As the not guilty verdict hit social media feeds around the world, it left many Black people just nodding their heads, as Officer Betty Shelby was able to exit an Oklahoma courtroom a free woman. Officer Shelby would not be held accountable for fatally wounding African American motorist Terence Crutcher. Justice once again found a way to laugh in the face of African Americans. If Lady Justice is blind, she sure has 20/20 vision when it comes to allowing White officers to walk free after they murder Black civilians. While I would like to say that I am shocked and stunned by the verdict, I am not. Betty Shelby joins a long a line of White women in America who are afforded the permission to be the victim especially when it comes to encounters with African American men.When Shelby broke her silence about the fatal encounter with Crutcher, she made sure to note that he was “about 6 feet tall and 240 pounds.” While Shelby contends that Crutcher’s race and body size did not influence her decision to murder him in the middle of the street, it echoes an officer’s comments made from the helicopter that was recording the encounter, that Crutcher looks like a “bad dude.” I am curious, if Crutcher had no weapons and admittedly Shelby said that Crutcher was not acting aggressively, what would make a man all the way in a helicopter ascertain that Crutcher looked like a “bad dude”? It is always funny to me how when a Black man is involved in a situation with the police their height, and weight always becomes a determining factor when deciding if they should live or die. We saw this countless times over when Mike Brown was made to appear as the Incredible Hulk and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by an officer on a playground in less than 2 minutes. The news media focused on the height, and weight of Tamir instead of an emphasis on the fact that this was a 12-year-old child was murdered by the police.
This is often how the media generates the story when it comes to race relations. Black men are always painted as large, dark, menacing, evil and overpowering figures. And White women are painted as the innocent, demure, vulnerable victims that need to be coddled and protected especially from Black men that seek to harm them usually in a sexually violent manner. This is a narrative that has been generated since slavery. However, we know that indeed it was White slaveowners and their wives that abused, humiliated, whipped, raped and murdered Black men and women. White America has created, perpetuated and sold this myth to the world that it is not them that have committed some of the most if not THE most heinous crimes against humanity, but it is Black people, especially Black men that seek to harm White women.
The media continues to bolster this narrative with the damsel in distress theme. It is always a White woman that must be rescued from impending harm. From books to movies to fairytales White women are always portrayed as the innocent, demure, feminine and sexual being that must be rescued from the stereotype of the wild, savage and brutal Black man. Little girls are born and raised with images of Disney Princesses like Snow White and Cinderella, that must be rescued by their knight in shining armor. Black women are never portrayed in a way that would allow them humanity and vulnerability. Even when Disney did finally make a movie, The Princess, and the Frog, with a Black female lead character, it was not the prince that saved Tiana; it was Tiana that saved the prince. Black women are never allowed to be seen as vulnerable and in need of being rescued. Black women are never allowed to be the victim.
Similar to the narrative White America has sold about the savage and brute Black men, White America has developed and perpetuated the narrative that Black women are always the strong, wide-hipped, asexual, sassy, loud talking, side kick that is always there to provide a shoulder to cry on for White women with a finger snap, neck roll and an ounce of humor. This myth is bolstered in Hollywood with the mammy character in Gone With the Wind, Hattie McDaniel, the Black assistant coming to save the day played by Jennifer Hudson in Sex And The City, and Regina Long’s character in Miss Congeniality. Black women are never portrayed as needing compassion and understanding.This manifest beyond the big screen to real life when White women are often glorified and made into heroes for committing violent acts. Instead of portraying White women as violent murderers the media will often portray them as meek, innocent and as a woman that was pushed beyond her control. Even when White women commit some of the most heinous crimes, they are portrayed as the victim, and we are not called to vilify them but to understand them and sympathize with them. From murderers Jodi Arias, Laurie Bambenek, and Betty Broderick to child molesters, Mary Kay Letourneau, Deborah LaVave and Pamela Rogers Turner, the world attempts to make White women that commit crimes heroes and their actions excusable and acceptable. Betty Shelby stands in line with a list of White women that have circumvented justice.
White America continues to perpetuate the strong Black women myth because it absolves them of any guilt for how they treat Black women. Indeed, Black women are strong because we have always had to be strong. Society never gave us the luxury of breaking down. Society never gave us the luxury of taking a day off. Society never gave us the luxury to mourn. Society never gave us the luxury to be vulnerable. And because it never did, it does not have to see us that way, and that is why we can be abused, overlooked, overworked, raped, and beaten, and we are just supposed to be able to take it with a sister girl smile and a high five.
I understand that Black women make this look easy but we are not leprechauns or your magical Negro. Despite us declaring that Black women possess Black Girl Magic, there is nothing magical about this. What you don’t acknowledge is Black mothers burying their sons and daughters, Black women putting up with sexual harassment at work because they have to put food on the table, Black women that are raped by an officer and too afraid to speak out because who would believe them anyway? What you don’t see is a Black girl with an officer’s knee in her back coming from a day at the swimming pool, or a Black girl thrown across a classroom like a ragdoll by a White officer because she is not moving as quickly as he would like. What you don’t recognize is that Black women hurt and bruise and bleed. There is nothing race specific about pain and hurt and depression. There is nothing race specific about vulnerability. There nothing race specific about being the victim. For centuries Black women have had to go to rest in a bed of despair, crying tears into our pillows of heartache and no one ever stops to recognize that we hurt too. Sometimes we need to be rescued. There are days that we need to be seen as meek and soft and gentle and kind because that is who we are. Being a Black woman does not absolve us from heartache and pain and it certainly never seems to absolve us from the long arm of the law.
Am I surprised Betty Shelby walked out of a courthouse free to go home to her family while Terence Crutcher’s family visits him at a graveyard? Not in the least bit. Betty always had two things working in her favor. She is an officer, and she is a White woman. America believes that officers are always innocent and White women are always the victim. Betty was never going to be convicted because she had everything working in her favor. It’s the American Way.