A Painful Silence: What Daniel Holtzclaw Teaches Us About Black Women in America

By now, many of us have learned about the case against Daniel Holtzclaw, the young Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting eight middle-aged Black women. We know that he committed these crimes after pulling most of these women over for false traffic stops. He would then ask them to lift up their shirts, so he could fondle their breasts and force them to perform sexual acts for him. We know that he targeted his victims with great specificity, choosing women from lower-income backgrounds who had a history of “drug use and prostitution.” We know that he allegedly stalked some of his victims, coming into contact with them more than once. We know that he is even accused of illegally entering one victim’s home on more than one occasion.

By now, we also know how these stories play out. We know that Daniel Holtzclaw was placed on “paid administrative leave,” which sounds like paid vacation to most of us. We know that his family and friends have stated their unwavering support for the alleged sex offender, that he is innocent until proven guilty. We know that despite the fact that Holtzclaw abused his power as a police officer to violate and sexually assault eight women, a judge felt it acceptable to lower his bail from $5 million to $500,000. We know that he was then released on house arrest. We know that his family started a GoFundMe page that raised more than $7,000 for his legal expenses. (GoFundMe has since taken the page down.) And we know that there is an existing Facebook page titled “Justice for Daniel Holtzclaw,” in which you can receive T-shirts with sayings like, “Free the Claw!” after donating to his legal defense.
But more than any of these facts, we know the truth about what it means to be a Black Woman in the United States: Our lives and humanity do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Within our country’s historical context, we are always objects and accessories, but we are never subjects. We are never allowed to be fully human, fully deserving of the right to live without being beat, or shot, or raped.

Because how else is it possible for a cop to take advantage of vulnerable Black Women for his own disgusting obsession with sexual predation and dominance… and no one is outraged? How it possible that there are no marches and protests in support of his victims, like those surrounding the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown? How is it possible that there is no national feminist outcry, like that surrounding current Columbia student Emma Sulkowizc and the Steubenville rape case? Why is it so easy for us to ignore when Black women suffer violence—even when that violence is made possible by the very systems of oppression so many of us claim to be against? And how come when we do finally acknowledge that a Black woman has been a victim of violence, it is so easy for us to place the blame on them—like we have done with in the case of Janay Rice and the brutality she experienced at the hands of her husband, Ray Rice?

How come the anti-racist activists are never as loud and vocal when a Black woman is raped, or attacked, or murdered… and not a Black male? How come the (white) feminists are not blogging and tweeting whenever a Black woman is a victim of our country’s dependence on misogyny, sexism, and gender-based violence?

Where is our justice? Where is our trending Twitter hashtag turned movement? Where is the compassion and empathy for us?

The most troubling aspect of the Daniel Holtzclaw case—and the hardest thing for me to digest—is that it makes so much sense. Yes, it makes an incredible amount of sense. He is the All-American white* male police officer in a predominantly white city in the Midwest. He is undeniably the default and definition of privilege, power, and authority. In contrast, the agency and authority of his victims is nearly nonexistent. By targeting Black women, he knew what we all know. It is easy to exploit Black women, as our bodies have been hypersexualized, our sexual agencies denied, and our sexualities commodified throughout history. In America, every Black woman is “asking for it.” Thus, we are easy to ignore when we do come forward to report a sexual assault. And let us remember that Holtzclaw purposefully preyed upon Black women who have a known history of drug use and being sex workers. Thus, again, very few people would believe them if they did report their sexual assaults. Already, his supporters are using language that demonize and criminalize his victims. Instead of acknowledging that these women were incredibly vulnerable, we condemn them. Once this case officially goes to trial, it will only get worse.
In knowing all of these facts and all of these truths, I am filled with a sense of hurt and betrayal. The part in me that tries to remain hopeful about the realities for Black Women in America is giving away to something darker, harder, less trusting and forgiving. I am fearful. I am grieving. I am pissed off. But more than anything, I am unprepared to deal with this heavy awakening. Despite knowing that to others, my identity as Black Woman does not matter—to me, my Black Womanhood is everything. I also know the way I experience and perceive racism and sexism throughout my life will be subtle, at times almost undetectable. And so, I also know my anger and my fear will always be made to seem hysterical, always an overreaction: You are upset over nothing. You need to get over this race stuff. You need to get over this feminist bullshit. I’m tired of hearing you complain about racism and sexism. You don’t even have it that hard.

I wish these were all things I did not have to know.

(*Daniel Holtzclaw’s mother is of Japanese descent.)

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, storyteller, and teaching artist living in Southern California. She is a graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has performed in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Washington D.C., and Southern California. For more of her wit and work, visit her website (michelledenisejackson.com) or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga).

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