When I first read about the case of Sharmeka Moffitt, 20, of Winnsboro, Louisiana, the young woman who alleged that she was attacked and set on fire by three men wearing “white hoodies,” my first instinct was not to discount her violent tale, as did some of my more cynical – or observant – colleagues in media.
True, it was horrifically extreme, but in a region known for racism, in the midst of a socio-political climate seething with rage and thinly suppressed bigotry, it was believable. In the era of James Craig Anderson and movie signs being vandalized to announce the showing of ‘N**gers 3D: Dark Black Men,’ I did not find her story as far-fetched as those people not born in the Deep South, but I still reserved my anger for when the facts emerged.
When it was discovered that Moffitt had created the entire, twisted story, the residual tremors continued to rock social media. There were those who immediately defended their advocacy to get Sharpton and Jackson on the phone, because, after all, “if it weren’t for racist ass white folk doing shit like that, we wouldn’t have believed it,” as one Facebook post so eloquently stated.
So, we know what that says about them, but what does that say about us? Of course such broad terms as us and them cannot be universally applied, but flow with me for a moment.
We could use this space to discuss the quickness with which some people immediately label a black woman a liar and what that says about victim blaming in the African-American community – but I’d rather not, this one time, in favor of examining the flip-side of that reaction. Many black people, without any confirmation, prepared to fight for Sharmeka Moffitt until there was no fight left. And while that is admirable on the surface, there remains a huge, Black elephant in the room:
There are thousands upon thousands of cases of black people being victimized by black people, and the tsk-tsks don’t last past the next headline.
Where was this outrage when Latonya Bowman, 22, was abducted, set on fire, and then shot in an ambush set by her ex-boyfriend? If her attackers had been white, there would have been t-shirts and protests. The fund created for her would have been heavily publicized, and she would have definitely been invited to share her story on television.
Let’s be clear: This is not to mitigate the very real fear that comes with “Walking While Black,” as Moffitt was doing on the night that she alleged that she was attacked, nor the excessive nature of the alleged crime. It is merely to address this racial demagoguery that compels us to channel our collective energy into fighting “The Man,” even in phantom acts of racism, while rarely holding the people that look like us accountable – even with tangible evidence staring us in the face.
What are we so afraid of?
We jump on issues such as these as if to say: “See, this is what we face in this country. Look at what we have to go through at the hands of white America.” But we spray air-freshener on our own sh*t and blame the stench on racism. Whatever emotional and/or psychological issues Moffitt faces, in the same class as Tawana Brawley, she was still able to grasp the fears and prejudices of black America, and many of us fell right in line, picket signs at the ready.
Hopefully, this case makes us examine our triggers a little more closely and determine why we don’t have that same passion when real vicious crimes are done to us, by us. Men in white hoods are not the boogeymen nor kryptonite of black America, and we owe it to ourselves to care just as much when the national narrative is not centered on race.
Maybe it’s taken the lie of a 20-year-old girl to introduce us to that truth.