The Daniel Holtzclaw Verdict Is A Victory For Black Women, Not Feminism
Last week, Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of 18 (out of 36) counts of rape and sexual misconduct. Some of his victims gathered to sing him “Happy Birthday” as he was carted off to jail after sobbing relentlessly like a fool in the courtroom. Many have taken to social media to comment on the outcome of the trial, including applauding the fact that an all-white jury still found Holtzclaw guilty — a testament to just how convoluted the justice system is when matters of race are involved. One final question remains: How will the police officer, who preyed on 13 Black women while in uniform, be sentenced for his crimes?
However, this is not where discussions about the case should end. Among us women, among feminists, the conversation should turn towards asking and answering a broader question – why did feminism not do more to protect the Black women who Daniel Holtzclaw marked as his perfect victims because of their lower social positioning in society? Why does feminism, on a large scale, still fail to address the racial inequality that has subjugated Black women, forcing us into a persistent state of second-class citizenry and inescapable victimhood?
To highlight this failure of what I consider “mainstream feminism,” I think it is important to provide the definition for the word-pairing, as I view it. In America, because White people are the largest demographic (near three quarters of the entire population), they maintain social dominance of most platforms. So when “mainstream” is paired with a word – i.e. mainstream feminism, mainstream television – that simply means “white-dominated.” Feel free to contest that definition, but this is what I mean when I say “mainstream feminism.”
Many white women who call themselves “feminists” fail to address racial inequality, which is extremely problematic. Don’t believe me? Type “feminism and racism” or “feminism end racism” into a Google search. The query will produce mostly literature and articles written by Black women attempting to educate white women on the importance of intersectionality and anti-racism in feminist politics. From these results, and the lack of contributions from white women, it seems clear that mainstream feminism does not consider racism to be a feminist issue.
However, as the Holtzclaw case demonstrates, racism is a feminist issue. Daniel Holtzclaw sought out lower-income women who either had records, prior drug offenses or were prostitutes – and also were specifically Black. Holtzclaw’s strategy of targeting women who would be less likely to report him to the police and who he knew would be less likely to be believed, protected him from being caught and thus prosecuted for quite some time, allowing him to attack many more women. His MO demonstrates a reality that many White women still fail to recognize or address – that the biggest victims of and easiest targets for patriarchy and women of color.
Of course, the fact that most of these women were drug users, had prior drug offenses and/or were prostitutes made them more vulnerable to violence. We know that sex workers are more likely to be victimized and often fail to report those crimes, because mainstream feminism is much better at advocating for the rights of sex workers. Now, it’s true that feminists may be divided when it comes to whether porn or sex work is empowering or oppressive for women, but as Ms. magazine and most feminists certainly agree, “Sex Workers Deserve Dignity and Care.” It is generally understood that protecting sex workers, whether or not everyone agrees with their work, is important.
Why, then, does feminism continue to fail at addressing racism with this kind of fervor?
Perhaps it’s because some sex workers are white – but white women don’t have to deal with racism. Racism does not affect white women on a daily basis and many are ignorant to its insidious nature, so it’s politically inexpedient for mainstream feminism to consider it a priority.
After all, “feminists” like Patricia Arquette — who advocated for the gender wage gap to be closed during an Oscar’s acceptance speech, claiming POC should rally around such efforts — failed to acknowledge and perhaps even understand that the biggest wage gaps are race-based. Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus are both self-proclaimed feminists, but both failed to lend Nicki Minaj an ear when she talked about racial inequality in the music industry. A young woman name Abigail Fisher brought a case to the Supreme Court to challenge race-based affirmative action, despite the fact that White women have benefited the most from most Affirmative Action programs. The examples go on and on and on.
The concept of intersectionality just does not seem to sink in for many white women, and as a result the feminist movement is hanging women of color out to dry. Feminism should be advocating for and leading conversations that get to the root cause of racial inequality, but instead there exists a body politic that mostly refuses to even acknowledge or do anything about it.
The fact that Daniel Holtzclaw was brought to justice for the horrors he forced upon these Black women should not be celebrated as a victory for feminism. Instead, the movement should be ashamed it had very little to do with that victory. Many white women who wave the banner of feminism scream “All Lives Matter” or lay claim to colorblind politics that only serve to silence Black women.
Police brutality, however, is not colorblind, nor has it ever been. Black women have long been mistrustful of the police for precisely this reason. When asked why they had not come forward earlier, these were the responses given by some of Holtzclaw’s victims:
“When he tell me to trust him, I’m saying I never trusted a cop. I never trusted a cop. So he was like, well, I’ve been straight up front with you all this time.”
“Well, in my neighborhood it’s like, you know, we hear stories about the police, you know — it’s real — I mean — doing things.”
“To be honest, I don’t like the police and I try to stay away from them as far as I can.”
“I didn’t want to because people were telling me … they wasn’t going to believe me over a police — and I almost feel like all [officers] are the same.”
Black women have always been very vocal and discerning about over-policing and police brutality in the Black community, yet those voices were rarely amplified by mainstream feminism. It took three Black women to declare #BlackLivesMatter, a phrase that has now been misused, misappropriated and plundered, including by some white women.
So no, Daniel Holtzclaw’s guilty verdict is not a victory of or for feminism. It is not a moment for mainstream feminism to be proud, or feel accomplished, or to share in celebration.
When Jannie Ligons, a 57-year-old daycare worker and Holtzclaw’s last known victim before his arrest, found the courage to publicly come forward with her story and seek justice, she was bolstered and supported by the Black women who asserted #BlackLivesMatter. Not by the feminists who try to claim her blackness is of no consequence. If feminism really cares to create a platform that serves all women, it must finally recognize and address the racial inequality that victimizes far too many women of color.