Demonization of Black Women Often Begins at the Womb

06/12/2015 03:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2016

Many Americans as well as citizens all over the world have witnessed the dramatic, intense and shocking video of several unarmed Black teenagers at a suburban pool party being held at gunpoint by a McKinney, Texas, police officer. The youngsters were subjected to a string of profanity-laced tirades being hurled toward them.

While the entire chaotic spectacle was troubling, the most disturbing situation of the incident was seeing an officer throw Dajerria Becton, a 14-year-old Black female teenager less than half his size to the ground, place his entire body on her, pull her hair, hit her, handcuff her and yell at her to shut up. One can hear the unarmed, bikini-clad Becton crying, "I want my mother. He hit me." The officer responsible for such odious behavior, Corporal Eric Casebolt, submitted his resignation on June 9th.

Police mistreatment of Black people has long historical roots and is nothing new. What is just as troubling is the fact that the larger society (as well as much of the Black community), has a tendency to focus primarily on violence or issues that plague Black men. Let me make it clear, there is no doubt that Black men, particularly economically disadvantaged, lower-income and minimally educated Black men, are far too often the victim of horrendous police brutality. Moreover, Black men are more likely to be the victims of police brutality and misconduct (though the rate for Black women is increasing).

The fact is that Black women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to police misconduct, violence, marginalization and gross misrepresentations in the media. While most of us have heard the names of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis and Freddie Gray, many people are not as familiar with the names of Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, Aura Rosser, Kayla Moore, Tanisha Anderson and Carolyn Sue Anderson. Each of these Black women were the victims of brutality at the hands of police. While there was some degree of attention given to these tragedies, the level of outrage did not rise anywhere near the level of focus centered on their male counterparts.

It is common knowledge that Black women have been routinely disrespected and misrepresented by the mainstream media. The images of loudmouthed, finger-pointing, confrontational, male bashing women have been too often eagerly showcased. In fact, when perusing through Internet comments discussing the pool party incident, numerous people have made the argument that the young lady probably "mouthed off at the officer" or was a "typical loud mouth, confrontational Black woman" who was at fault in one way or another. Reading these "blame the victim" comments enraged me even further. The fact is that it is not a crime to backtalk or question a police officer especially when the officer is the person who is engaging in questionable behavior.!

Black women have long been depicted as oversexed and manipulative Jezebels. So-called retrograde reality type programs such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and the former VH1 program Flavor of Love and other related type of TV series more than often promote the worst and often grossly distorted images of Black women. Such stereotyping begins as early as elementary school, where young Black girls are quickly ascribed with characteristics that label them as abnormal and different from other girls, and, in particular, White middle- and upper-class girls. Like their Black male younger brethren, they are not seen as young girls, but rather are viewed as having traits that most people would associate with adults.

Another example of this sort of alarming degree of indifference and double standard toward Black women was the case of Atlanta mega preacher Eddie Long a few years back. At the time, the then immensely popular minister was accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with several teenage boys. The case was settled out of court and had a detrimental impact on Long's ministry.

I remember having a few conversations with other Black men, some of them friends, others total strangers, about the scandal. A common sentiment that frequently emerged from these conversations was that they would have been enraged if Pastor Long had sent those pictures to their son(s). In fact, several made the case that they would have inflicted bodily harm on Long had he done so.

What was so interesting and disturbing about these conversations was the routine narrative that every one of these men/fathers were concerned about the welfare of their sons, yet not one of these individuals (all Black men) stated that they would be outraged had Long sent photos of himself to their underage daughters. As far as I am concerned, this would have been as problematic. This really annoyed me to the point that I called a couple of these men out on this. My response was frequently met with silence or a diverting of the subject. A few of the men fumbled around for words.

It was clear that these men would not have tolerated what they viewed as an attempt to sexually violate or manipulate their sons (likely due to long-held homophobic attitudes in Black masculine circles), but were more ambivalent or perhaps even benignly indifferent toward the plight of their daughters, even if unintentional. Again, I was stunned and disturbed by such arguably hypocritical reactions.

Black women, like Black people in general, have long languished on the margins of society. These aforementioned examples provide ample evidence that this is indeed the case. That being said, it is incumbent that while we not dismiss the real social, economic and other problematic issues that have and are continuing to lash down large segments of the Black male population, we must not ignore or dismiss similarly searing issues as they increasingly relate to Black women.

Elwood D. Watson, Ph.D. is a Professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of Beginning A Career in Academia:A Guide for Graduate Students of Color (Routledge Press, 2014)