The Hidden Way Race Plays in the Images We See and Share Today.
Norman Rockwell known for the iconic image of Ruby Bridges (left) decided not to draw the hateful mob filled with white women (right). They were most likely mothers who had children at the same age as Ruby. They were attacking and threatening a six-year-old girl who was simply attempting to get an education.
I will disclose that the Rockwell drawing with six year old Ruby Bridges hangs on my wall for all to see. A recent cartoon attempts to erase this history by replacing Ruby with a white woman. It isn’t only an insult to the historical moment that the image represents but it sets DeVos up to be an “innocent” woman that needs to be saved. ALL of which would fall into alternative facts and a replacement of the pain that a little black girl endured. It equates Ruby’s struggle to be analogous to that of an adult white woman. The concept that a black girl of color isn’t innocent isn’t new but this image of DeVos as a small woman with huge men surrounding her to protect her isn’t either.
What this image says is that an adult woman, a billionaire heiress, who used her money through campaign dollars to support Senators that voted her into position is equivalent to a young black girl attempting to simply get an education. A false equivalence is a mild description for this outrageous cartoon.
There is an old saying that imitation is a form of flattery. However, replacement is an interesting mix of denigration and offensiveness. The most recent offensive form of replacement is through images like these shared on social media. The jokes, the cartoons that folks think are humorous are probably the worst offenders. It’s like saying the joke isn’t racist while everything about the joke is about racist stereotypes.
In our current climate diversity is becoming aligned with “divisiveness.” In essence, if you speak up about diversity you are in fact not participating in unity but division. This is just another method to harass women of color so they will not point out racism among “innocent” “well meaning” white women. I have a saying, the benefit of the doubt is rarely given to the victims but almost always to the offenders. However even with proof many are absolved of their actions. Innocent until proven guilty is rarely bestowed upon women of color. Innocence was not bestowed upon six year old Ruby.
Yet, this isn’t the only time something like this has happen. Gabrielle Douglas went through something similar during the 2016 Olympics. She spoke about her experience at the Makers conference during a discussion lead by Luvvie Ajayi. The level of online harassment was extremely overwhelming for her. It was so intense that she couldn’t enjoy her gold medal win. What wasn’t publicly discussed in the media was that one of the alternates Mykayla Skinner was adding to that harassment by retweeting images of herself superimposed over the image of Gabby.
Skinner was supposed to be a teammate, someone who Gabby should have been able to depend on for support. The most interesting part is Skinner felt she could be an “easy” replacement for a three time Olympic Gold Medal winner. Someone who had the highest scores in 2012 to win the Individual All Around for the vault, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise. Gabby became the first American gymnast to win both the Individual All Around and the team Gold Medals. Last I checked, Skinner didn’t qualify for that category which is why she was an alternate in the first place. Douglas was among the “Fierce Five” in 2012 and the “Final Five” in 2016. Yet, Skinner felt she could simply take her place. This isn’t a false equivalence, this is a young white woman participating in racism against her teammate during one of the most diverse wins in Olympic history for the USA on a worldwide stage.
Another recent and one of the most egregious in my opinion is the image of Beyonce with George Clooney’s face superimposed on hers. Beyonce shared an intimate moment with a display of images that included her culture and a focus on her heritage. Yet, someone thought it was humorous to replace that moment with a white man who can not give birth nor has a connection to her cultural symbols.
What was going to happen next was a white women imitating Beyonce’s image. Though many do believe imitation is a form of flattery it’s not the case here. The appropriation or erasure of the cultural significance of these images is completely lost and sends a message of disrespect to black women.
The Kim Kardashian photoshoot in Paper magazine is another clear example of how black women’s bodies are treated. Tiffanie Drayton does a great job in describing the full level of denigration in her piece, More Thoughts On Jean-Paul Goude, The Black Jezebel Stereotype & That Racist Kim Kardashian Photoshoot. I won’t place those images here because I find them highly offensive on so many levels.
In the case with Hillary Clinton, a meme that has continued to take flight about “Nasty Woman.” A term that was used during a debate night with the then Republican Presidential candidate. Nasty, is the name of a song by Janet Jackson. So the meme was taken from a lyric in her song, “My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet –Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.” Though the meme itself wasn’t offensive the images of Clinton’s face superimposed over Jackson’s was.
One of the main reasons is the complicated relationship HRC has with the black community as a whole and black women in particular. HRC has not done a great job with repairing that relationship throughout her campaign or even now. Yet, 94% of black women voted for her and she lost because 53% of white women did not.
When I hear or read the words “Where’s the solidarity?” Where’s the unity? that many white women demand of women of color, especially when they are speaking up about racism, I immediately think about things like this. Remember this post and these images. If you participate in these types of activities you are telling us that there is none. For many of whom are asking those questions, if you participate in racist behaviors including sharing images like these, note, that’s not an act of solidarity. It’s an old playbook of historical erasure and silencing that needs to end.