Of Monsters and Saviors, or Black Women in The United States
Breonna Taylor was murdered over 150 days ago by Louisville police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, but Kentucky’s attorney general has yet to file charges. The state’s refusal to prosecute represents a long history of Black women’s dehumanization in the United States, but Taylor’s murder and the lack of justice for her death presents a quandary during a time when politicians, television producers, and everyone in between call for Black women to save the United States from the clutches of evil.
Although seemingly separate occurrences, it is important to hold both these truths together because the simultaneity of both events creates the narrative that Black women are both society’s monsters and society’s saviors. We are the monster — nasty, mean, and disrespectful in the eyes of the regular townsfolk, but we are also the people who are constantly being asked (or told) to save America from itself. This metaphorical site of tension between monstrosity and superheroine is a position that many Black women know well.
In fantastic literature, the monster is the embodiment of difference, a dangerous form who creates fear and anxiety for the hero and brings chaos to society. The monster’s otherness is appealing, making it hyper-visible, but its otherness also imposes a distortion in the balance, so it must also be policed and simultaneously rendered invisible. It is not allowed to defend itself. It does not have permission to journey beyond a delimited area determined by the hero’s society. It cannot enjoy its culture because it’s too different from the hero’s way of life.
The monster trope, although centered in fantasy literature, is essential because the treatment of Black women in fiction mirrors our treatment in the real world. In a 2018 study, researchers found that Black women are disproportionately objectified in relation to their white counterparts and “implicitly associated with both animals and objects to a greater extent.” That is, Black women are more likely to be branded as things, more akin to item and beast than human. We are the embodiment of otherness, bringing disorder, terror, and dread in our wake. We are the hyper-visible in a system that craves our invisibility. Just like the monsters in the fairy tales, we must be put down.