We are in the midst of Antoine Dodson Mania! For those that don’t know him, he’s the now famous man who fought off the intruder that climbed into his sister’s second story window in the middle of the night and tried to attack her with her daughter present. Remember his reaction? Hilarious right? I mean pissed off that his sister was attacked! LMFAO! So hilarious that now there is this song that has remixed the news clip and turned it into the new summertime hit. It has even made the iTunes Top 20 and we can purchase sexual assualt for $1.99 and jam all day! And the star of all this is of course was Antoine Dodson for his “comedic” reaction to violence and the Gregory Brothers for their creative innovation of putting it to song. Sarcasm aside, I must admit that to remix a news story like that is pretty amazing. But what does it mean to remix violence against black women when our stories are already left behind?
See usually when a black woman is attacked we find some way of making it her fault. We ask questions like what was she wearing? What does she do for a living? How many sexual partners has she had in the past? You know, the typical stuff that removes accountability from her attacker. But in this case, where a black woman minding her damn business awoke to an attacker in her second story apartment, normal victim-blaming would not work. So now what do we do, because we obviously can’t take a black woman’s story of violence seriously? Well, that’s simple. We marginalize the attack and focus the story on her brother, whose anger we can exploit because it fits into stereotypes of queer masculinity that provide comic relief. The producers used the footage to lock Antoine in a frame, to capture him in place, in order to tell a story that fits their truths—black women’s confrontations with sexual violence are either not real or unimportant. Framed under the guise of “news” this masquerades as a story about a woman awaking to an intruder in her bed but is really a story about a funny black man, hilarious in his anger. It was never about her.
I think we have to talk about the power of invisibility. As a child, I participated in the normal debates about what superpowers were the most desirable. For me, invisibility won hands down! To be able to be invisible was the most super of all the powers. See, I was nosey so being invisible would allow me to know exactly what my mother and her sisters talked about when I was shooed out of the room. It would allow me to see what the forbidden boy’s bathroom looked like. And those moments of being in a new place wouldn’t have felt nearly as terrifying if I could turn on the power of invisibility. Invisibility also afforded protection. Remember Violet from The Incredibles? Invisibility not only protects her from being noticed by the young man she has a crush on, it keeps her safe as she travels though the evil lab in search of her father. Or Harry Potter and that banging invisibility cloak. It not only allowed him to freely explore the campus, but also often saved his life.
But as invisibility oscillates between power and protection, the ways in which it can be used as a tool of oppression become, well invisible. For women of color, invisibility is often forced and along with hypervisibility, it is used to as means to discredit and oppress. This is indeed the case with Kelly Dodson, made invisible through the hypervisibility of her brother. Her invisibility is highlighted by the numerous Antoine Dodson for President T-shirts and paraphernalia that exists in the same space that doesn’t even remember Kelly’s name. (In fact, I had to go back and watch the video to even remember her name; a video I found by merely typing in “Antoine Dodson”).
Kelly Dodson’s experience of violence gets reduced to a fragment of the news segment and even further condensed to one line in the song: “I was attacked by some idiot in the projects.” And while Antoine is central, that too is nothing to be celebrated. He is hypervisible as a caricature for public amusement. We all know Antoine’s name thanks to but the “Bed Intruder Song” the Gregory Brothers have taken his voice chopped it up, synthesized it, and put it to a beat so that they are no longer recognizable as his own. He wasn’t looking for fame. He was angry that he had to save his sister from being attacked! Antoine has been hypervisiblized in order to invisibilize Kelly. This is not the invisibility of Harry Potter, free to put it on and take it off, this is an act of erasure.
There is a difference between choosing invisibility and being made invisible. See the choice of being invisible also comes with the recognition that you’re missing. When Harry and the crew would return from their invisible outings people often asked where they were. When you are made invisible through processes of erasure, people don’t even acknowledge that you’re gone. It’s like you never existed. So in a story that begins with the headline “a woman awakes” we don’t even acknowledge that the entire segment focused on a man—her brother. We don’t even acknowledge that the moment she is the most upset and telling us that her young daughter was in the bed with her, the news reporter is talking over her, so this reality exists as background fodder.
As women of color, we have long yearned for black women’s experiences with oppression to be paid attention to. Our stories of sexual assault, inside and outside of our communities never make the evening news. And now, when we finally are awarded a few minutes of attention, we are simultaneously erased. We are further erased through the music that has increasingly been used to enslave rather than liberate us. It is the music that has put us in a trance and even we are singing along to a black woman being attacked. Singing along until we agree with her erasure. Until her erasure becomes more of a reality than the attack. Every note we sing erases Kelly Dodson.
I demand a remix to this remix! One who’s beat doesn’t influence your body to sway and your lips to smile as you sing the words. One that instead causes your body to curl over in pain and your eyes to water. One that makes you feel sad, or better yet angry that this happened! Can we remix this remix into a story that centers the black woman who was attacked?
So here is my letter to Kelly Dodson.
We know that in these conversations about this internet sensation, YOU are missing. We know that when they’re jamming to the music they aren’t thinking about YOU. We know that you were never central, not in the original news story, not in the song, and not now. All of this has been about its about trivializing your brother’s anger (characterizing as “emotions running high” instead of emotions running normal for someone whose family member was attacked), the creativity of these white boys (a group who has always profited off the abuse of black women), and the power and creative force of technology. Well the Crunk Feminist Collective says it’s all about you! We are sorry that this happened to you. We are sorry that when you should be at peace in your home you were attacked. We are sorry and angry that your little girl had to be present for that. We are sorry that you no longer feel safe in your own home. We are grateful that you had someone home to help you and we are sorry that this is happening to your story. We want to center you. We want this moment to be used to talk about the realities of our communities as spaces of vulnerability and danger for women of color. We want to remember you as we work to build the communities we want to see, because lets be real, we have learned to make due but for us are neighborhoods are often scary as shit. We live in a state of violence that is so common that people can sing along to it.
We understand that you live in a community like many of us, one that is so far lacking in social safety nets that that you’re brother had to envision mechanism of accountability that would hold up regardless of a response from a police state that more often than not disregards violence done on the bodies of black women. We completely understand the realities that would make your brother tell your attacker “you don’t have to confess we’re looking for you we’re gonna find you” and when he does that he’s “gonna beat his ass and then call the police while I beat his ass because I want you to feel what you made my sister feel.” And we don’t think his or your anger is comedic and we keep his statements in mind as we attempt to build an anti-violence movement that doesn’t combat violence with violence while recognizing the difficulty of doing so.
From this point on when we hear the “Bed Intruder Song” we will force ourselves to center you, and we will think about where we stand in our anti-violence movement. We will dedicate a moment of silence to making a safe world for women and girls like you and your daughter. We want to let you know that this is not okay and we are fed the fuck up! Now Run Tell Dat Homeboy!