As many of you may or may not have heard, Renisha McBride was a 19 year old black woman whose car broke down in a Detroit suburb. She went up to a home asking for help when the white male homeowner shot her in the face and killed her.
In her article “Renisha McBride and Evolution of the Black-Female Stereotype“, Noliwe M. Rooks, with the help of historian Sarah Haley, examines the ‘dehumanizing stereotype’ placed upon black women today. Here is a short excerpt:
She added [Haley}, “Black women have been seen as different than black men, certainly, but they have not always been seen as women either; to be a woman is to be seen as deserving of protection, and black women are not always seen that way.”
…we have so often viewed black women as more threatening, more masculine and less in need of help, protection and support than white women.
It’s a complicated and dehumanizing stereotype — and its debunking seems somehow at odds with feminism. No one wants to project the message that black women are weak and helpless. And yet when a 19-year-old with a broken-down car knocks on a door only to get shot in the face, we know that something is severely wrong in how society perceives black women as criminals or not, victims or not, and even women or not.
The stereotype of black women as threatening and masculine is a complicated one. As Rooks points out, to challenge it would propagate gender stereotypes but it is hard to argue against the protection of a young injured woman or a injured person in general. It is true that if she was a white woman, McBride would have been welcomed and aided. However, there is a problem with asking for “equality” in this aspect because this would never be the case for a man, say a black man. McBride’s death parallels Jonathan Ferrell’s murder who was also shot to death (by police) in September after being mistook for a robber while seeking help following a car accident. A man could would never be seen as in need of protection because as a man, he is supposed to be strong and self-reliant. Therefore, a black man could never even imagine himself in this alternate situation in which being a white man would grant him protection; the threat is still there because men are seen as threatening. Black men, however, are stereotypically the ultimate threat.
While the ‘Black-Female Stereotype’ is very much a reality, McBride’s life would have been in danger, regardless of her gender, because if you are a black individual in the United States, you are not safe. I am going to state the obvious and say that there is a problem in this nation if we are allowing the ongoing murder of innocent and unarmed people.