Another Day, Another Murder.
While oblivious whites and pandering Blacks across the country stew in fury over silent protests, Terence Crutcher was murdered by Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby on Friday, September 16th. His egregious crime? Car trouble. His SUV had broken down in the middle of the road when Ofcs. Shelby and Tyler Turnbough approached him–en route to a totally different call. Crutcher was executed with his hands up, unarmed, and obeying officer commands.
Just another day in America.
Reach for the Sky
There is video of this execution, but I refuse to watch another state-sponsored act of genocide against Black bodies. What stood out to me from the transcript of the audio is a comment by officer dispatch in the helicopter. The unidentified officer states that Crutcher:
…Looks like a bad dude, too. Could be on something.
Amazing, isn’t it, how he could assess so much about this man’s character from thousands of feet above. But it also brings an uncomfortable thought to the forefront.
The stereotypical assumptions of Patrice Brown (#TeacherBae) are the same assumptions that killed Terence Crutcher.
White Gaze, Black Bodies
Terence’s intent and capacity to harm was gauged simply by the size and color of his body. Much in the same way that Patrice was vilified as an agent of the sexualization of children merely because of the shape and flow of her curves. We recoil at the stereotypes of our bodies that have been produced by White Gaze. Simultaneously, we uphold them as a benchmark of respectability.
And it’s killing us all, literally and figuratively.
Fallacious assumptions about Terence’s character led to his literal death. The same formulaic narrative will be trotted out: unarmed man is killed, officer placed on paid administrative leave, and assassination of character as a means of justification will begin. In less than 48 hours, we’ll know everything bad about Crutcher and everything good about Ofc. Shelby. Because the stereotypes don’t survive without enforcement.
When We Reinforce the Worst
But sometimes, just sometimes, we do the work of reinforcing the respectability politics of white gaze ourselves. No better evidence of that is given than with the case of APS paraprofessional Patrice Brown. Like Crutcher, all assessments about Brown were made on the basis of her body. Like Crutcher, Brown’s intent and potential to harm were all based on her visage. Just like the officers that murdered Crutcher on the basis of faulty logical assumptions, our community took Brown to task in the same way.
There are actual predatory teachers and coaches that have done actual harm to children (What’s good, Mary Kay LeTourneau and Jerry Sandusky?). They look nothing like Patrice Brown, a fact that both enabled and protected them in their commission of harms against children. The discussion around #TeacherBae Patrice Brown was not her qualifications or even impact in the classroom. All the discussion was around her body and questioning of her professionalism in the workplace because of her body. The mere existence of her body, in its natural state, is enough to cause harm.
And if we believe that to be true, how are we effectively dismantling the long held beliefs of whites (on the bench and behind the badge) that Black bodies are inherently harmful and dangerous?
We Failed Her
Patrice Brown has a figure that couldn’t be hidden in the loosest of potato sacks. It is a figure that many of as as Black women possess, even if our hip to waist proportions are larger. Yet, it was we as Black women who were first to negatively engage in conversations around Brown’s body. We accused her of lacking professional integrity. We accused her of not protecting children from early sexualization merely by the presence and presentation of her covered body.
Many of us didn’t protect her. Many of us didn’t see ourselves in her. Many of us had momentary lapses of the number of times we were told our bodies were unprofessional in the workplace and unholy in the pulpit. We projected our insecurities onto her body merely for her daring to exist in a space with curves she neither asked for nor attempted to deny.
And yet, we’re now seething with anger as another Black man has been killed by assumptions of the intent of his body.
But the assumptions made about Terence’s body are no different than those made about Patrice’s body. Blackness has been dehumanized to a point where we are only as valuable as the presentation of our bodies and their abilities. Kaepernick was praised for his athletic ability but the same people who now take umbrage at his protest. Beyoncé was a fine performer until she reminded her white audience of her Blackness. We are all just fine as long as our bodies can be contorted into a harmless, seen but not heard state of being.
And that is no way to live. But certainly stepping outside of its confines is an almost assured way to die.
Black Bodies Deserve Better
Terence Crutcher didn’t deserve to die because of the assumptions made about his body. Patrice Brown doesn’t deserve to have her professional and moral integrity questioned and reprimanded because of her body. Amid our external protests, isn’t it worth it to consider how we police and define the appropriateness of Black bodies?