Why Nothing Good Happens to Black Women in Elevators

Come on, everyon knows this is how girls fight!

I didn’t mean it–everyone knows this is how girls fight, anyway!

So after a rambling on-air deconstruction of the woman’s role in the Ray Rice domestic violence case and suspension, ESPN “First Take” commentator Stephen A. Smith has been suspended himself.

While the majority of the public, including his ESPN colleagues, loudly condemned the NFL’s pitiful punishment of benching Rice (who knocked his fiancee unconscious in a casino elevator then dragged her by her hair) for only two games (guys who smoke marijuana get more), Smith used his platform to dance around then eventually land on his point: that women should avoid provoking men to attack them.

A week after he made his points, and, to be fair, several apologies, the network suspended him for a week. Whether that includes pay is unknown.

Naturally the social media universe lit up over Smith who, unlike the more jovial natures of other ESPN anchors, tends to play the “angry black man” shtick, and much to his favor–he has 2 million Twitter followers.

Meanwhile, tart-tongued badass Michelle Beadle, host of ESPN’s “SportsNation”—herself a victim of an abusive relationship—had a few things to say to her colleague via Twitter:

Twitter_MichelleDBeadle_So_I_was_just_forced_to_watch_..._-_2014-07-30_11.24.20She also tweeted that she does agree men and women can be the attackers. For example, Beyonce’s sister Solange Knowles made international news three months ago when elevator footage turned up of her attacking brother-in-law Jay-Z. It’s still unclear what the fight was about, but if that was “provocation,” Jay-Z handled it correctly by walking away.

(I’ve never been sure exactly what Solange does, but I don’t think she got suspended from it.)

So here’s the thing. I don’t think Smith meant that women are at fault for being attacked; I do think, however, his comments blabbed out from a longtime unconscious belief in men, and some women too, that women play an equal role in an abuse situation by what they wear, what they say, what they drink, or yes, even their physical actions. That by being female, we must be aware at all times of our power to seduce–sex or trouble–a belief expressed more outwardly in many other cultures in which women are closeted, under clothes or literally, at best, and persecuted or killed at worst.

In other words, sometimes our unconscious beliefs can manifest themselves into dangerous realities for those perceived physically (or mentally) smaller and weaker.

Or darker. A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. Why? Because they have been through more hardship.

So similarly, while on some level crediting blacks for their suffering, we use it against them in a “well they knew better” manner.

The good news, I think, is just what a ruckus this has all raised. I’m actually pleased at the comments I’ve heard from local and national commentators who came down on Roger Goodell and the NFL and didn’t take the sensationalized way out Smith did, perhaps thinking it would get him more attention.

Congrats, Stephen A. It did.


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