In the battle of racism vs. sexism, Black women always lose
No other group of people in the world are ever asked to choose one of their intersectional identities over the other more than Black women
by Kamilah Bush
When Cam Newton flashed that wry, fuckboy smile and called Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue a “female,” I could hear the collective cackle of like-minded buffoons and simultaneous groan of women ripple across the country. And not long after, when Rodrigue’s anti-Black tweets came to light, those like-minded with Cam strengthened their loyalty while White Feminists dug in to stand on the side of Rodrigue.
Black women, once again, were left out in the cold as the battle of racism vs. sexism raged on. No other group of people in the world are ever asked to choose one of their intersectional identities over the other more than Black women (especially those who happen also to be Queer), and that is exactly what has been asked of us in this situation.
It didn’t take long before caped crusaders emerge from every corner of the internet to assemble in order to defend, not just Cam, but sexism in general. I, for one, am very tired of having this same conversations about men’s trash behavior, and one of the trash things that they seem most intent on holding on to is using the word “female” in place of “woman” no matter how many times they’ve been told/asked not to.
It wasn’t just Newton’s word choice that caused problems, though. It was his belief that a woman doing their jobs was laughable. Several men insisted that he was “complimenting” Rodrigue—an argument that is particularly frustrating, as men have proven time and time again that they don’t actually know what compliments even are.
So often, their “compliments” are nothing more than thinly veiled condescension—that is, when they are not blatant sexual harassment. But regardless of Cam’s intentions, at the root of his “complement” is his belief that women are incapable, perhaps because of our tiny woman brains, of grasping the complexities of the great American game of football.
I think the most obvious reason for offense here is that it is literally Jourdan Rodrigue’s job to talk about routes. It’s a requirement of all sports reporters and commentators to be knowledgeable about the game. The fact that Cam found it at all remarkable that she was able to ask him an informed question, per her job description, is sexism at its most elemental.
As if dealing with dealing with Cam Newton’s reckless mouth—again—was not enough, racist tweets from Jourdan Rodrigue’s account surfaced soon after this incident. Once, she even fixed her Caucasian fingers to spell out the N-Word and then proceed laugh about it.
The Newtonians felt vindicated—he can’t be sexist, they cried, she’s a racist. Meanwhile, the White Feminists screamed that there was only one issue at hand and that was the sexism displayed by Cam. They maintained that discussing Rodrigue’s racism was deflecting from the point, and some even argued that it was sexist in itself, proving once again that they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
As a Black woman, witnessing both arguments is particularly frustrating. Black women should not have to decide whether to defend our Blackness or our womanhood when issues like this arise. We shouldn’t be seen as traitors by one group or the other. But we are.
The sexism that we experience is aggravated by racism, and vice versa. They don’t cancel each other out. This monolithic attitude towards oppression allows for privileged people to police the thoughts and feelings of those directly affected by prejudice.
But because we know that a Black man cannot insult a white woman and get away with it, one of Cam’s endorsements was immediately and ceremoniously snatched. Outrage at the pulling of the Dannon endorsement almost singularly cited that other NFL players, particularly the white ones, had gotten away with much more egregious, violent offenses with little to no public punishment and that this was not just an attack on Cam Newton, but Black men as a whole.
This sentiment, while not particularly misguided, is definitely misdirected. While Black men are disproportionately punished for their wrongdoings, that does not mean they can do no wrong. And the punishment Cam is facing is not exactly inappropriate. What his supporters are asking for is not equity and justice. They are asking for him to not be held accountable for his actions.
Equity and justice do not mean that Cam shouldn’t get punished. They mean that the white men get punished too—proportional to their wrongdoings. If we are going to ask for equal treatment, what we’re ultimately asking for is accountability, not revenge.
To say that Cam should not have been reprimanded because hi white counterparts were. not, is to endorse an ugly sexism. This attitude suggests that, because the powers that be have consistently failed at protecting the women that Cam’s white colleagues have harmed, then the women that Cam might insult and offend should not be protected either. It reinforces the idea that misconduct committed against women isn’t really misconduct at all—least of all when the good name of a Black man is on the line.
It’s imperative that all men are held accountable for their violence against women. It’s equally as imperative that all white people are held accountable for their violence against Black people. The fact that Black men are often punished more harshly than their counterparts does not mean that they should not be punished at all, and just because Jourdan Rodrigue was demeaned by Cam Newton does not mean that she should get a pass for her racism. Equity does not flow one way. Everybody ought to catch the fades they deserve.
Even more imperative, is to recognize that the sexism that Cam displayed and the anti-Blackness that Rodrigue displayed both affect Black women daily. At no point in this cultural conversation surrounding these two has anyone spoken up for Black women, except other Black women.
Kamilah Bush, a homegrown North Carolinian and the Co-Artistic Director of Paper Lantern Theatre for Our Tomorrow, is a playwright and dramaturge who is committed to telling the varied and complex stories of Black women. James Baldwin said that an artist’s responsibility to their society is to “never cease warring with it” and she takes this responsibility very seriously. Follow her on Twitter as the battle wages on @writingthewrong