Why sharing the McKinney video is “exposing” racism at the expense of Black women

The video of a McKinney police officer assaulting a 14-year-old Black girl has had millions of views, hundreds of thousands of shares, and its screenshots have formed the backdrop of most articles I have seen online since. While uproar has indeed led to the officer resigning (with pension and benefits), how is it that a video and images of a grown man assaulting an under-aged girl have been watched by so many anti-violence activists and shared by so many advocates? Why is it that “exposing” anti-Black racism comes at the expense of Black women?

In discussing the problems with watching and sharing such brutal videos, it is important not to give the impression that the issue of state violence against Black women at all enjoys some sort of consistent national visibility. Rather, as Chaedria Labouvier points out this week, McKinney is just another reminder of why we have to #SayHerName:

It’s clear: many police officers in police forces across America are racist—Eric Casebolt isn’t the exception. I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it, if the problem hadn’t reached epidemic proportions. But what isn’t so clear is that Black women are victims of police brutality too. The list of victims of police brutality includes women too, many of them Black: Rekia Boyd. Aiyana Jones. Yvette Smith. Jessie Hernandez. Almost none of these women received justice or inclusion into the national dialogue. The Twitter campaign #SayHerName is an effort to raise the visibility of the Black female victims of police brutality. Elizabeth Millaine Nations commented on the McKinney Police Department’s page, “Is it just me, or did [Eric Casebolt] look like he enjoyed kneeling on top of her a little too much?” No, girl, it’s not just you. I noticed it too. Lots of us noticed it. And it made me think of Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma police officer accused of sexually assaulting 13 Black women. And the transgender women, most of them Black, that are dying, abused, or neglected by the police.

As multiple other writers have pointed out, raising the visibility Black women in the national conversation is not only a matter of drawing attention to police brutality against Black women — it is matter of drawing attention to rampant sexual assault against Black women because the two are very much interlinked.

So ignoring violence is fucked up. For many of those reading, that’s probably obvious. But what is less obvious is the problem with our entitlement to videos of abuse and trauma. What is also fucked up is our inability to fully believe in the existence of such violence — to only be “convinced” of the “details” of what happened — until after we have watched, shared, and made viral another video of another Black women being abused.

In the last year, we’ve watched Ranay Rice being beaten and dragged, Marlene Pinnock pummeled on a highway by a California Highway Patrol officer, and now an officer digging his body into Dajerria Becton’s bare back. We share Black women’s assaults online, and they become commodified as news items, and are broadcasted globally on major networks. As Hannah Giorgis wrote for The Guardian last fall after the Rice video came out: “We viciously ingest every vivid detail of women’s victimization, line our stomachs with their blood and tell ourselves we’re watching because we want people to be ‘educated’. If only people could see enough black eyes, bloodied faces and broken ribs, the theory goes. Then they would know the truth, we tell ourselves. Only then would they care.”

As Katie McDonough wrote in Salon about Rice, some of us may want to “game out possibilities of what such videos will ‘do’.” It’s “possible that the millions of people who are now watching the video may ‘learn’ something about the realities of domestic violence that they previously couldn’t grasp. (It’s also possible that they will simply tweet about having watched it and move on.)” Similarly, it’s possible the millions of non-Black people who are watching the McKinney video may “learn” something about the realities of being Black in America, segregated pools, and racist police. But whatever people “learn,” it will be at the expense of this young girl. This video too, as McDonough wrote before, yet again “exposes the brutality of a culture that does not see women as human. Millions of people are watching this video, presumably to learn about how “bad” the violence really was. (Something they couldn’t believe, it seems, without seeing it for themselves.) But what are they actually learning? So we can’t hit women, but we can violate them and deny their humanity in any other way short of physical assault?”

Once again we’re seeing that our culture not only gives minimal fucks for women who survive assault — but it particularly gives 000 fucks for Black women. As Meredith Clark writes, “Stories — especially the ones from women of color who have been historically overlooked or shamed into silence — need to be told.” But using videos without consent for the sake of preventing additional instances of domestic violence (or sexual violence or police violence) is, what Kimberly Ellis calls, just placing Black women’s bodies “on the altar for sacrifice.” It violates our ethical obligation to treat survivors as people rather than as vehicles for social change. While Clark’s piece targets journalists who profit off of these videos, her criticism is still relevant to feminists this week: using brutal videos as advocacy tools is just another crappy means of subordinating a Black woman’s humanity in the name of allyship. And it betrays an ugly truth that girds much of our solidarity: that we often won’t believe a Black woman’s truth until we’ve watched extended video of her abuse.

If we want to call attention to what is happening in McKinney, there are plenty of videos that do serve as much less crappy advocacy tools — videos where the young people affected have chosen to speak to the camera (i.e. with consent). Check out and elevate what Dajerria Becton, the party host, and the white teen who filmed the incident have to say about what happened to them in their own words. And lastly, let’s not forget that we shouldn’t need 14-year-old kids detailing their abuse to remind us of what we already know is systemically happening.

 Header Image Credit: Markus’ Prime Instagram.

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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