Magazine article Dissent

Beyond Superwomen: Justice for Black Women Too

Magazine article Dissent

Beyond Superwomen: Justice for Black Women Too

Article excerpt

On June 7 8, 2007, Tommy Poindexter coaxed a woman out of her apartment in West Palm Beach, Florida by telling her that her car had aflat. Then he and nine other young black men forced her back into her home in the Dunbar Village public housing community, where they not only robbed her but engaged in three hours of rape, beatings, and torture. The female victim, a Haitian immigrant, was raped vaginally, orally, and anally, sometimes with bottles or a firearm, while they beat her twelve-year-old son in another room. In an effort to cover up their crimes, they told both the woman and her son to clean off and then forced the mother and son to have sex with each other. Finally, the assailants poured alcohol into the woman's anus, ammonia on both her and her son's eyes, stuffed a bar of soap into the woman's vagina, and tried to light the mother and child on fire as they lay naked in a bathtub.

This horrific crime gained little media attention outside the West Palm Beach area. Sadly, black political leaders assisted in that neglect. Instead of rallying to the aid of the woman and her child, the Reverend A1 Sharpton and officials from the Palm Beach chapter of the NAACP appeared at a press conference with the defendants' families. They argued it was unfair not to offer bail to the men, citing a rape case involving white defendants in another Florida jurisdiction, men who had drugged and raped two underage women. Fliers were passed out at the press conference that portrayed the defendants as "voiceless, vulnerable, victims" and "Young African- American Males [who are] An Endangered Species." Richard McIntyre, communications director for the national office of the NAACP, told a writer for the blog What About Our Daughters that "black on black crime is not part of our mission."

Eventually, both Sharpton and the NAACP revised their positions, but only after being lambasted in the black feminist blogosphere. One critic, Shecodes, whose open letter was posted at What About Our Daughters, voiced the concerns of other bloggers: "Right- thinking black people everywhere are stunned by the recent betrayal of A1 Sharpton and the NAACP in a situation that is just too outra- geous to ignore." Other bloggers added that both Sharpton and the leading civil rights group should "interpret this protest as a golden opportunity for critical self reflection, as a new line of dialogue, and as a chance to move into better alignment with the will of the very people that they exist to serve."

To date, despite the best efforts of those who tried to bring this case to light, only four of the ten assailants have been charged, tried, and sentenced. The mother and son will be struggling to heal from that ghastly day for the rest of their lives.

Why has their trauma not served to high- light issues of sexual violence against black women and families? Why have black activists not given crimes against black women the same attention they have to the cases of the Jena Six, Oscar Grant, or Trayvon Martin? One hopes the protests against the murder of nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride, a Detroit youth killed last November when, after a car accident, she knocked on a door in a mostly white suburb, will signify that this bad old pattern is changing. Still, the focus on black men as an "endangered species" all too often limits the scope and effectiveness of black politics.

Since the end of the classical phase of the black freedom movement in the 1960s, many African-American activists have sought to boost the patriarchal role of black men. The huge number of female-headed, single-parent families, they argue, is at the root of a range of interconnected social ills-drug abuse, innercity crime, and poverty. This emphasis on supposed black cultural pathology limits the vision of black politics, promoting sexism and making the individual and the family the only proper sites for change. The defense of black manhood overshadows the struggles faced by poor and working-class black women and girls who are also under siege. …

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