We Deserve It by Shannon Barber
Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, September 11th, 2014
To them, if I am not a Good Negro, I deserve anything that happens...
At what point do I deserve to die?
I am a Black woman.
Do I deserve it yet?
I am Queer.
Do I deserve it now?
What if I was a man?
What if I was a mid-thirties Black man– at what point of sagging my
pants, walking down the street, or maybe jaywalking or spitting, or
being unable to understand commands given me, would I deserve to die?
I take the finger wagging admonitions of people about aesthetics,
fashion, how to walk, how to talk, where to live, how well-spoken I
may or may not be as admissions of the cold fact that to them, if I am
not a Good Negro, I deserve anything that happens to me. The paradox
is, there is no way to be a Good Negro and we will never be safe.
In the years I’ve used social media I have learned a few very
important things about the value of Black lives and woman’s bodies.
If I believe in it, if I am too Black in a way that is not okay with
White people whatever happens to me I deserve.
If I am shot by police while unarmed, if my home is raided by mistake
and my children maimed, I deserved it. If I am an elderly woman home
with my grandchildren and I am dragged half naked into a hallway and
maced by mistake I deserve it. If I am a teenage boy on my way home
and a stranger is following me and kills me, I deserve it.
If I am a Black trans woman walking down the street and I am publicly
humiliated because I am Black and Trans and walking, I deserve it.
If I make a mistake and am a teenage girl who is gang raped and
publicly humiliated, I deserved it.
If I am a porn star who is beaten damn near to death by my boyfriend,
I deserve it.
If I am a little Black girl and get kicked out of elementary school
because I don’t have relaxed hair I deserve it.
I could go on.
I wish I could say this is a disease of social media but it is not.
This spread of an attitude that is the bastard monster child of
racism, rape culture and respectability politics is more than gross it
In a world where I am already at risk because I am a Black woman and
fairly internet savvy, I can deduce from the reactions of people who I
thought to be decent people to things already happening, I know in
this world my life has no value to them.
Who is “them?”
It is everyone.
It is people of color who spout White supremacist rhetoric under the
guise of “bettering” our people.
It is White people who would call for the actual death penalty for a
cop who shot a dog, but have nothing to say about men who murder Black
It is media outlets who release the names of rape victims but withhold
the names of attackers because their lives could be ruined.
It is every commenter who has sent me messages that say, “I’M GOING TO
KILL YOU NIGGER” because I posted a cat video on the internet.
It is the metric ton of “dirt” I’m sure anyone could dig up on me, if
something happened to me that would be spread around supposedly in the
interest of “news” in order to show that I am no angel and thus
I am terrified because I watch what people say. I watch the comments
of people I am supposedly “friends” with and I see through them.
I am terrified because my life, the lives of those so like me mean nothing.
We are not of value:
Because we are not Good Negros.
Because we are not cis women.
Because we might like to have sex.
Because we have shown our tits for money.
Because we like loud music.
Because we live with people who are not our biological parents.
Because we got in trouble once for smoking weed.
Because we are prostitutes.
Because we are porn stars.
Because we sag our pants.
Because we are thugs.
Because “our people” have problems.
Because we have uteri.
Because we are Queer.
Because we have no time or inclination to assimilate.
Because we don’t speak English.
Because we are Muslim.
Because we aren’t Christians.
Because we are gender variant.
Because we are outside at night alone.
Because we got drunk.
Because we made a mistake.
Because we are not human to you.
These monstrous requirements that none of us can meet all at once, are
killing us. The monster bastard child of racism, rape culture and
respectability politics is robbing us of justice because no matter how
real and human we are, we deserve it.
The value of our lives is not dependent on how much our pants are
sagging, if we shoplifted, if we are seen as or are actually
prostitutes or sex workers.
Our lives matter because we are human.
We deserve justice.
We deserve safety.
We deserve all the things that the mantle of humanity affords us.
I expect if this piece sees publication there will be kickback. There
will be people who disagree with the premise that I and the people I’m
talking about here deserve our humanity. I know that someone will
track me down on social media to tell me, “shut up nigger” or “I hope
you get raped”- both of those are things that have happened- and it’s
not okay, but it’s okay.
Given how awful so much is right now and how many of us are suffering
because we want to be seen and acknowledged, because we want to feel
safe and like justice pertains to us as well I know that one essay
doesn’t change much.
Just know that I see you. I see us. And we matter.
God damn it, we matter.
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Header Image courtesy of Laura Houlberg, to view a gallery of her collage about the relationship between femininity and rage, go here.
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Shannon Barber is an author from Seattle, Washington where she lives with her partner and a small collection of oddities. She is an avid writer, reader and blogger. You can find her at XoJane, Luna Luna and various spots on the web. Feel free to visit her on Facebook, here.