Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted August 11, 2015. You can visit it here to see the original comments.
I recently came back from a weeklong camping retreat for Christian faculty and their families in beautiful Catalina (an island an hour’s boat ride away from the Southern Californian mainland). This year’s conference theme was “Power Revealed: Gifts, Dangers, and Possibilities.” Not surprisingly, the topics of race, race relations, and institutional racism came-up repeatedly in sessions and informal conversations.
On Monday, the picture was on my Facebook feed again: The picture of a girl lying face down in the grass under a police officer pressing his knee in her back. It was from the video of an African-American teenager being pinned to the ground by Eric Casebolt, the police officer in McKinney, Texas who was responding to calls about a pool party. When I saw the picture this time, it was in a screenshot with these words below it:
“Funny how a 14 year old bikini-clad black girl being publicly assaulted by an adult male does not accrue mainstream feminist outrage.” – Yohanna
If you haven’t seen the images we’re talking about, you can view the video here with a description of what is concurring or below from YouTube. I was reluctant to watch the video. It seems voyeuristic to view this young woman’s suffering and screaming. And, if I am honest with myself, it also seems useless. Viewing this from my computer screen, I’m in no position to help her. I hear her cries and it make me cry too. But I can’t push him off of her. When other teens tried to come to her defense, Casebolt pulled a gun on them and chased them. I don’t even have the power to get him fired from his position of authority immediately. No, we must have the investigations and inquiries and due process that seems so indiscriminately afforded to the privileged. Casebolt was put on administrative leave on Friday, and on Tuesday June 9, he resigned.
So how should I respond?
I had a conversation with one of my closest friends a couple days ago that provoked me to reflect on what to do when I’m conflicted about how to respond. Her background is in acting and theatre, and now she is a pastor and artistic director of a Christian church and arts initiative who believes in supporting arts, imagination and creativity. In our conversation about discerning the next steps in our lives, she was reminded of a book by Samuel Wells that proposes “theatrical improvisation as a model for Christian ethics.” That reminded me of books I’ve read that talk about musical improvisation or call-and-response as model for living, and some pieces I’ve written about that. Inspired by ethicists and theologians including Emilie M. Townes and H. Richard Niebuhr, I believe that to answer the question of how I should respond, I must first answer ‘What’s going on?” An improvised response or a fitting response is the response to what is already occurring. We must look at the situation critically to respond appropriately.
What’s going on in this video and the controversy surrounding it? I am certainly not an impartial or all-knowing observer, but here’s what I see:
A white man forcibly throws an unarmed, African-American teenager to the ground yelling “On your face!” We can see that she is unarmed because she is wearing a bikini.
The man is a police officer. He is upset that his authority is being challenged. Other officers are present and seem to be asking questions, but the violent one seems out of control and frantic, running around and yelling. He escalates the situation when he throws the girl to the sidewalk, which causes an outcry in the crowd.
As the video went viral, there were many protests and online statements against this violent event, but also statements of support for the officer. And sadly, I agree with Yohanna’s assessment. I may have missed it (and I hope I did), but I didn’t see a broad, mainstream feminist response against this violence.
I’m a feminist. I’m a black feminist. I’m a Christian feminist. I may not be a mainstream feminist (depending on your definition), but I’ll express my outrage anyway. It is sickening to watch his treatment of this teenage girl. This man’s mistreatment of a young black girl’s body is chilling. It is wrong and he should be held accountable for it.
I don’t think outrage is enough. But outrage does express that our moral sensibilities have been awakened and that we recognize that something profoundly wrong has occurred. In the face of comments that say she deserved this treatment, we as feminists must insist on the officer’s wrongdoing. “She had it coming.” “She incited him.” As feminists, we know that these kinds of statements are used in cases of rape and intimate partner violence to explain away violent actions and to shift the guilt from perpetrator to victim. The backlash against feminists and others who oppose these explanations argues that we ignore the victim’s responsibility or agency.
