That may sound like a positive statement. But as it left the lips of my husband this morning as we watched the GMA report of Carlesha Freeland Gaither’s rescue and video footage of her fighting off her abductor, I objected to his statement on the grounds that it was made generically, based on the experience of one Black Woman. Ideas like these can potentially reinforce a stereotype about the strength of all Black Women and be dangerously interpreted as “Black Women fight back. So they don’t need help.” Angry Black Women, Strong Black Women, they don’t need us.
I know this was not my husband’s intent. And I was careful to explain that I was not trying to be argumentative. When I heard him say it, I could tell he meant it as a triumphant compliment. But I heard it as yet another reason to engender Black Women in the media as “Strong” in ways that in fact, do not empower them. It only empowers an already racially biased system to further marginalize and devalue woman of color as strong angry beasts who do not necessarily need to be protected and rescued from danger the way that White women do.
My point is simply that all Black women who identify or are identified as strong need and deserve compassion, rescue, respect, rights and value. I think it’s great that Freeland-Gaither fought back and that there is video footage to prove it but I remain perpetually and reasonably suspicious of the media’s depiction of Black Women. And I’m very wary of the way in which the coverage of this “heroic rescue” story is a potential opportunity to make others feel like my dear husband and innocently declare “Black Women Fight Back!” The declarations beg the question “As opposed to whom?” White women? And if so, then who gets to be seen as the “Damsel in distress,” another stereotype which illustrates weakness and helplessness in women yet demands immediate attention in major news networks whenever a white woman goes missing? To say that white women don’t fight back would be just as offensive, but not quite as dis-empowering.
Many women fight back against perpetrators, probably more than we know. I hope that Freedland-Gaither is an example of many more strong women whom the police force deem worthy enough to take immediate action towards rescuing from dangerous perpetrators regardless of race.