Yesterday, the Associated Press blatantly placed no value on the life of Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Black woman who was killed by Theodore Wafer last November.
Wafer is described as a “suburban homeowner” while Renisha is referred to as a “woman who showed up drunk on porch.” In the first tweet from the AP, Renisha was not directly referenced at all.
What’s happening here is the erasure, or dehumanization, of a young Black woman.
“Dehumanization is defined as the process of depriving a person of human qualities, attributes and rights such as individuality, compassion, or civility (Feagan, 2001; Maiese, 2003). This is a process by which members of a group of people assert the inferiority of another group through subtle or overt acts or statements … dehumanization is a psychological process of making some people seem less than human or not worthy of humane treatment; dehumanization serves to morally exclude individuals from the norms of society.”
– from Dehumanization of the Black American Female: An American/Hawaiian Experience by Kimetta R. Hairston
Renisha is not provided the seemingly common courtesy of acknowledgement via her name. She is deemed unworthy of basic human respect. The value of Renisha’s life is being completely ignored and negated simply because she is Black and female — two aspects that allow dual systems of oppression (racism and sexism) to funnel her worth, as it is perceived by American whiteness, out of the equation.
To them, Renisha has no name, no purpose, no value and no reason to exist. She’s just another Black girl who isn’t worth mentioning or naming. It’s a tactic that has long been used by whites.
Not naming Renisha is comparable to calling Black men “boy,” a term that has been used to dismiss and disregard them for decades. It’s comparable to calling a Black woman “gal.” It diminishes her status as a human being, as a person. It disregards the people who named her. It forgets about her loved ones. It screams that her life, her story, her legacy does not matter.
The only acknowledgement bestowed upon McBride from the AP is “drunk” and “porch,” both of which are highly racially-charged terminologies.
Names define things and words matter. So, it should be easy to see why juxtaposing her as a “drunk” to the “suburban homeowner” does nothing but justify her death. Porches can sometimes function as an indicator of socioeconomic status. So when you historically contextualize the tweet and denote that this porch is attached to a suburban home, it automatically reads as if Wafer was simply protecting his property and Renisha was nothing more than a possible intruder — a threat to his safety.
These tweets also display the Otherized role Black women hold in our country. Black women are complete opposites of America’s most privileged individuals: we are not white or male and we typically don’t have as much money as those folks do. By identifying Renisha via demonizing language (“drunk”) and further privileging Wafer (“suburban homeowner”), the Associated Press created a construct that justified her murder and further solidified the roles held by the oppressor and the oppressed.
These tweets from the Associated Press only further prove the necessity for more marginalized groups in the newsroom. Since we come from populaces that are constantly dehumanized by America’s mainstream whiteness, some of us are more equipped to understand the need to identify victims of heinous, racially-charged crimes.
Renisha McBride was a daughter. She was a young woman seeking help after a car accident. She was loved and admired by those around her. She was not some chick on the porch. She has a name and it deserves to be recognized and remembered.
Featured Image from dignidadrebelde/flickr