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Ghosts of Emmett Till: Why We Must Clapback At Amy Schumer’s Racist Tweet

*co-written by Wicked Womanist*

Does that title make you uncomfortable?

Does potentially confronting the forces that contributed to the atrocity that was the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till rub you the wrong way?

Good.

Because if that’s the case, this tweet should bother you as well:

I’ll be honest with you. A lot of my homies were curious as to why I didn’t also write a piece on Amy Schumer this past week. After my read of Lena Dunham, it was only fair to include her partner-in-racism Amy Schumer in this brouhaha, right?

You’re right…but I was also tired.

After gathering all the Earth’s energy Spirit Bomb-style™ like Goku in the Kid Buu saga to destroy the world’s most racist and obnoxious Marshmellow™, I didn’t have much ki left over to give Amy Schumer that same work too.

However, after seeing several people on my own timeline or adjacent creative circles writing damn near dissertations and crafting videos on why Amy Schumer’s unfunny and racist tweet was horrible, I figured that the only course of action was to inhale a gallon of Senzu beans and jump back into the arena.

Gather 'round as I power-up to tell Amy Schumer what for.

Gather ’round as I power-up to tell Amy Schumer what for.

Now, to be clear, Amy Schumer’s tweet has got me and my colleague Wicked Womanist fucked up for several reasons, but none as big as this:

The existence of her tweet relies on several false narratives that not only need to be unpacked, but also permanently dispelled.

Primarily, Amy Schumer’s statement rests on the existence and credibility of the Hollaback! video on catcalling. Which, as we know, is not credible in light of the revelation that the creators edited out any and all White men who had been caught catcalling as well. This revelation makes it so their “results” are skewed, biased, and ultimately racist. Therefore, any conclusions drawn as a result of said video are gonna be, you guessed it, racist.

Based on this, here’s why Amy Schumer’s tweet is completely bogus, yet simultaneously dangerous:

1. First of all, to be catcalled by men of color (or specifically Black and Brown men like in the Hollaback! video), you’d have to meet them first.

White people (including White women) spend their whole lives avoiding people of color. This nation is aware, whether through its own admittance or not, that most of the housing statistics present a very clear case of an ever present self-segregation. American Sociological Review published a study last August revealing that segregation has become more pronounced in American neighborhoods. Practices of white flight, subtle redlining through exclusionary zoning and outright prejudice have in time ensured that White people continue to live their lives in insular, privileged bubbles far from people of color, coming only in contact with them through choice.

How, then, does Amy Schumer (and Hollaback! by extension) assert that White women are catcalled primarily by men of color?

Lemme tell you why that’s bullshit.

The flimsy exception to this rule is that large, sprawling cities such as New York (and the like) force many people of different heritages to live in close quarters, producing a unique loophole that Hollaback! exploits by placing a White woman at the center of a video about catcalling featuring just Black and Brown men.

In a city that once hosted a climate so hateful and terrified of Black and Brown bodies that it produced the Stop-and-Frisk policy to keep White gentrifiers safe, this video and Schumer’s sentiment are merely an extension of illogical fears.

The doctored video was eventually explained away by a producer claiming that White men approaching the female subject were off camera, in passing, or just not that “well heard”. Even that wack ass statement is a display of privilege, in which the behavior of White cat-callers is literally explained away as though it presents no more than the annoyance of, let’s say, a gnat—certainly not to be perceived as much of a threat as the perceived possibility of sexual violence that could be committed by Black or Brown men.

I wonder why...!

I wonder why…!

Which brings me to the next point…

2. White men catcall too. And are often more aggressive about it.

Stalker in Aisle 10

I am not the first person to be catcalled and I certainly will not be the last. However, it did start early for me—age 8 to be exact. I assume that it was fairly traumatic since I still remember it, but no such instance was as traumatic as when I was catcalled by an older, White man while shopping in Kroger’s at the age of 16.

To be clear, even after I ignored his catcalling the first time, ‘ol dude came up to me while I was in the yogurt section and asked that he be allowed (can you hear the entitlement?) to take me out on a date. When I politely informed him that I was 16 and that would be inappropriate, he disagreed, saying I looked “very mature for my age”—which is yet another example of Black femmes and children being perceived as older than we are because our bodies are so oversexualized.

After that exchange, I basically “yeah…no”-ed him and ghosted faster than Danny Phantom. Of course, I assume he took this as some sort of sick challenge because he took the liberty of not only following me around Krogers for the duration of my shopping there but he also followed me out to the parking lot afterward. Luckily for me, however, my car was parked two seconds from the door or otherwise I would have been in the next Lifetime movie (Stalker in Aisle 10: The Lex Luther Story).

NOPE NOPE NOPE. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

NOPE NOPE NOPE. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Wicked Wasted: Tales of White Men in Bars

There is no phenomenon as present in urban areas as groups of drunk, young White Cis men terrorizing neighboring communities. Drawn to dive bars with cheap drinks during weekends, they can be found harassing the bartender after inhaling some liquid courage.

