Believing Black Women and Unpacking White Female Rage

Briana Brochu (mughshot via W. Hartford PD); Chennel "Jazzy" Rowe via Facebook
Despite the strained smiles, relative civility, and occasional unlikely friendships (many of which come with a lot of emotional labor on Black women’s end and reluctant privilege unpacking on white women’s), the relationship between white women and Black women has long been a powder keg waiting to explode beyond the tension that has festered since the domestic slave trade; since the suffrage movement that found suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton maligning Black women suffragists and activists and let it be known their white interests were far more important than the civil and voting rights of Black people; since 1957 when Hazel Bryan Massery was photographed yelling epithets at Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine; since the 60s when many other angry white women were memorialized in photos cursing and hurling insults at Black students integrating schools in Montgomery; since the feminist movement during the 70s when white women, once again, expected Black women to labor on behalf of white women’s interests while erasing Black women’s lived experiences and needs from the conversation; since present-day when the story remains the same and #solidarityisforwhitewomen and they still refuse to grasp intersectional theory (as introduced and taught to the masses by scholar, KimberlĂ© Crenshaw) or ascertain that Black women deal with both racism and sexism and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive for us, and only seem to rally around causes when an issue hits too close to home or if they can control and center themselves in the conversation.

Recently, for example, while speaking out about having been victimized by fallen Hollywood heavyweight and alleged sexual predator and serial harasser, Harvey Weinstein, and setting the stage for her #RoseArmy movement, actress Rose McGowan went full metal white feminist when she compared the oppression of women to racism and suggested that people should replace the word ‘women’ with the N-word because, apparently, Black women don’t exist or experience both sexism and racism. Because to borrow from the title of Akasha (Gloria T.) Hull’s, Patricia Bell Scott’s, and Barbara Smith’s collection of Black feminist scholarship, all the women are white, all the blacks are men, but some of us are brave.

Also, very recently, actress and perpetual shitty person, Lena Dunham encouraged people to believe the word of sexual assault survivors but did an about-face once her screenwriter-friend, Murray Miller, stood accused of assaulting actress Aurora Perrineau, a woman of color who said she was underage when Miller assaulted her and who took and passed a polygraph test outlining her accusations against Miller. But this didn't faze Lena Dunham or her business partner, Jenni Konner, who released a joint public statement calling Perrineau a liar; an action that seems par for the course if you've read about Psychology of Women Quarterly's recent study which found that white college-age women are least likely to help a Black woman at risk for incapacitated sexual assault.

Needless to say, the divide between Black women and white women is, at times, vast. And let’s be honest, like most other groups, white women seem committed to not only misunderstanding Black women, but silencing our voices and completely dismissing our experiences unless they want us to mule for their causes or are trying to be stand-ins for us a la Rachel Dolezal. And most Black women (including myself) have a story about navigating racial micro and macro-aggressions perpetrated by white woman in shared or public spaces; especially in the workplace and at educational institutions largely populated with white students and run by white administrators and professors, like University of Tennessee lecturer Judy Morelock, who was fired earlier this year for publicly threatening and ranting on Facebook against Kayla Parker, a black female student who challenged her for whitewashing Black history, and then violently confronted her former student in a Earth Fare grocery store several months later.

That vast divide was also illustrated when University of Hartford student, Chennel "Jazzy" Rowe, took to Facebook to recount her experience with the roommate from hell, her story resonating with so many people, especially Black women, sparking a national outcry, spurring the hashtag #JusticeforJazzy and a rally outside of the West Hartford Police department, culminating in consequences for said roommate from hell. Consequences that only came after Chennel Rowe took to social media to tell her story when she hit a brick wall with UHart’s public safety office and the West Hartford police and was threatened with expulsion from campus if she spoke about her concerns, after she initially filed a report against her white roommate, Brianna Brochu, upon discovering (while moving out of the shared space) that Brianna had contaminated her cosmetics and rubbed bodily fluids on her belongings; a disgusting and violent show of white sociopathy that made Chennel physical ill.

Alas Brianna Brochu, who bragged about her vile and racist behavior on Instagram, sneering that she’d finally gotten rid of “Jamaican Barbie,” was hoisted with her own petard when she was finally arrested, banned from campus and expelled, and charged with third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree breach of peace, which could potentially be bumped up to hate crime charges if activists rightfully have their way.

But why did the University of Hartford and West Hartford PD drag their feet with holding Briana accountable and try to silence Jazzy as if she was the aggressor? Why is this the same story for virtually every Black woman who’s had to navigate around hostility and racial microaggressions perpetrated by white women who weaponize their tears, presumed innocence, and society’s propensity for misogynoir against Black women? Why do people refuse to believe Black women and think we somehow provoke or deserve the acts of cruelty inflicted on us? When are we going to start unpacking how violent white women are when trying to exert their supposed supremacy over Black women or people in general, and how they often instigate the disputes they find themselves in then play victim to avoid accountability?

I guarantee there’s nothing Chennel Rowe could have possibly done, besides exist in a Black body, to deserve the deliberate acts of hostility she experienced at the hands of her former roommate two weeks after moving in together, but Briana Brochu insists (after admitting to the police what she’d done) that it was Chennel creating the hostile environment and yet, Briana wasn’t the one getting progressively sick and having her personal belongings desecrated.
As someone who once experienced hostility from a white roommate in college that prompted me to move to a single room in a completely different dormitory, reacting to someone’s negative energy…an energy that makes a person feel unwelcome…does not suddenly make the one at the receiving end of the enmity at fault. And hostile is the brush Black women often get painted with whenever we stand up for ourselves or speak out about an issue.

Black women certainly aren’t infallible or above reproach and I’d argue that many of us have enough awareness to self-critique accordingly when it’s warranted (trust me, we do), but when are our experiences going to stop being swept under the rug by unchecked privilege and our voices genuinely heard when we express legitimate concerns about things that put our lives at risk? Chennel Rowe didn’t deserve the violence she experienced by her roommate and is due proper justice. Black women have a lot of insightful things to say and our experiences, without question, matter too. Start believing Black women and start holding those that cause us harm accountable.