lev radin / Shutterstock.com, Gage Skidmore

Guns

Photo by lev radin / Shutterstock.com, Gage Skidmore

Those Pretty White Little Liars


Women like Dana Loesch, Ivanka Trump, and Hope Hicks play the role of oppressed woman and white supremacist at once, making them perfect spokespeople for Donald Trump and the NRA.



In August 1955, a young white woman ended the life of a 14-year-old Black child. His offense? Speaking to her in public. Allegedly, he whistled at her, though she later would recant this narrative of events.

Whatever transpired, within a week, Emmett Till was dead, murdered for supposedly offending the virtue of a white woman. He was sentenced to an extrajudicial death. His white male attackers pulled him from his bed in the early morning hours of August 28, pistol-whipped and beat him bloody. They then stole a fan from a nearby cotton gin, and drove to the river, where they shot Till and weighed his body down with the 70-pound fan by tying it around his neck with barbed wire. His body was found two days later, swollen and disfigured, so badly broken that he was unrecognizable. 

The murder of Emmett Till was one among many that happened during the Jim Crow era, often predicated on the word of white women. In many instances, all it took for a lynching was a white woman to be made uncomfortable in the presence of a Black man. And this is a story that’s played itself out over and over again throughout the decades since—even now, Black men allegedly attacking white women is enough to launch a statewide manhunt, igniting the same fervor that haunted the Jim Crow South.

 Feminist author Patricia Hill Collins wrote of this era in the American South as that which produced “controlling images” of Black men and women. These images or stereotypes aided the vigilante “justice” of the lynching era by creating a narrative that Black men were predators and Black women were either tempting jezebels or asexual mammies. Whatever the angle, narratives develop with one purpose: to protect white women from the taint of predatory, sinful blackness. White women are cast as the angels, those needing the protection of the white man, and whose victimization is cause for the deepest rage.

These controlling images of Black people only work with white women as the contrast, and the modern political world has created anew this divide and tension that enveloped the lynching era of the American South. From the rise of the Evangelical purity movement to the anti-trans bathroom bills to the current rhetoric around gun rights, the far right has latched on to the protection of the white female body as their highest priority. The proliferation of white women as spokespeople for various killing mechanisms and fascistic governments is not a mistake—indeed, it is all part of the narrative of softening and normalizing regimes of death.

We’ve seen this use of white women throughout the current Trump presidency, with Ivanka Trump being positioned to put a pretty white face on some horrifying policies. The idea that she would act as a balance for her father, calling him back into accountability, emerges directly out of this narrative. From her visits to Pyeongchang to make nice with Trump’s North Korean enemies, to her commentary—or refusal of the same—on multiple accusations of sexual assault against her father, Ivanka Trump cuts a fine line of demure and quiet womanhood. This womanhood enables her to play the innocent, to claim that questions about her father are inappropriate, to shame the audience into forgetting that she is literally the daughter of a man who wants to murder Black and brown people. White women are the tempering balance for white men, pulling them back from the brink, acting as their angelic saviors and carrying the weight of pulling the family together. The recently resigned Hope Hicks, an equally beautiful white woman who served as the Trump Administration’s fifth Communications Director, was likewise said to be a tempering influence on the President. With her resignation, she will carry the ballast of having played that role into any future career.

Similarly, and perhaps most horrifying, is the use of Dana Loesch as the National Rifle Association’s spokeswoman. It’s no mistake that the mouthpiece to a lobbying group that opposes any restrictions on public access to literal death machines is a pretty white woman. This is, indeed, the entire point: Loesch is able to speak at once from a position of power as a white person, and a position of oppression as a woman. She is the ironically disarming pretty face, the perfect victim: the pretty white woman buys right into the historical conception of white women as innocents, as damsels in distress who must be rescued and defended by the white man. She must be protected at all costs. Thus the white woman is the perfect person to argue that those vulnerable to gun violence should have access to any gun they want—for protection of their white innocence, whether it is as virginal daughters of protective fathers, or the more insidious role as propagators of the white race.

But Loesch has had plenty to say about how we should arm rape survivors, or how (white) women should protect themselves by buying a gun. She spoke at CPAC about how “crying white mothers” are “ratings gold,” and had no problem playing the victim by claiming that the audience at her CNN Town Hall “rushed the stage” to attack her, screaming “Burn her!”

 Notice, however, that Loesch only comes to the aid of the pretty white woman. When Marissa Alexander, a Black woman, was prosecuted in Florida for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for firing a warning shot into the ceiling to stop her abusive husband’s threatening behavior, the NRA and Dana Loesch were nowhere to be found. When Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and John Crawford III were gunned down by police for holding guns that were perfectly legal (in two cases, they were toy guns), the NRA and Dana Loesch said nothing.

Loesch, Ivanka, and all the Fox News blondes all benefit from a “white women as victims” narrative that they claim to reject. They hate what they call the “victimhood” of feminism—this idea that all women are subject to a victimizing, sexist society. But they use their status as white women to garner sympathy and protection from the right wing. They are the sympathetic face of conservatism, as the use of women on Fox News frequently suggests: the presence of women on the network is often used to bolster and solidify narratives of racist divisiveness. Think, for example, of Megyn Kelly, who made her name on the network by relentlessly “covering” a non-story about Black Panthers intimidating voters. Her presence as a white woman on the story allowed the audience a sympathetic window into the alleged “threat” of big scary Black men with guns. Viewers had no need to picture a potential victim because the pretty blonde woman was doing all that work already by inserting herself into the story. 

Even the classic “liberal women are ugly” trope relies on this idea that pretty white women are to be valued, praised, prioritized, and protected. Milo Yiannopolous famously spouted this trope when he was working for Breitbart, arguing that feminist anger can literally make you more masculine. Dana Loesch cuts a sympathetic figure that Wayne LaPierre wishes he could land. Her presence acts to take back “empowerment” from the clutches of the ugly feminists, arguing that women are at once in need of protection and that protection is always there in the form of a gun.

This, ultimately, is why the NRA and the Trump administration, in particular, have put forward white women as their spokespeople. Their messages sound a lot more palatable coming from an attractive, intelligent white woman as opposed to an old, balding white man. In the not-so-distant past, it was in the interest of defending white women that Black men and women were lynched, destroyed and bloodied. This is a trope going back centuries, from Helen of Troy to the anglicization of Cleopatra, to ongoing tropes in horror movies where a brunette white woman is the one who survives to the end when all other women are punished.

And in the present, it is in the interest of protecting and deifying white women that the NRA argues we must allow anyone and everyone to have guns, but then remains completely silent on the deaths of Black men in open carry states. Even now, we see a great support and movement kindled out of the Parkland shooting, in which many of the victims were white, middle-class girls. The deaths of innocents—white women—is a more compelling media narrative than that of the Black child who “was no angel,” according to mainstream headlines.

The use of a white woman as spokesperson is a call to the protection of white innocence, a signal that white womanhood is under threat. It is a softening of the call for every American to have access to the mechanisms of death. And it is a way to disarm the audience, to soften our critical engagement, and to call upon the racism that prioritized the word of a white woman over that of a Black man. The right wing is leaning into this use of privilege to garner sympathy for themselves, and all who seek to curb their power must be aware of how white supremacy is at work here.

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