In the distressful moments that occupy our days here at AAPF, a guiding principle is built atop the famously touted phrase from Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This axiom continues to ring truer and truer each day. Indeed, it’s the master’s tools that got us into this mess in the first place. And it’ll be our collective rejection of those destructive instruments that blunts the force of the tragedy we’re experiencing.
Identifying those tools, then, is of profound importance. As our Executive Director Kimberle Crenshaw often maintains, we cannot solve a problem if we can’t name it; we cannot see a problem if we don’t frame it. The identification of rot is the only possible genesis of discovery and progress. And that rot is becoming easier and easier to see.
One of the master’s tools was wielded on a recent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, when President Trump castigated PBS NewsHour reporter Yamiche Alcindor: “Don’t be threatening. Be nice. Go ahead.”
What preceded that mask-off moment, you might ask? Let us do one of the President’s least favorite things; let us present the transcript (with selective portions emboldened).
Yamiche Alcindor: “Thank you, Mr. President. I have two questions. The first is you’ve said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment that governors are requesting they don’t actually need. You said New York might not need 30,000-”
Donald Trump: “I didn’t say that.”
Yamiche Alcindor: “You said it on Sean Hannity’s Fox News. You said that you might-”
Trump: “Why don’t you people act, let me ask you-”
Alcindor: “You said some states-”
Trump: “Why don’t you act a little more positive? It’s always trying to get you-”
Alcindor: “My question to you is-”
Trump: “Get you, get you, and you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.”
Alcindor: “My question to you is how is that going to impact-”
Trump: “That’s why people…Excuse me, you didn’t hear me, that’s why you used to work for The Times and now you work for somebody else. Look, let me tell you something, be nice. Don’t be-
Alcindor: “Mr. President, my question is-”
Trump: “Don’t be threatening, be nice. Go ahead.”
We are left wondering, “What did Trump see?” when he saw Yamiche and, “What did he hear?” when he heard her innocuous question. How did the sum of those parts equal a threat?
Stereotypes of Black women -- as domineering, emasculating, and threatening -- dates back to slavery, and serve to dehumanize and silence Black women. It is this distorted lens and dehumanization that often facilitates police brutality.
This lens of “threat” is one that, as the #SayHerName campaign has pointed out, has led to the countless deaths of Black women at the hands of police. Atatiana Jefferson was also seen as a “threat” by the white police officer who took her life:
…[T]he Fort Worth police department (a department that is 75% white in a city that is just 40% white) claimed that the white officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson “perceived a threat” as he approached the window. Perhaps it was the dark silhouette that scared him. Perhaps his fear was heightened by his own discomfort with the neighborhood he was entrusted to serve.
Of course, this is not meant to draw a direct comparison between a flailing, bewildered President on the White House lawn and a cop spraying bullets into a veiled window. But it is meant to animate that the perception of threat by those in positions of power often leads to catastrophe. Power weaponizes prejudice, especially amid chaos. Nowhere is that more evident than in the treatment of Black women and girls. Keep an eye out.