Dear Ashleigh Banfield,
This past week was an all-too-familiar scene across our news media; police violence against Black youth was once again caught on camera and broadcasted for the world to see. But as heart wrenching as the footage was, it also brought forth a great opportunity to have a nuanced national conversation about race and gender.
That’s why I am so disappointed with your assertion that race had nothing to do with Eric Casebolt’s assault on 15 year-old Dajerria Becton. It was implicit biases at the intersection of both her gender and race that governed her interaction with Officer Casebolt, an intersection that defines the experiences of so many Black women and girls. In fact, lack of recognition of this intersectional experience is precisely what renders us practically invisible to policymakers, the justice system, and even some feminists.
A serious discussion of implicit bias is critical to any substantive conversation about race and gender. A real and present danger in the lives of Black communities, it influences our treatment in classrooms, in courtrooms, and during interactions with the police. As Sojourner Truth’s famous “Aint I A Woman?” speech attests, Black women experience an ugly cocktail of misogyny and racism that conjures a very unique form of oppression that takes root at birth, and can have dire consequences at Dajerria Becton’s age.
A recent report by the African American Policy Forum found that, during the 2011-12 academic year, twelve percent of all Black girls in school were suspended, compared to just two percent of white girls. In New York City’s public schools in particular, Black girls were a whopping 90 percent of all girls expelled. According to the report, Black girls receive harsher punishments than their peers because they are stereotyped as “ghetto” and “rowdy.” These harsh punishments fuel the school-to-prison pipeline, forcing far too many Black girls out of school and into the criminal justice system for seemingly minor infractions.
In other words, race matters. When Dajerria Becton walked into the Craig Ranch North Community pool, she walked in as her full self; a young, Black woman. Sadly, she was treated the way our society too often treats us; with malice, hostility, and violence.
There’s already a chorus of voices committed to forging a dangerous, dehumanizing media landscape for Black people. Megyn Kelly called Dajerria “no saint either,” explaining that she “continued to linger” after being told to leave the area. Sean Hannity defended Eric Casebolt, and blamed President Obama for creating an environment in America where children don’t respect the police. And The Five’s Tom Shillue claimed the video “didn’t shock me at all,” and actually justified Casebolt pulling a gun on the unarmed teens, asserting “he was intimidating the cop” by running in his direction.
I urge you not to be one of them. Our media landscape is deeply impactful upon the perceptions of viewers, affecting the way Black communities are viewed and treated by teachers, employers, and police, just to name a few. The lives of Black men and women, boys and girls across this country hang in the balance every day that America doesn’t take seriously the crisis of implicit bias, intersectional oppression, and police brutality. I challenge you to educate yourself on these issues, and to be a part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Arisha Hatch is the Managing Director of Campaigns, ColorOfChange.org