This article uses the occasion of the Don Imus dustup in 2007, in which the radio shock jock became the subject of intense public censure after referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on air, to consider both the ramifications and the conditions of possibility of that particular configuration of terms. It suggests that, rather than weeding out white racism, the most significant implication of the Imus moment was that it highlighted how stereotype discourse—discussions about how stereotypes necessarily harm those they target—can and often does structurally undergird the same type of harm it otherwise purports to advocate against. Accordingly, the article considers how black women “in the life,” women who are involved in drug use and prostitution, women who are, ultimately, the most literal embodiment of the “nappy-headed ho,” become the targets of a form of racialized gender violence that never merits anything like the kind of attention the Rutgers women received. Following from the work of Lindon Barrett, it goes on to consider how being attuned to the binaries of value and the ways in which those binaries are valorized through structures of violence might allow for a way of thinking about the invaluable, or the outside of value, and how the lives of women in the life are informed by that knowledge even when, and perhaps because, they are at such close proximity to death.
Terrion L. Williamson; In the Life: Black Women and Serial Murder. Social Text 1 March 2015; 33 (1 (122)): 95–114. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2831892
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