Why Black Women’s Experiences Of #MeToo Are Different


Published:

In April, a 25-year-old black woman named Chikesia Clemons was violently arrested by police at a Waffle House restaurant in Alabama.

A video of the arrest that went viral shows police pulling Clemons from her chair and throwing her to the floor. In the process, her breasts are exposed and her dress rides up in the back. When she attempts to cover her breasts, the two officers on top of her threaten to break her arm for “resisting.”

Clemons’ experience is not unique. In the U.S., black women are not afforded the same regard for bodily privacy as white women.

Another example: In an investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, the Department of Justice found that the Baltimore Police Department frequently engaged in unjustified strip searches of African-Americans. In one instance, Baltimore police conducted a strip search of a black woman, including an anal cavity search, on a sidewalk in broad daylight and in full public view. The woman’s pleas to not be forced to disrobe in public were ignored. Her offense? A broken headlight.

While the #MeToo movement has been successful in bringing down several high-profile assailants, critics continue to argue that it has been monopolized by middle- and upper-class white women, particularly white Hollywood actresses. This, despite the fact that a black woman, Tarana Burke, created the Me Too campaign more than a decade ago. These criticisms reflect the fact that black women have experienced sexual violence differently than white women.

As a philosopher of race and gender who has written about sexual harassment, I offer historical context on the ways that black women experience sexual abuse, often by the authority of the state, as a way to think about black women’s contemporary experiences as the kinds of experiences that #MeToo should address.

History Of Black Women’s Bodies On Display

As early as the 17th century, European men wrote travel narratives about their trips to West Africa to capture, enslave and trade African people. Their writings offer a window into how they perceived African women and what they thought primarily European male readers would find titillating.

In particular, their descriptions of West African women’s style of dance played a role in shaping European perceptions of black women’s sexual immorality and availability.

These travel accounts were the popular media of their day and offered some of the first reports of continental Africa to average Europeans. For example, Frenchman Jean Barbot wrote of African men and women “knocking bellies together very indecently” while “uttering some dirty mysterious words.” Meanwhile, naval officer Abraham Duqesne characterized African women as desiring the “caresses of white men.”

Because African women differed from European women both in attire and bodily movement, European travel writers regarded African women as sexually available and immoral. European settlers carried these attitudes to the United States where enslaved black women were subjected to violent sexual abuse and forced nudity as routine social practice, in ways that would have been unthinkable toward white women.

Sexual Violence And The Father Of Gynecology

By the 19th century, treating black and white women differently was firmly entrenched in society. Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of J. Marion Sims, the physician widely regarded by gynecologists as the “father of modern gynecology.” The convention of the period was for physicians to conduct gynecological examinations of white women with averted gazes while the patients remained as clothed as possible.

However, Sims also conducted medical experiments on enslaved black women that ultimately resulted in a technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, an opening that can develop between the vaginal wall and the bladder or large intestine, sometimes as a result of childbirth. The enslaved black women were stripped completely naked and examined on all fours, as Sims and other physicians took turns using a specially created speculum that enabled full viewing of the vagina. Private citizens were also allowed to watch these experiments and they, too, were invited to witness the full exposure of enslaved women’s vaginas.

Sims conducted his experiments without anesthesia, despite the fact that ether was known and in use by the time he performed later surgeries. Black women were denied anesthesia on the grounds that black people did not feel pain in the same ways that white people felt pain, a perception that still exists today. For example, one study found that when people viewed images of blacks receiving painful stimuli, like needle pricks, they responded with less empathy than when they viewed similar images of white people in pain.

Sexual Violence In A Court Of Law

In New York in 1925, another historical example shows how black women’s exposed bodies have been treated with indifference. Kip Rhinelander, a member of New York’s high society, was set to wed Alice Beatrice Jones, a working-class biracial woman. Their union drew national attention.

Although New York did not legally prohibit interracial marriage as other states did at that time, society strongly disapproved of interracial marriage.

Once their marriage was made public, Kip filed for divorce on the grounds of fraud. The salient question in the divorce hearing was whether Kip knew that Alice was black at the time of their marriage.

In order to answer that question, Alice’s attorney suggested that Alice bare her breasts in front of the all-white male jury, judge and attorneys in order to prove her racial identity. By viewing the shading of her areolas and legs, he said, the jurors could assess whether Kip – who had admitted to premarital sex with her – should have known her racial identity.

The judge directed Alice to follow through. Neither Alice Rhinelander’s tears nor her connection to a prominent white family could save her from the indignity of forced nudity in front of strangers. Ultimately, the jury decided that Alice was, in fact, “of colored blood” and that she did not conceal or misrepresent her racial identity.

The Past Is Present

The hostility to black women’s bodily privacy and dignity in these examples isn’t accidental. Rather, it is part of the history of how black women have been cast in U.S. society.

In the Sims and Rhinelander examples, the legal status of enslavement and weight of the court validated the coercive display of black women’s bodies. The Department of Justice found that the Baltimore police used the weight of their badges to force compliance with public strip searches. Likewise, in the Waffle House example, although Clemons’ initial exposure may not have been intentional, the police responded to her cries and her attempts to cover herself by using their authority to threaten her with further harm.

This is a unique form of sexual violence experienced by black women. The convergence of race and gender in black women’s lives has created the social conditions in which black women are coerced and often expected, under threat of punishment by the government, to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts.

Race and gender converge in black women’s lives and have created the social conditions under which black women are coerced and expected to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts, or else face punishment. If movements like #MeToo are serious about combating sexual violence, then they have to also understand these practices as sexual violence.

