I was checking my Instagram feed today and was absolutely appalled at what I saw. Twenty-four-year-old Korey Johnson posted a video to her IGTV documenting a chilling experience about going on a run with her friend Camille. They were both sexually harassed by a strange man who neither of them knew on their daily exercise route. Not only did he spew lewd comments at both females, but he followed them for the remainder of their run.
“Originally we planned to ignore him because that was the best way for us not to get hurt, but that didn’t work. … So we turned around and said, ‘Sir, can you please leave us alone?’”
As they neared Korey’s home and the man became more belligerent and relentless, the two women entered a nearby hotel pleading for the hotel staff to “lock the doors,” and the man began to “beat on the windows,” detailing explicit actions he hoped to perform to her friend. And amidst the commotion a female Caucasian guest at the hotel exclaimed, “Who let this monkey in?” As Korey and Camille frantically worked with hotel staff to contact law enforcement the unidentified female sneered, “Well y’all clearly know him. Is that your baby daddy?”
Instances like this illustrate the harrowing reality of what it’s like to be a woman of color in America. Our stories are seen as incredible and in situations when we are truly victims, many times we are treated as if we instigate the situation, as depicted in Korey Johnson’s account. But this trend of dehumanization of Black women doesn’t stop with Korey’s account; these stereotypes even affect children.
When Robert Kelly was acquitted in his 2008 child pornography case, a juror from his trial stated he did not believe testimony from Black women because of how they dressed and “the way they act.” And a 2019 article from the ACLU reports, “Black girls are perceived to be more independent, more knowledgeable about sex, and in less need of protection.”
“The assignment of more adult-like characteristics to the expressions of young Black girls is a form of age compression,” writes Dr. Monique W. Morris, founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, in a Georgetown Law report. “Along this truncated age continuum, Black girls are likened more to adults than to children and are treated as if they are willfully engaging in behaviors typically expected of Black women. This compression [has] stripped Black girls of their childhood freedoms [and] renders Black girlhood interchangeable with Black womanhood.”
As a black woman hearing these tragic stories, the first thought that comes to mind is that I must defend myself at all costs, but several times self-defense can bring harm as well. At the mere age of 16, Cyntoia Brown shot and killed a 43-year-old man who kidnapped her with the intent of rape. Upon showing her his gun collection at his home, Cyntoia fired those same shots that would save her life but change it forever. She was sentenced to 51 years in prison for first degree murder and was just released in January of 2019, after 15 years of incarceration. Countless women such as Alexis Martin, Cece McDonald and Tondalo Hall have also been subjected to similar punitive measures that are absurd in comparison to their “crime.”
Amendment XIV Section I of the U.S. Constitution says, “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
These cases are a result of a massive disconnect between the laws in our country on paper and in practice. African Americans are supposed to receive equal protection, according to our Constitution, but many times are subject to racial profiling and wrongful incarceration for petty crimes or even while innocent. These assumptions don’t only cost innocent Black people their freedom, but dealing with them on a daily basis is draining.
What this unidentified woman at the hotel didn’t know was that Korey Johnson is not somebody’s “baby momma” but a Howard Law alumnus. She knows the power of her voice, how to utilize it and carry herself respectfully. But irrespective of socioeconomic status and education, Black women deserve to be respected. PERIOD. Mitigating instances like these begins with a dialogue — because in order to bring about change, people must understand why we are petitioning for it in the first place. We must respect others to be respected, and dealing with racism is no exception.
Victoria is a freshman at George Washington University, where she is majoring in political science.