Being catcalled or sexually harassed in a public or private setting is an uncomfortable, scary, and aggressive experience in and of itself. Persistent sexual harassment fueled by alcohol and paired with fetishization is a particular brand of violence that Black and Brown femmes have become accustomed to, for the sake of survival and livelihood. This is an animal in and of itself that White women will never experience by virtue of not living their lives at various intersections.

The most rage-inducing of these aggressive encounters involved a White man in his early twenties. It began with a good-natured introduction which parlayed into touching my hand consistently as I handed him his draft beers, and eventually escalated to him brushing my bangs out of my face when I leaned over the bar.

Finally, when I asked him to stop – first cordially, then aggressively – he angrily retreated to playing pool at the far side of the restaurant. He eventually left the bar, only to stand outside and wait far past closing time until I emerged from the bar to his barrage of racial and sexist slurs and threats of sexual violence—all fueled by rage and alcohol. The most humiliating part was that the White Women gathered outside smoking, never once intervened.

3. There is no way in hell, due to power dynamics and history, that you can claim that men of color feel entitled to White women’s bodies.

The bodies of White women in this country enjoy a certain amount of protection. Or else the response to being catcalled by men of color—real or imagined—would not be swifter than when the opposite happens with White men.

There is a clear reason for this.

To put it bluntly, there is a culture of “victimhood” that White women depend on to not only maintain their womanhood and femininity but also edge as close to the top of the totem pole of White supremacy as possible.

There is also a level of entitlement Amy Schumer displays, as a Cis[gendered] White woman, to make such a brazen statement. This grossly misinformed falsehood centers around Cis women and ignores the fact that Trans women experience the brunt of this catcalling phenomenon. Except, of course, the stakes are higher for them because the line between catcalling due to attraction, fetishization, and impending death is very, very thin.

Catcalling is indisputably a serious issue, however, I have yet to come across a story where a White woman is murdered because of a particular catcalling incident. If this does happen, which I don’t doubt that it does, it certainly does not occur at the same frequency as other women of color, but specifically, Black women, Trans women, and of course Trans women of color. Tiarah Poyau is the most recent example. But there are countless others.

Clearly, there is more to this power dynamics issue (i.e. the issue of intersections). Statements—or rather, boldfaced lies—like the one that Amy Schumer made have real world consequences.

Statements like hers normalize the criminalization of men of color. And even more so, they turn this catcalling issue into an issue of criminalization that really and truly stems from the influx of White gentrifiers in communities that are historically Black and Brown.

This kind of entitlement to space challenges the right of people of color to live safely in the communities they founded.

In short, the “victimhood” of White women, with the glory of its Cis privilege, asserts itself once again to display the full power dynamics of White supremacy. And this culture of “victimhood” has been getting men of color killed for even breathing in their direction for centuries.

This is why we started this piece with a reference to Emmett Till. This is why he’s important to this ever-present narrative. This is why stories like The Love Life of An Asian Guy’s post about dancing Brown men—specifically Filipino men—are also applicable here.

In both of these examples (and countless more that I don’t necessarily have time to expound upon), White women either directly weaponized their “virtue” and womanhood” to harm and/or kill men of color or had their “virtue” and womanhood weaponized by White men for the same purpose.

In Emmett Till’s case, even though he was a child (who of course, we know, society coded as an “adult Male” because of the fact that White supremacy does not allow Black children to be children in peace), he was a Black male child who’s word was no match against the words of a White woman “in distress”.

He was no match for a White woman who was fictitiously slighted. Who felt that she had been disrespected by, in her mind, this insolent Black child for whatever reason. And because of myths that exist around Black men and their masculinity and sexuality, Emmett Till paid for that, brutally, with his life.

In the case of the case of Filipino men in California during the 1900s, the swagger that they showcased on the dance floor of Taxi dance halls and in the bedroom (something that attracted large crowds of White women) made it so that White men could frame their faux concern about White women (and their virtue) as a concern that stemmed from the “big”, “scary” Brown men and their sexual appetites “spoiling” their “virtue”.

manong1

As a result, White men used this reasoning to not only murder these Brown men, but also—and often—mutilate their genitals as a show of twisted and abhorrent dominance that stemmed from the insecurities of their own fragile masculinity and manhood.

Of course, this would not have been possible without the weapon that is the “victimhood” of White women.

As much as they would like to separate themselves from White men in White supremacist machinery, it is impossible for them to do so. They not only remain one of the biggest proponents of White supremacy (knowingly or otherwise) but they are the linchpin, the catalyst that allows White supremacy to base its existence on the continued maintenance and existence of anti-Blackness.

So, no, Amy Schumer and her now deleted tweet don’t get to be let off the hook. She is as guilty as Lena Dunham and every other White woman who has ever lied on or lied about a man of color for their own ulterior motives/agendas or for the express purpose of furthering their own bastardized form of feminism (White Feminism™).

False statements like hers make her hands bloody and those bloody hands need to be challenged if we are truly about dismantling every system of oppression that rushes to defend them.

 

Images From: Popkey.com, Daily Mail, Mirror.co.uk, Paper Mag, SNL, Daily Dot, FANHS Stockton, Pangasinan Association of Los Angeles, Reactiongifs.com
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