Zola, Jess and the Perpetual Innocence of White Women


If you’ve been online in the past few days, you’ve definitely seen some mention of Zola, Jess and Tampa. Long story short, Zola (a black woman) and Jess (a white woman) are two strippers who traveled to Tampa for work and ended up on an adventure straight out of a Hollywood movie complete with prostitution, pimping, assault and guns. While I was not awestruck by the story (told through a series of tweets) like most were, what did strike me was the almost immediate backlash against Zola by white women.

If you read the story, you know that Jess asked Zola to come with her to strip at clubs in Florida. Unbeknownst to Zola, the trip was actually one set up for Jess to prostitute. Zola ended up assisting her in upping the prices and making sure she was safe (as safe as one can be as a sex worker), receiving  a cut of the money Jess made. Online, I saw so many comments from white women saying Zola should be in prison for pimping Jess, and how she’s a horrible person for taking advantage of someone, particularly a vulnerable woman.

Now first let me say, I don’t even know that this story is true. I’m sure that even if it is, there’s more to it or at least a different version. But what I find absolutely typical yet still amazing is how the white woman in the story is automatically the victim, and the black woman the villain. It’s an age-old narrative. White women are always set up or coerced into whatever mayhem they find themselves caught up in. Yet, many times white women have orchestrated and masterminded evil, only to play innocent when it backfires. The fact that white women read this story (accepting it as true) and were only outraged at Zola’s or Z’s (the man who’s best described as Jess’ pimp) exploitation is quintessential white woman shit.

So the fact that Jess lied to Zola about the true purpose of the trip doesn’t stand out? The fact that Jess’ true intention seems to be getting Zola to get down with Z doesn’t stand out? The fact that Jess had Zola virtually stranded with a bunch of strangers doesn’t stand out? The fact that Jess lied to her boyfriend and mother (who was keeping her child) doesn’t stand out? None of Jess’ treacherous actions matter?

This just solidifies what I’ve been saying all along: White women are perpetual victims. No matter the harm they cause, they’re never responsible. They’re delicate and fragile, almost child-like in their innocence. Any consequences suffered by others because of a white woman’s actions are unintentional and minuscule in comparison to the consequences visited upon the white woman. To hold a white woman accountable is to be a bully and/or a misogynist. It’s a cardinal sin.

This is the same frenzy white feminists were worked up in over Rihanna’s video for Bitch Better Have My Money. The immediate response was that Rihanna was practicing the same misogyny she hates by kidnapping and killing her accountant’s wife. See, even in a fictional video, white women cannot fathom that another white woman could ever do anything deserving of punishment. It’s the same sentiment that got black men hanged after they were lured into the barn by Missy Anne or Miss Jane who cried rape when they were discovered. It’s why Amanda Knox implicated an innocent black man, ruined his life and was never held responsible for it. It’s a violent pedestal built on centuries of having white women’s feelings trump the destruction they’ve caused. It’s an irreproachable purity drilled in by Hollywood and news media.

We are never allowed to call out the evil of white women because it doesn’t exist. It’s always misguided benevolence or naivety. Jess didn’t trick Zola into going on a trip with the intention of having Zola turn tricks. Jess was herself Z’s victim, lured into a dark world of sex and violence, and as such, was acting under the control of a violent misogynist who preyed on her innocence.

That’s the narrative in so many white women’s heads when reading that story because they cannot conceive of a black protagonist pitted against a white antagonist. It’s the reason white women pour out their hearts about how they’re not bad people and th

ey fight for all women, and so many black and brown women give them not an ounce of sympathy because we know that if they’re always the victim, we’re always the agressor, instigator and agitator. So, no, Jess is not a victim, at least not at the hands of Zola. She played the game and lost. She lied and deceived and suffered the consequences of her deceit.

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