“Jezebel” by Sikivu Hutchinson Excerpt from Free Inquiry Magazine, December 2012


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Excerpt from “Jezebel” Free Inquiry Magazine, December 2012

 

My first memory of attending a political protest was with my father after a woman named Eulia Love was murdered by two LAPD officers in 1979 in South Central Los Angeles.  Love was gunned down after allegedly threatening them with a butcher knife.  The killing elicited a firestorm in the African American community, which was still reeling from the 1965 Watts Rebellion.  What stood out for me as a child was the fact that this was a black woman victim, a mother, killed in cold blood at her own house.  Home was supposed to be a safe space and a private sanctuary.  It was what every proper, moral girl aspired to keep.  In the white popular imagination home was the maternal blur of Ozzie and Harriet reruns, the dayglo of the uber-blond Brady Bunch, the toasty smell of Donna Reed’s oven.  Home was supposed to be immune to outside forces; a preserve guarded by those that were sworn to protect and serve, like the strapping officers from L.A.’s finest who pumped several rounds into Love’s body as she lay on the ground.

Love was killed on the watch of infamous LAPD chief Darryl Gates, the Bull Connor of the Wild Wild West.  Gates used battering rams to ransack poor neighborhoods and once stated that blacks didn’t respond to chokeholds like “normal people.”  Normal people meant white people, the gold standard for human biology, culture, and civilization. Guilty until proven innocent, black people weren’t normal because they didn’t have homes, families or children worth protecting.

 

The idea of home as safe space and private sanctuary has always been paradoxical for black women.  As poster children for bad motherhood, vilified as Jezebels from slavery to the 1965 Moynihan Report[1] to the 2009 film Precious, black women could never serve up America’s apple pie unless they borrowed Aunt Jemima’s head scarf.  Historically, black women have never been considered fully human or fully female. This regime of sexual terrorism was established under slavery, nourished in the lap of a “Christian” nation, and codified by its secular Constitution.  In this brave new world of “liberty and justice for all” only black women’s bodies could produce new slaves:

 

“Children got by an Englishman upon a Negro woman shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother, and if any Christian shall commit fornication with a Negro man or woman he shall pay double the fines of the former act.[1]”

 

Racial slavery in the United States was institutionalized on the backs and in the wombs of black women.  Black women were brought to this country to work and continue (despite the myth of the shiftless welfare queen) to have the highest workforce representation amongst all groups of women.  When the GOP propagandizes about the repeal of workfare requirements or demonizes Obama as the “food stamp” president black women’s bodies are its symbolic shorthand.  When racist demagogues howl about anchor babies, breeder illegal aliens, and “English Only” mandates all communities of color are criminalized.   When Voter ID laws disenfranchise an already diminished black and Latino electorate separate and unequal will continue to give the lie to American exceptionalism. This is the reality that radical humanist feminism must pivot on—for the misogynist evangelical backlash against civil rights and women’s rights poses the gravest threat to women of color.

 


[1] See Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 Labor Department report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”  The Moynihan Report argued that the “matriarchal” culture of the black family was the primary source of black poverty and social dysfunction.

 

[2] Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact on Black Women of Race and Sex in America (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), p. 37.

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