Bloggers and social media users know all too well the horrific statements that often appear in the comments section of online posts, videos, and articles. One comment I saw about the McKinney video says that the girl was “sassing back” at the police and that “if she wants to talk like adult then she’s going to be treated like an adult.” This kind of justification makes my blood boil! Sassing back is speaking up and saying something to an authority figure when you are expected to be silent. While the term sassing back doesn’t exclusively apply to women and girls, it is nonetheless a phrase with gendered connotations. How many boys are called “sassy”? Is it that no one had the right to say anything to this officer running around yelling at black teen boys to sit on the ground, or is it that this black female should have kept quiet? Regardless, throwing an unarmed person to the sidewalk for supposedly saying something disrespectful is not justifiable behavior to adults or children.
I wish I knew more about what’s going on and how to respond to the violence I see in the world. I know these perennial questions subvert easy answers. I only have a partial response. I am responding with outrage and questioning and take this to my feminist community and into my spiritual practice. “What’s going on?” and “How should I respond?” are questions I ask God. I pray for justice. I pray for God’s presence in the outrage and in the investigations, and in the lives of those children who were violated.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.
Every year, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance, GLILA, sponsors an interfaith service on genocide. During these services, the community gathers together to remember, to mourn, to heal, to honor and to work towards a world in which Elie Wiesel’s words, “Never Again!” ring true. Three years ago, we focused on the Shoah and the year after that the Armenian genocide. Last year it was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and this year our focus is Rwanda. Part of this preparation is self-education. I would like to share with you a few of the things I have learned through my own research about the Rwandan genocide as well as some reflections on this difficult, yet extremely important topic.
In many ways, the Rwandan genocide is a direct consequence of colonialism as well as a United Nations’ failure to respond to warnings. Before colonization, first by the Germans and then as a spoil of WWI for the Belgians, the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twa peoples lived in relatively peaceful coexistence. Yes, there were acknowledged differences between the three groups based on caste-like descriptions, but they also all spoke the same language, practiced the same religion, intermarried, and co-existed together for a long time. Generally, the Hutus who made up 85% of the population were the lower caste, so to speak, and were associated with labor and farming, while the Tutsis, 14% of the population, were the herders. This occupation often generated more wealth and prestige than farming did, so Tutsis were also long associated with the elite in economic and political terms running small chiefdoms and the like. According to Philip Gourevitch in We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, these were fluid categories of sorts where it was possible to become part of another group through the acquisition or loss of wealth (see page 47). Continue reading ““Never Again…” by Ivy Helman”
I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had undergone a secular immigrant assimilation process. My former faith within Pentecostalism not only shaped my identity, but augmented my ability to assimilate into the American culture. Subsequently, this led me to explore how nonreligious narratives help immigrants better acculturate to western society. Despite my interests originating in personal exploration, emergent studies within religion and sociology show that there are many factors that come into play when considering social and cultural assimilation.
My first thought after reading Gina Messina-Dysert’s post, “Feminism vs. Humanism: Continuing to claim a feminist identity” was, “Guess she missed that whole #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trend on Twitter last week.” Until I saw Gina’s bio signaling the end of the post, I thought she was building the foundation for a witty piece of satire. The feminism she wrote about was so ideal compared to humanism that I thought she was using irony to address feminism’s imperfections. She wrote that “humanism does not value diversity and difference,” which implied that feminism does, always or at least consistently. Humanism “reinforces western, privileged … values,” but feminism doesn’t? As in doesn’t ever? Is that what she meant to say?
“I rejoice in this most recent admission of institutional racism. I am not naïve enough to believe that this public acknowledgment, like previous ones to other racial-ethnic groups, was untainted by political calculations. But I am also not Kantian (so I reject the view that anything done out of mixed motives accordingly lacks moral merit).”
“Did you know that…the Asian population grew faster than any other race group in the United States between 2000 and 2010…[and that] Chinese is the second most widely spoken non-English language in the country (behind Spanish)”?