Respectability, May Day, and Latasha Harlins

May 1, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.

1. Latasha Harlins, American Girl
Doreen St. Felix in MTV News: “Was all of this — the final moments of Latasha Harlins’s life, the girl lying on the store floor, clutching the dollar bills she had intended to purchase the juice with — the rational result of the reasonable fear that an adult woman might feel of a teenage girl? Karlin sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, a small fine, and no prison time. Speaking 25 years after Harlins’s death at an event held last month at the Hammer Museum, Loyola Law School professor Priscilla Ocen argued that the court proceedings were marred by the same social disdain that motivated Du’s fatal act of racial profiling: ‘When I see that case … one of the things that strikes me is the way in which anti-black bias, anti-black-girl bias, is embedded in the jury’s verdict and is embedded in the judge’s decision to grant Soon Ja Du probation.’ Ocen’s specification — of the gendered aggression that colors the perception of young black girls in public — restores to Harlins’s story the precision of its tragedy. In the prestige projects that have emerged a generation after the Los Angeles riots, including Ezra Edelman’s notable 2016 documentary O.J.: Made in America, Harlins’s death has figured as a sort of informational prologue to the narratives of black men like Rodney King and O.J. Simpson. ‘It is important for us to remember that [the riots] were not just about Rodney King,’ said legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw at the same Hammer Museum event. For many Angelenos, Latasha Harlins was the only point.”

2. Representation, Respectability, and Transgender Women of Color in Media
Julian Glover in Black Perspectives: “The cases of Gwen Araujo, Zella Ziona, Lakyra Dawson, and Meagan Taylor reflect how dominant society situates TWOC: inauthentic, monstrous, predatory, and disposable. Such a portrayal often justifies behaviors that kill TWOC, thus perpetuating the denial of their humanity through an appeal to fear and the symbolic ‘threat’ to public safety that the existence/presence of TWOC elicits. These cases illustrate the harsh reality that many TWOC without access to mass media or careers as actresses, entertainers, writers, or media personalities must grapple with every day. For many, the combination of a lack of access to media and other material resources—chiefly reliable employment, healthcare, housing, and income—render them exceptionally vulnerable to being assaulted, raped, or murdered. Yet, transnormative representations of TWOC in mass media suggest that those within this community currently enjoy unprecedented levels of success, access, and inclusion in a manner that elides the often-bleak reality for TWOC.”

3. #BeyondTheMoment: This May Day, Movements Unite for Labor Protection, Equity and Justice
Alicia Garza and Carmen Perez in The Root: “The contributions and labor of black women are erased in our stories of social change, in media, in our homes and workplaces, and in our movements. We cannot value what we cannot see. The erasure of black women’s work—by men and white women—and the rendering of that work as invisible contribute to its ongoing devaluation. […] Unseen and unpaid labor built and maintains the American economy—an economy not only rooted in but also reliant on militaristic, anti-black, anti-worker and anti-women principles. The American economy functions because it pools the wealth of the people in the hands of the few, strategically disenfranchises black communities, and perpetuates the falsehood of a separate and inferior sphere of women’s work. Its function is enforced and maintained by a hypermilitarized police force whose primary directive is to keep those in power and those with wealth safe.”

4. Two Years After the Uprising, Black Women’s Experiences of Policing in Baltimore Still Under the Radar
Andrea J. Ritchie in Truthout: “There has been even less conversation, then and now, as we commemorate the second anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising, about Black women’s experiences of policing on the streets of Baltimore. ‘Our collective focus on police shootings overshadows the reality of what is going on for women on a daily basis,’ said Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside, an agency that works with criminalized women, in an interview. ‘The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence. The police use a variety of tactics, including harassment, physical and sexual violence, medical neglect in police custody, and ignoring violence committed by family and community members.The DOJ investigation prompted by Gray’s killing revealed a number of instances in which Baltimore police officers extorted sex from women they alleged were engaged in prostitution or drug-related activities. The women’s complaints were poorly and partially investigated, if at all, with little or no consequences for the officers involved.’

5. Webinar: “Views from the Pipeline: Women of Color in the STEM Professoriate”
“As of 2010, women of color represented less than 6% of faculty members with STEM doctorates at four-year colleges and universities. This underrepresentation increases up the career ladder of the academy — at the rank of full professor, women of color constitute only 2.5% of faculty. Despite public attention focused on addressing this underrepresentation, the voices of women of color who are in the STEM professoriate pipeline — or have exited — are often missing from the discussion. Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical physics postdoctoral associate at the University of Washington, Seattle, moderated this discussion with women of color scientists about the STEM pipeline.”