FROM TIKTOK TO RACIAL VIOLENCE: ANTI-BLACKNESS IN THE GENDERED SPHERE.

AuthorTibbs, Donald F.

INTRODUCTION

The impact of Covid-19 on racial and social consciousness during 2020 was significant. (1) While much of the world was in social incapacitation, we passed the time by tuning into our televisions and social devices. The local and national news told stories of the rising number of deaths lost to the virus. Particularly hard hit by the virus were people of color in Black and Brown communities. (2) Additionally, we witnessed Black life being lost specifically to the ongoing spectacle of anti-Black policing, which is nothing new. (3) What was stark in contrast, however, was the immediacy at which anti-Black policing occurred as soon as we began to emerge from our respective homes. Almost instantly, we witnessed George Floyd suffocated by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (4) We witnessed Breonna Taylor being shot and killed during a police raid of her home. (5) We witnessed Ahmaud Arbery being killed while jogging through his neighborhood. (6) It felt like the slow re-opening of this country signaled an "open season" on Black life. To say the least, watching these murders continued the feeling of hopelessness that many Black people experience in this country where the true measure of Democracy is supposed to occur since it is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people. And you wonder: why take a knee? (7)

As some people Facebooked, Tweeted and Instagrammed; I discovered the social media platform known as TikTok. To those who are unaware, TikTok is a cell phone application that allows users to express themselves by recording and posting a micro-video, that last 15 seconds long. (8) You can find father-daughter dancing duets, artists playing the saxophone to hip hop songs, and ranchers freestyle rapping while there are cows and sheep in the background. (9) I admit, watching these videos taught me to appreciate the true diversity of this nation in ways that I had never considered possible. I also learned that we are much more united than I originally believed. While TikTok has many upsides, including spending hours glued to your cell phone screen laughing and enjoying how truly talented and creative people are; it also has a downside: the platform is controlled by algorithms. Simply, the more types of videos you watch, or "like," the more videos of that kind it sends you. (10) In that regard, you can find yourself going down a deep rabbit-hole watching the same kinds of videos repeatedly.

For me, what began as a fun attempt to watch people perform fun or silly dance challenges, and watch artists perform amazing feats of musicianship, somehow changed to something extremely alarming as I stumbled upon a series of disturbing videos. These series of videos captured random White women attempting to exert a privileged power over other adults, and then acting irrationally angry when they were rebuffed. In some instances, their outbursts involved them threatening to call the police to report someone recording their actions in a point-of-view style video. In other instances, the threat materialized.

I watched astonishingly as they claimed, with great enthusiasm and certainty, that "you are violating my privacy," which is not true; or "this is my country, which is also not true; and my absolute favorite, "it's people 'like you' who make this country awful," again, certainly not true. Obviously, the latter being remarked to Black, Brown, and Muslim people; a comment that we have all heard many times before. (11) As I watched a couple of these videos, I must have "liked" one, and TikTok's algorithms went to work: the platform showed me more and more, until eventually I was trapped in a steady reoccurrence of videos. It was at that moment that I really began to understand what #KarenTikTok meant. (12) I was stunned.

After deeper inspection, and I must admit a slight intrigue, I learned a lot about these new micro-video stars. First, I learned that a "Karen," is a pejorative nickname for White women captured engaging in outlandishly childish behavior based on their White privilege. (13) Additionally, I learned that sometimes these interactions were completely innocuous and an overt expression of White privilege and entitlement. (14) After perhaps 10 to 20 videos later, a pattern revealed itself: these situations typically involved a White woman calling the police on a Black person, or a person of color, for doing something that was non-criminal, and also legally and socially harmless. This occurrence, of calling the police on Black people, was not only normative, but their civic duty: as if they somehow owed it to this country to engage in policing Black behavior. I was stunned. It is one thing to know that things like this happen, but it is different to actually witness it and come to grips with its frequency.

As a critical scholar of race and policing, particularly one who relies upon African American legal history to inform his understanding of contemporary structural paradigms, I realized that the record of what has happened to Black people, particularly Black men, when White women called the police, revealed a more serious, non-comical, side of this behavior. (15) These TikTok videos should not be discarded as innocuous random occurrences of an average person engaging in disagreeing behavior towards another person; instead, they should be seen for what they really are: White women exposing their White privilege and weaponizing their Whiteness in a way that is gendered, racist, and from a legal perspective, per-se criminal. (16) This article argues that in this post-Covid moment, we are, not only, witnessing a rise in White supremacy and White nationalism as exhibited by the January 6th raid on the U.S. Capitol, (17) but we are also witnessing an increase in White women weaponizing their race in ways that parallels historical anti-Black White supremacy in a gendered sphere. (18)

This article proceeds in four sections. Section I begins with a brief historiography of the danger of White gendered racism to Black life; specifically, when White women falsely accuse Black men of crimes. The seriousness of this provocative history is undisputed. It has been captured as a movie adaptation of a famous novel, (19) well documented in academic scholarship, (20) sang in negro spiritual songs, (21) described in countless media stories, (22) and documented by the federal government when the accusations involved brutal retaliation-style killings. (23) After discussing the historical underpinnings of gendered racism, Section II uses a case study of a White woman, named Amy Cooper, who falsely accused a Black man, Christian Cooper, of a crime, not only putting his life in danger, but using the privilege associated with her Whiteness as a weapon against Black freedom and equality. Her story is important, not only because of the absurdity of her actions, which we all were able to see due to social media, but because they connect the anti-Black racism of the past to our present. By taking a deep dive into the narrative of that unbelievable historical moment, I reveal her actions for what they really are--contemporary racial violence; and she for who she really is--a White woman who weaponized her race and gender, without compunction, to put an innocent Black man in harm's way. This section also dissects her actions as a set of specific acts that you see repeated again-and-again by White women who routinely call the police on Black people. I call it a White women's anti-Black racist "playbook."

This article concludes with a brief discussion of some of the legal solutions that have been enacted to deter and punish this behavior. I use this conclusion not to say that the law can fix the very problem that it created, the stereotype of Black men as criminals and rapists, but to reveal that society can legislate away hate and racism. In other words, the Law, which more often is a problem for Black existence, has the potential to serve as a solution by empowering police departments and prosecutors to punish White women (and men) who make false accusation to the police. While punishment under these laws might, at first, seem harsh, their real value lies in the fact that they have the potential to put White people on notice of their privilege, and change the cultural narrative of White privilege in this country. Of course, it should go without saying that the only real value of these laws would be their usage by the Criminal Justice System, which seems unable to convict White people of committing crimes when the victim is Black. (24)

  1. THE HISTORY OF WHITE WOMEN AND ANTI-BLACK MALE VIOLENCE

    The history of White womanhood and its influence on Black Male violence infamously dates back to the era of Reconstruction. At the conclusion of the Civil War, the federal government amended the Bill of Rights to include several Reconstruction Amendments: including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. (25) While the 14th Amendment focuses on many issues related to fundamental fairness in the courts and equal application of the laws, more notably, it granted citizenship to newly freed slaves. (26) The issue of a new Black citizenry was significant because since the ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, the Supreme Court infamously declared that "[the black man] ha[s] no rights which the White man [is] bound to respect." (27) But, after the passage of the 14th Amendment, the issue of race and shared space became, both, a social and legal issue. (28) For the first time in American history, White men and women were being asked, legally, to share common social space with newly freed Black slaves. The idea that Black people, more importantly Black men, could move through the streets unencumbered by law, relegated their safety to social custom. It is at this moment that the foundations for a post-Slavery style of White supremacy emerges. (29) Simply, Black freedom signaled a decline in White superiority and supremacy...

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