Posted on Fri, May. 04, 2007
By CONSEULA FRANCIS
There’s probably been more than enough said about both Don Imus and the Duke rape case. I have debated whether I should add my voice to the throng. But then I think about this statement and why it bothers me so much:
“Why do people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson always play the race card? We will never get over our divisions unless people learn to let things go.”
What does this even mean? Does it mean that racism will end if we let racists be racist in peace? We can live in a less racially divisive society if only I can learn not to bother you with the circumstances and consequences of my oppression? Your need to live free of emotional and social discomfort is more important than my right to be heard?
And what exactly am I getting out of this? The right to be called a “nappy-headed ho” on national radio? Thanks but no thanks.
If this was the only thing bothering me about the whole matter, I might be able to let it go. I can’t though. Here’s why:
In the rush to defend the Rutgers women’s basketball team, it seems that they have earned our support precisely because they are not actually “nappyheaded hos.” They are not the young woman in the Duke case. That nameless young woman — a single mother, a college dropout, a former exotic dancer, as every article reminds us — didn’t deserve our defense. We could be outraged on her behalf. We could rail against the white male privilege run amok. But defend her? No.
Her very existence undermines what so many black women try so hard to prove every day: We are not welfare mothers. We are not video vixens. We are not “nappy-headed hos.” But being the sexual entertainment at a party full of white men doesn’t really demonstrate that, does it? So there will be no defense of her, no meetings with her, no rallying around her now that North Carolina has decided she’s a liar.
But the Rutgers players? These young women are on the Condoleezza Path of Success. They have struggled, worked hard, followed the rules, played the game. and it’s paying off. They have been trotted out on TV, not a nappy head among them, looking every bit the bright, high-achieving women they are. And the implication, at least to my eyes, is that they deserve our protection because they are good girls. What would have happened if they had been less than good?
Maybe this all bothers me because I was placed on the Condoleeza Path of Success early in life. I learned, even though no one ever said these words, that being smart and well-spoken and modest would protect me from many of the degradations that so many black women have to live with every day. And I succeeded. I live with a certain amount of privilege that many black women don’t have.
It’s amazing how people’s facial expressions and body language change when I introduce myself as Dr. Francis or mention that I’m a college professor. A whole set of assumptions about me get thrown out because of that PhD. But Dr. Francis isn’t exactly tattooed on my forehead, is it?
I walk around in my brown skin, appearing very much the nappy-headed ho to the Imuses of the world simply because of that skin. And it’s small comfort to think that, apparently, my only defense against that is trying really hard to be Condoleezza.
Dr. Francis is an assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston.