Posted by: Ophelia | July 20, 2008

Disembodied

One of the stories that’s getting moderate coverage locally in Pa is that a young pregnant woman was found dead with her uterus cut open. Another woman was caught with the baby. This is a terrible crime, but really the reason why I’m writing about this is the type of coverage. I want to compare the story of Kia Johnson with Bobbie Jo Stinnett–another young mother to be who was killed for her baby.

The details provided about Kia Johnson’s death are gory and detailed. Words like “eviscerated” jump out at you as you read the account. They call her a corpse. They note that the foul smell emitting from the body that was in “moderate decomposition” is how they found her.

Bobbie Jo Stinnet is called a “slain mom“, a “pregnant woman” who had her “womb” cut open.

Kia is an  “eviscerated pregnant teen.”

What’s the difference between these two women?


One is a “mother” and the other is “corpse.” One has images of her pall bearers carrying her casket to its final rest, the other has images of the gurney being brought to the ambulance. I wish this didn’t hurt so badly. I wish I couldn’t see it. I wish the articles about Kia could see her humanity just as easily as they saw Bobbie Jo’s. I wish Kia could be seen as a woman too. I wish they could see her as a person. I wish they didn’t revel in her horrible last moments. I wish the social construction of black women wasn’t still alive, kicking, and denying their humanity. Why can’t we just be sorry for this senseless loss of life and leave the politics of hate behind?

Because it seems needed: Angry Black Woman: The Race Card, “How to Suppress Discussions of Racism” (Notably #6)

I do not want this blog to be hostile to those that still have learning to do. At the same time, I do not want comments on this post to turn into an argument about the existence of racism. This just isn’t the place and to borrow a line “If my bringing up race makes you uncomfortable, then the problem lies with you, not with me”.

If you do not understand the implications and statements in this post, I have no problem explaining them and providing links to more information for further inquiry. I am not going to debate whether the sky is blue, likewise, I will not debate the existence of racism.

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Responses

  1. It’s not because she’s black. It’s because she was cut open and the news, generally, is boring to the masses, using words like “corpse, decomposition” and “eviscerated” make it seem more like a CSI show to the public. Because the public is so apathetic now they treat the news as a reality show.

    This wasn’t about race untill you made it about race.

  2. Bobbie Jo Stinnett was killed in pretty much the same manner, yet those words don’t appear in the news articles dedicated to her. Why do you think that is? I’m honestly asking why you seem so openly hostile to the possibility that this is more than coincidence.

  3. While I understand that her major stigmatizer is race it is very telling that they refer to her as a pregnant teen as well. Age also plays a factor on who we consider to be a legitimate mother. Daily young womans status as mothers are looked down upon because they happen to be a teenager. It wasn’t that long ago that young girls were sent away to have their children because they were seen as a stain upon their families.

  4. Yes, I noticed that teen thing too. This was an immediate reaction so I just couldn’t find the words, but I got the feeling that they thought her pregnancy was less legitimate. They don’t indicate that she was married–and they took the time to note that she may have met her murderer while both women were visiting inmates at a local prison. It seems that they were trying their damndest to indicate that Kia Johnson wasn’t really a person worthy of sympathy. That may be why its so easy for them to revel in the gory details of her death. They don’t think she’s worthy of sympathy, they don’t think anyone will feel for a young, pregnant black woman, who possibly doesn’t have family (or at least not one who will appear on tv). It’s possible this was just a media thing wherein they underestimate their audience and try to play to their estimated desires. At the same time, the racist and classist notions that inform those decisions is rather clear.

  5. “CNN’s Christina Chinnici and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.” http://edition.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/07/19/baby.mystery/index.html?iref=newssearch

    “CNN’s Jonathan Freed contributed to this report.”
    http://edition.cnn.com/2004/LAW/12/21/stolen.fetus/
    If both reports had have been written by the same people, i might have bought into your race claim. But since they weren’t, I don’t.

    Everyone’s too PC these days, looking for race crime around every corner, it’s sad really.

  6. I think newspeople were trying to emphasize just how vicious and cold-blooded this murder was. The news reports I have seen have been appalled by the crime and full of sympathy for Kia and her baby. The media mention that the women were visiting inmates because they talked to each other while there, and their interaction was caught on the surveillance tapes at the jail. Kia was not seen alive again after she left the jail. That is evidence against the psycho-monster who killed her. Saying Kia was a pregnant teen just amplifies how diabolically cruel her killer was in preying on this lovely young woman. My heart breaks for her and her baby. This isn’t about race. It’s about a cold-hearted killer with a history of baby snatching and stabbing of pregnant women who was released from jail and did it again. She should have been locked up until the day she died. She should not have had the opportunity to hurt anyone again. Kia was beautiful. She is in the loving hands of Jesus now, and I pray that Christ watches over, protects, and blesses her baby who has had such a horrible entry into this world. People care. And I’m white.

  7. When you see the two side by side it’s pretty clear that there is a definite difference in how the two are reported.

  8. This is intense.

    And it’s so subtle–all the more insidious–because it isn’t wholly apparent without a juxtaposition like the one you’ve presented.

    Thanks for calling it out.

  9. Virgil Hart said: “This wasn’t about race untill you made it about race.”

    Ignoring racism or predenting it’s not there until people seek it out is not a solution. These stories are just as much about race as the ones from Hurricane Katrina that portrayed POC as “looting” food from grocery stores and whites as “finding the food.” (http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blkatrinalooting.htm)

  10. what you said is so true.

  11. Ophelia, your insight here is important – and you are absolutely right, we respect Bobby Jo in death as we should respect all victims of violent crimes, regardless of race – by remembering her as human.

    I bet a little time on Lexus Nexus might show this difference in the respectful/gruesome language for white/black victims to be quite a trend. I remember not linking to the original Romona Moore story when I wrote about it because the article seemed to revel in all the worst details of how she was abused… to the point where I wasn’t sure that it hadn’t crossed a line between trying to show her suffering and trying to use her suffering in a sensational way to sell papers. You’ll notice in that story, the white victim’s tortures are not detailed graphically either, despite the fact that the way we treat black and white missing women unequally is a central point in piece.

  12. Virgil: The idea that since both articles aren’t written by the same people that their implications do not count is bullshit at its finest. All of the articles came from CNN so they were all approved and published by the same company. If you cannot see the issue in their treatment of the crimes that’s fine, but you can stop trying to justify your hostility to the idea that racial bias informs both the articles’ text and their selection by CNN. I really don’t understand why your discomfort with the idea and inability to discuss it thoughtfully should continue to disrupt the flow of discussion.

    “2. Attack the person, not the argument.
    Personal attacks end the discussion before it even starts! If you can accuse your opponent of “paranoia,” “white guilt,” “internalized racism,” “whining,” “overreacting,” “paternalism,” “condescension,” “being obsessed with race,” “bitching about racism at the drop of a hat,” or “taking things too personally,” you don’t need to bother addressing the content of their remarks. This will save you time and energy you can then devote to happier pursuits.”
    ———————————————————-
    Debbie, I appreciate your input. You expressed your view compellingly and without ad hominem attacks–it’s not something I see too often on the internet. I did notice that beyond the gory details, they did focus greatly on the assailant which is one aspect that the story of Kia Johnson shares with that of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. At the same time, I noticed that the early stories about Bobbie Jo are more focused on her. On her impending motherhood, on her family connections, on her youth. I feel like there isn’t the same focus on Kia. I mean this is an 18 year old who was brutally murdered and I’m just not hearing the same cues in the articles that indicate sympathy. The details of her death are being emphasize and therefore they are pointing to the senselessness of the murder, but at the same time they’re eschewing her humanity. It makes me wonder if Kia Johnson had family–I want to think that if she had family that was known that the news wouldn’t speak of her in the way they are now.

    I noted the mention of Kia’s visit to the prison because the article specifies that authorities aren’t sure that this is where she first met her murderer. In the absence of this fact, I had to wonder about why they felt the need to mention it.
    ——————————————————–
    Habladora: This is a very long trend. My thesis paper surrounded newspaper coverage of interracial rape between 1892-1910. After reading a few of the articles, the language indicating sympathy and derision become painfully obvious. There too you will find extraneous details meant to garner sympathy or notions of guilt. Further, details of the crime vary with the alleged perpetrator. It’s ugly and its subtle but it’s been around for a long time and will continue to be, I’ll wager.

  13. This reminds me of the story of a young woman who was killed–at the time it was presumed by her boyfriend–after she told her boyfriend and family she’d done a photo shoot for an adult website. The headline? “PORN STAR MURDERED”. She was nothing even vaguely resembling a “porn star”, yet that’s what the headline said. Headline writers are paid to grab our attention–you know journalists typically don’t write their own headlines, right? The idea was just for all the hoi polloi to go “OOOH! A murdered porn star! Just like on my favorite moronic crime drama!!!” and buy a paper.

    In this case, I think that the racism is clear and insidious–it’s in the audience. IMO, “the media” is a mirror of society. Media outlets directly convert eyeballs into dollars, so whatever gets the most attention makes the most dollars. Dehumanizing and brutalizing the murder of a young, pregnant black woman, and lovingly memorializing the life of a young, pregnant white woman will probably get the most attention from the most amount of people. It’s sick. It’s wrong. It’s awful. The problem is that it works.

    In order to eliminate awful discrepancies like this, you have to eliminate prejudice from the hearts of millions . . . not call CNN.com’s headline writer a racist. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to do the latter than pull off the former.

    Peace
    Ty

  14. I don’t disagree with you Ty. I fully believe that the writer of the headline knew that it would catch attention and it was in line with the way people think of these things. I don’t recall calling CNN’s headline writer a racist, however. We live in a racist society and the way these stories are written and tagged are designed to capture the attention of society. They work.

  15. That was my first thought too, FeministGal. This reminds me a lot of the Katrina “looting” stories. Everything changes when the story is about a person of color.


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