Violence against black bodies is something that deeply troubles me. As an African-American woman, violence against black female bodies specifically causes me great distress and as far as I am concerned, is not a laughing matter. I cringed as a video displaying a Cleveland bus driver landing an uppercut to the jaw of a young black woman circulated the web. My heart shattered into thousands of pieces each time I heard someone laugh or comment, “I bet she won’t put her hands on another man.” While I certainly understand the argument that a man should not have to endure assault or abuse at the hand of a woman, let’s not be mistaken: a line was definitely crossed on that bus. And, instead of having intelligent conversations about the general lack of respect and regard that black men and women have for each other and their bodies that was displayed in that sad clip, many people chose to laugh about how the driver’s forcible punch resembled a move from the popular video game, Mortal Kombat.
This unfortunate situation isn’t the first time that, as a community, we’ve joked and poked fun at things that don’t contain an iota of humor when you really stop to think about them. How many times have we chuckled when someone perfectly timed a “keep your pimp hand strong” interjection into an otherwise normal conversation? I don’t have any close friends or relatives that I’m aware of—and I’m not excluded—who don’t, ‘til this day, get a good laugh out of an “Eat the cake Anna Mae” reference. I recall the day after the 2009 Chris Brown/Rihanna incident hearing some remarks to the tune of “He beat her a**, she had to do something to provoke him,” said in jest in some instances.
Coincidentally, last week, a group of three white male high school students reenacted Chris Brown beating Rihanna in blackface during a pep rally at New York’s Waverly High School. People were outraged, characterizing the students’ actions as racist and insensitive. Black people were deeply offended that white students would exploit such a serious incident to garner laughs and applause, and at a pep rally of all things. But here’s the thing…we set the precedent. As a community, we’ve been laughing at violence against women for years now. While blacks may not perform reenactments of domestic violence in front of large crowds for giggles, some of us certainly posted links to that video of the uppercutting bus driver to see how many likes and comments we’d receive.
Let me be clear; the actions of the Waverly students were deplorable and outright shameful. I am not placing posting a video and laughing at the same level as donning blackface and behaving like, well, a jacka**. I am, however, saying that making fun of abuse is ALWAYS unsavory.
There’s a saying that goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. One of my earliest memories is of singing “I’m Going Up A Yonder” at a dear cousin’s funeral as a young preschooler after she was tragically killed. Her sister’s boyfriend mistook her for his girlfriend and ran her over as she cleaned the snow from her running car. I also remember looking upon my older sister who was an unrecognizable pulp of flesh when her husband rang our doorbell and left her on our doorstep after beating her with the end of a pistol, almost to the point of death, when I was in high school. And as a full-fledged woman, I was moved to the point of tears today as I read that Sharmeka Moffitt, a 20-year-old black woman, was set on fire by men—presumably white—in white hoods in a northeastern Louisiana town park on October 21, 2012. In my world, violence against black female bodies is not a joking matter. While I’m sure there will be some that will assert that I am taking things too seriously, I’ve seen enough bloody and battered messes to know that let that there are some things that are indeed not good for the goose, and certainly not good for the gander.
Nothing else really needs to be said. Do you agree?
Sheena Bryant is a writer and blogger in Chicago. Follow her on twitter at @song_of_herself.