tactics that people are uncomfortable with, or the sex and skin color of the people putting their bodies on the line?
“When these groups disrupted, they were heroes and courageous. Now we have a group of Black women who are disrupting forums on behalf of Black life and we’re seen as people who don’t have a strategy,” said Los Angeles–based BLM co-founder Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac. “That has everything to do with stereotypes of being Black and female in this country.”
“White supremacy is very real. If two Black women can go up there and hold space and get that kind of response from those folks in Seattle who claim to be so progressive then we have a problem. The vitriol from the left is a litmus test for what we imagine what would happened if we did this in a Republican setting,” said Moore.
The optics of two Black women publicly confronting powerful White men is certainly unprecedented. Willaford and Johnson pushed aside a history where Black women have been denied access to the political stage, a place where White male politicians routinely demonized and chastise them as bad mothers and welfare queens driving up the national debt, who regularly denounce their cultural influence as disputable and immoral. Willaford and Johnson snatched the mic, owned the stage, and made clear who was in charge, followed up with a hashtag: #BowDownBernie.
While eschewing White fragility in favor of Black survival, BLM activists are also challenging Black people’s hang-ups around queer leadership, women’s roles, and respectability politics.
“There’s a lot to be learned from Black women’s resistance,” said Garza. “Black women participate consistently in elections and toward the side of justice. Black women are consistently carrying the crisis of democracy and of the country’s economy on our backs. They have consistently taken risks that have opened up opportunities for everyone in the workplace, home, and in social justice.”
“From what I can see, it is a wholly new paradigm of Black women’s leadership,” said Daryl Scott, a history professor at Howard University. “Historically Black women have been expected to do be the support for the leadership of Black men, doing everything from serving food to carrying out the details of organization. BLM, however, places women in leadership roles and tosses aside gendered expectations of how roles are supposed to be fulfilled.”
Scott said he is not certain if we are witnessing a new brand of womanist politics or a new brand of Black feminist politics, but we are definitely witnessing a new paradigm. Historically, Black women were organizing, and working at a grassroots level, often behind the higher-profile Black male leaders. Now, they doing the work and are the face, and voice, of the movement.
The politics of respectability, which required male clergy leaders, have been pushed aside; the walls of a media that sought after those leaders and credentials have been kicked over by this group of Black women who aren’t calling press conferences or asking for a microphone, but snatching it without care or concern of the optics. For this generation, there are no worries about “airing dirty laundry” or reinforcing stereotypes. These women are literally fighting for their lives and they could care less if that makes White people uncomfortable.