“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Malcolm X
A shocking video taken of a New Year’s Eve incident has recently gone viral. The camera shows a 20-year-old Black female McDonald’s employee, Yasmine James, being viciously accosted by a 40-year-old White male customer named Daniel Willis Taylor. The dispute occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida, a locale known as “Sunshine City,” just outside of Tampa.
But there is nothing sunny nor shiny about this incident. The camera captured Taylor visibly infuriated over something regarding his recently purchased McDonald’s meal. His straw was missing, which for him, was an abhorrent act of negligence. However, the missing straw was due to a mandate, not a mistake. A newly passed edict by the St. Petersburg Council orders restaurants to only hand out straws by request. Upon receipt of this fun fact, Taylor grew more irate. He decided to leave common sense in the corner and decorum at the door as he lunged over the counter headed straight for Ms. James’ throat. He landed on his target. As Ms. James struggled for air between Taylor’s double-fisted chokehold, onlookers stood passively nearby–never mind that James was half her assailant’s size, half his age and was doing her job at the time of the bout. But Ms. James was not going down without a fight. What happened next is awe-inspiring. James morphed into David facing her very own Goliath. Armed with small fists and an enormous heart, she pummeled an adrenaline-laced avalanche of punches across Taylor’s face, head, and upper torso. He released his grip; a forlorn giant defeated at his own game. The media have lauded James’ heroic boxing abilities.
I am not cheering. This incident should not have happened in the first place. It is unfathomable that any employee should have to fend off attackers in the workplace. Further, there is no reason any person, male or female, should feel that it is within his or her purview to assault another person, particularly a woman. But therein lies the problem: the number of attacks against women, whether public or private, no matter who or HUE, is on the rise. Black women are often singled out and at escalated levels of offense. According to a new NWLC report that analyzes harassment charges filed by women in the private sector between 2012 and 2016, “Black women are disproportionately represented among women who filed sexual harassment charges. The Center’s report—Out of the Shadows: An Analysis of Sexual Harassment Charges Filed by Working Women—is an analysis of the data by race, gender, age, and by industry and size of the employer. Although an estimated 87 to 94 percent of individuals who experience workplace sexual harassment never file a formal legal complaint, almost 7,000 sexual harassment charges were filed with the EEOC in 2016 alone—and women filed 82 percent of these charges. The statistics confirm that sexual harassment is alive and well across all industries—and women of color working low-wage jobs are facing the brunt of this abuse,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “We need solutions that ensure safety and dignity at work for everyone.”
Amen to that. Ms. James was forced to face much of her attack alone. The public has called for the firing of the store manager. Not only did the boss neglect to respond to the predicament of an endangered employee, but he also appeared to allow the attacker to continue to place his order.
I strongly believe if “Becky with the Good Hair” had been the one yanked into a chokehold at the hands of an aggressive Black man, that brother would have been taken out like yesterday’s trash. Ronald McDonald would have kicked the man’s butt with one of his big red shoes. Hamburglar would have personally escorted him to jail and handed him a Happy Meal with a prison sentence as his prize.
The law slapped Taylor on the wrist with two assault charges.
Further, Yasmine James may receive some recognition, but she will not share the same level of respect of a real-life Becky, aka Emelia Holden, a 21-year-old White waitress from Savannah, has already gotten. Holden was taking orders at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in Savannah when a man walked past and touched her bottom. Holden, like James, deftly defended herself. Her actions were captured on camera too. Footage soared across the Internet, just like it did regarding this McDonald’s melee. But that is where the similarities end. In Holden’s case, someone called the police immediately. The offender was arrested. Holden was dubbed a “quick-thinker” and “courageous.”
Ms. James was shown standing unaided after her attack. No one called the police. The media has called her a “fighter.” Words like those are double-sided — dogs fight; people protect themselves. These type of labels also linger dangerously near stereotypical “sapphire” or “angry Black woman” depictions, even though anger is arguably justified in this situation. Ms. James says she simply felt fear.
“I was scared,” James told ESSENCE magazine. “I didn’t know what he was going to do. I didn’t know if he had a gun or knife.”
I feel her pain. As Twitter user Hennessy Haskin summarizes it, “I’m tired of seeing Black women being abused and disrespected and left to fend for ourselves.”
Another post, this one from Atlanta Black Star reads, “I am sick of seeing footage of men assaulting women (often Black women), and no one does anything about it. This conditioning contributes to the narrative that we are undeserving of protection and mark my words: it’s reaching a peak and turning into an invitation for our abuse.”
The roof is on fire. We may not need water, but we need immediate protective action for Black women. The lives of these mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and wives cannot continue to burn at the hands of assailants.
Shanita Baraka Akintonde is a tenured professor in the Communication Department at Columbia College Chicago. She is also a wife, mother, professional speaker, podcaster and published author propelled by love. Her latest book, The Heart of a Leader, was released in September 2018. If you want to be added to her email distribution list, reach out to her today at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @SHAKINTONDE. Connect with her on Linked In http://www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde