This week we saw two cases of injustice where race and gender played a deciding role. The first occurred last week when Amber Guyger, an off-duty Dallas police officer, entered the apartment of Botham Shem Jean, a 26 year old black man, and fatally shot him.
There have been accounts surfacing that attempt to justify the killing by saying that Officer Guyger just came off a gruelling 15 hour shift and thought the apartment to be her own and believed Botham to be an intruder, or in the latest testimony from Officer Guyger she claims that she reacted by shooting because Botham ignored her “verbal commands.” But no matter what way you cut it, there is no excuse for this murder. This is simply another clear example of how our siblings of color are not safe, even in their own homes, from law enforcement.
Botham Shem Jean is the latest example of how we kill our siblings of color and instead of acknowledging how broken our criminal justice system is. Instead, we rush to justify the behavior of our officers and blame the dead for the police officers who quickly pull triggers.
The racist myth of the dangerous black male no doubt played a role in this murder. And as Monique Judge of The Root wrote, “The truth is, Botham Jean was in his apartment minding his own business, and he should still be alive right now. A series of choices made by Amber Guyger took his life away from him. Let’s not lose sight of that. Don’t blame Botham Jean. Blame Amber Guyger, the police officer who pulled out a gun and shot him.”
Lord, have mercy on us, and welcome Botham Shem Jean with all your saints.
In the second case of race and gender injustice we saw this past weekend, tennis star, Serena Williams was penalized a full game for “verbal abuse” after arguing a call in the finals of the 2018 US Open. Now I watched the series of events leading up to this penalty beginning with Serena being warned for cheating by receiving hand signals from her coach in the stands, to her smashing her racket, to her calling the referee a “thief” for stealing a point from her, to the referee finally issuing a third warning and giving a full game penalty to Serena. And after hearing from those in and around the sport of tennis, they have never witnessed anyone penalized to such a degree for such actions.
The heavy handed way these penalties came down was no doubt a reflection of the way in which we cast black women into the role of the angry black woman, and we rob them of any ability to express complex and messy emotion without being dismissed or punished for doing so.
Then came the cartoon by Mark Knight:
In this depiction, Serena is portrayed as a hulking figure complete with all of the traditional racist imagery of unkempt hair and large lips.
Behind Williams is her competitor, Naomi Osaka depicted with light skin, slim frame, and blonde hair. As Zeba Blay of The Huffington Post wrote, “She might as well be Maria Sharapova.”
But Osaka is not white, she’s Japanese and Haitian. So what does this all mean?
Zeba Blay continues:
What happened during the match wasn’t solely political. It was deeply personal. It was human drama played out for millions of people. It was bigger than any narratives we can thrust upon it. The cartoon, the headlines ― they’re all in keeping with a consistent and collective inability in the culture to see black women as complex and capable of expressing myriad emotions, from rage to joy to despair. Or to allow two black women to reach for excellence at the same time.
Knight’s cartoon is what happens when we flatten whole human beings into types, when the story and its narratives become far more important than the nuance. In the process, racist and sexist assumptions are perpetuated and we strip people of their right to be weak and strong, of the totality of their humanity.
Here is the bottom line: On Saturday, two talented tennis players ― one black, one Japanese and black ― played a deeply emotional game, and those emotions came brimming to the surface for a whole host of reasons.
One weekend, two examples of how racism and sexism can have deadly and disparaging results. Too long have our siblings of color suffered under these unjust conditions. How long, O Lord, will these conditions endure? The answer to that question begins with us.