Yolonda Wilson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Howard University is a philosopher trained in social and political philosophy. She is interested in questions of political obligation to obey the state and how to solve problems of historic injustice. Her most recent projects are specifically in the realm of biomedical ethics. She operates on the assumption that health care is a social good, and is interested in how characteristics like race, gender, and class determine how that social good is distributed.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

See also:
Me Too Creator Tarana Burke Reminds Us This Is About Black And Brown Survivors
Lynching Memorial Shows Women Were Victims, Too

The Conversation

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

September 22, 2018

A lazy void of course Moon period impacts early risers. By mid-morning the Moon enters sensitive Pisces. Midday lunar alignments with Uranus and Saturn gracefully boost ambitions. A sense of possibility can be entrancing. Creative individuals find their…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2018

With modern day mystic Rhys Thomas INSIGHT has one simple goal.  Give you a spiritual experience (an insight) that is so real that it changes your life forever. Insight is a totally...

Where:
DoubleTree Hotel
Milford, MA


Website »

More information

Kinetic Chain Release, moxibustion and past life regression at Leapin Lizards. Every third Sunday: 9/16/18 10/21/18 11/18/18 12/16/18 For information, call Leapin Lizards at (207)...

Where:
Leapin Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME
View map »


Telephone: (207) 221-2363
Website »

More information

If you seek peace and happiness outside of yourself, this is a call to return home. What you think, you become, and what you seek is already within. This is a unique blend of practices for mind,...

Cost: $22 per class

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: SOHUM
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Break emotional patterns that keep you stuck in the pain of addictive habits. Heal mental trauma through physical practices involving movement, breath, and meditation.

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga At The Ashram
Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

What better way to end a busy day than with a little bliss. We'll support your body right where it is today and help you to open your spine to find more movement and flexibility. Begin and end...

Cost: $18

Where:
Body Love Wellness Center
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Sponsor: Bliss Through Yoga
Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation) is an innovative holistic curriculum addressing the current health crisis and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Grades 3-5 Instructor: Peyton Pugmire Spend September at Sorcery School! Students will be “sorted” into houses of their own design, create personalized wands, pen and cast rhyming...

Cost: $145

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 21 - 23 Join us for our next three-day, two-night retreat. This retreat is for those 18+ who would like support while going through change. Surrounded by nature and like-minded new...

Cost: $625

Where:
Angels’ Rest Retreat Center
63 North County Road
Leyden, MA  01337
View map »


Sponsor: Kundalini Yoga Brattleboro
Telephone: 617-763-7014
Contact Name: Cindy Siri Bani Ludlam
Website »

More information

Join Medium Bonnie Page for a special evening of dinner and messages from your loved ones at the Old Mill Restaurant in Westminster, MA. Doors open at 5:30 pm, with buffet dinner from 6:00 -...

Where:
Old Mill
Route 2A
Westminster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us preparing for the upcoming autumnal equinox over the weekend ahead! We will be doing a special meditation celebration of the equinox. We will also be integrating our Tibetan and crystal...

Cost: $25 at the door; $20 pre-register

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles RD Unit #A
Our Yellow Banner is in Window
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Come experience the presence of love. Witness the healing power of mediumship as world renown top UK spiritual medium Dominic Boag from Scotland joins New England’s own spiritual medium...

Cost: $44

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Portsmouth
100 High Street
Portsmouth, NH  03801
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

September 21 - 23 and October 5 - 7, 2018 Integrate authentic relationships into your life and your teaching. Explore and understand how we form, sustain and honor relationships. Our success as...

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village St
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Bee Kind Music Class with Carrie Rowan inspires a love to music in little ones. 10am on Fridays for 8 weeks at Playtown Express in Southboro. To register call (508) 480-0022 or...

Where:
Playtown Express
150 Cordaville Road
Southboro, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-273-2610
Website »

More information

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” — Sanskrit Proverb Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the healing...

Cost: $40 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Museum of Modern Renaissance
115 College Avenue
Somerville, MA  02144
View map »


Sponsor: HolotropicMA
Contact Name: Allen Howell M.Ed. LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

An integrative workshop in nutrition and hypnosis to help you transition to healthy eating habits. The workshop consists of 1 hour of nutritional guidance to a healthy eating plan followed by 1...

Cost: $199

Where:
NBA Business Center
145 Washington Street
Mind Balance Hypnosis
Norwell, MA  02061
View map »


Sponsor: Simplify Holistic Nutrition & Mind Balance Hypnosis
Telephone: 781-883-5951
Contact Name: Silke Heine, PhD
Website »

More information

Instructor:  Peyton Pugmire Ages 16+/Adult Like meditating with a paintbrush! Escape your stress and routine and re-connect with yourself, your heart and soul - one brushstroke at a...

Cost: $85

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

September 22 - 23 Join us for seven wonderful modules, each one designed to help you on your personal healing and empowerment journey. You will enjoy both group discussion and personal...

Cost: $205 (early bird $175)

Where:
A private home, Old Orchard Beach
Address provided to confirmed participants
Old Orchard Beach, ME
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Anzelc Huitt
Website »

More information

Celebrating The Autumnal Equinox Open House! We have a harvest full of readers and healers providing services at sampler rates! Join us to enjoy a fun fall afternoon time for yourself or to come...

Cost: 15 minutes for $25 or 3 -15 minutes for $60

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles RD Unit #A
Our Yellow Banner is in Window
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Reiki Master Teacher Libby Barnett, M.S.W., integrates her healing skills with past experience as a medical social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital. 38 years experience. Reiki...

Where:
Weston, MA


Telephone: 603-654-2787
Website »

More information

Your ideal life begins today with life-changing intuitive development training with internationally renowned medical intuitive and master healers/teachers Sue and Aaron Singleton. This...

Where:
, MA


Telephone: 978-834-0341
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags