“Guilty.” One word made my night. I’d already braced myself for what I knew would be another acquittal, the latest in a series – a practice even – of injustices to black victims of police-perpetrated violence, so the news that Daniel Holtzclaw would be held accountable for raping 13 black women was a pleasant surprise to say the least.
I scrambled to find video of the delivery of the verdicts. He wept. He put his head down and wept. Shoulders shaking, he sobbed inconsolably. His visible despair brought me a nearly orgasmic joy. I posted on Facebook and tweeted smugly, basking in the rare moment that black victims, specifically black women, are granted some semblance of justice. It was, though, a temporary joy, quickly pierced by the reality that one act of retribution on behalf of a baker’s dozen of black women is but a napkin to a flood.
In the months since news of the rapes first broke, the collective silence of black men was deafening. It is a familiar, customary silence, tragically obvious whenever a black woman suffers the same police brutality for which black men have all but declared exclusive ownership. Still, the sting of the disillusionment and yearn to feel protected never wear thin. Their disregard for us is expected yet devastating, anticipated yet inconceivable, grasped yet inexplicable.
Certainly, this victory – if it can be called such – was welcome. My god, was it welcome! Still I couldn’t help but cringe as men, black men, who’d not made any mention of this case from the time news broke up until the jury announced its verdict, eagerly reveled in contentment that a white man, one who wore a blue uniform, would be punished for his crimes against black bodies. No concern did they show for the victims whose lives had been inevitably changed forever. No words of encouragement or solidarity did they offer to other brutalized black women, those too afraid or too broken to come forward. No, this triumph was solely for them, and that the bodies of 13 black women had to be violated to secure it seemed inconsequential.
That’s no new phenomenon, though. Black women’s bodies have been being sacrificed, voluntarily or forcibly, to the benefit of black men for centuries. It was Harriet Tubman who risked her life scores of times to free slaves, showing the courage men twice her size could not muster. It was Ella Baker who was raped and sodomized in prisons, arrested for fighting for the lives of black men. Even today, it is largely black women, the same black women who black men label angry, sassy, ghetto and unwanted, who have led the charge for the current movement to end police brutality, taking pepper spray and rubber bullets to the face but never backing down.
Beautiful, black, womanly bodies were once again forfeited, without their consent or compliance. Beautiful, black, womanly bodies — bodies unworthy of shielding, uplifting or comforting — unwittingly struck a blow for us all. The desecration of beautiful, black, womanly bodies, bodies not unlike the ones demeaned and degraded for twerking and birthing too many babies, swung the pendulum of justice our way, if only for a moment. Beautiful, black, womanly bodies forced in the backseat of squad cars, fondled and groped, fought back for us all.
And true to form, black women graciously shared this moment with our counterparts, perhaps clinging to the eternal hope that this moment would transcend hundreds of years of history, and that black men would collectively stand for us. But also true to form, the collective response from black men was to rejoice in the victory without embracing the teammates. They bowed their heads to accept medals and left their tired, sweaty, worn teammates standing on the sidelines with outstretched hands impatiently expecting teammates to grab them.
Yet tomorrow, undoubtedly, beautiful, black, womanly bodies much like those who stood for us in Oklahoma will be ridiculed, critiqued and shamed. Black women will continue to be used and sacrificed. Our routine abuse and brutalization will still be ignored and downplayed. Our wounds from neglect and animus will be mocked and patronized. And still, our beautiful, black, womanly bodies will absorb and transform tragedy with the fervor of an unyielding, unrequited obligation to black men.