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Women of colour

Even though we live in the 21st century, past cultural norms, are still enforced in today’s society and predominately, effects the women of colour including those females who don’t fit into the gender binary category. In the Invisible No More novel, Andrea Ritchie demonstrates how due to classification anxiety, officers often terrorize women of colour, especially, those not classified under the normative gender (Gurusami 2019) . Due to this inability, women of colour and transgender individuals are often subjected to surveillance and stereotyping, which involuntarily, increases the state violence against these individuals. By looking at the cases of Mya Hall and Tashnuba Hayder, officers involved in both these cases had primarily, justified their acts of violence/punishment as an act fighting against terrorism. From this, I argue that, women of colour who don’t fit into the normative gender are subjected to surveillance which leads to a state inflicted violence and/or punishment.

On June 17th, 2005, Tashnuba Hayder, a Bangladeshi Muslim, in Queens New York, was investigated on the accounts of being a terrorist. Before she was taken into custody, FBI agents had monitored her visits on an Internet chat room, believed to encourage suicide bombings. She had also written a school essay, where she discussed various religions’ views on suicide, and wrote about the Department of Homeland Security targeting Muslims. And with these findings, FBI agents showed up at her home without a search warrant posing as youth counselors. The agents had asked her views on Jihad and questioned why she had no posters on her wall. Three weeks later on the basis of a secret declaration, a dozen federal agents raided her home and took Tashnuba into custody. Without providing her parents with any information for two weeks, Tashnuba was transferred to a juvenile detention Center where she was interrogated without a parent or lawyer by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. She was only released upon her mother’s agreement to a voluntary departure of her and Tashnuba to Bangladesh (Ritchie 63: 2017).

Similarly, on March 30, 2016, a transgendered black woman, Mya Hall, and her friend Brittany Flemming had made a wrong turn onto a National Security Agency property in Baltimore. Hall was immediately identified as a potential terrorist and was shot down by police officials. Hall had a history of robbery, assault and prostitution along with violating her probation (Hermann 2015). Predominately, this background and other stereotypes associated around black woman being dangerous allowed the officers to conclude her as a terrorist. Ideally women and gender nonconforming women of colour are unable to meet the socially acceptable standard for gendered behaviour as it has been defined around whiteness. Henceforth, officers treat transgender woman as an immediate threat and as individuals who have no right to protection nor self defense (Ritchie 65:2017).

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Andrea Ritchie, In the Invisible No More novel, mentions how laws in United states were predominantly evolved so that officers could target individuals whose presence in public spaces was seen as undesirable which included black, immigrant and people who didn’t fit in the gender binary system (Gurusami 2019). After 9/11, the war on terror ideally targeted Arab, Muslim, South Asian women and facilitated abusive policing towards women who were hijab or who otherwise appeared to be Muslim (Ritchie 132:2017). Black individuals who did not identify themselves as Muslims, were also profiled as potential terrorists by police. In Tashnuba and Mya’s story, because both of them according to the United States law were posed as undesirable, they were immediately categorized as terrorists. Ideally in cases that involve white individuals, a judgement is passed only after all the evidence is found. But in Tashnuba’s case, a judgement was concluded first. Because Tashnuba identified herself as an immigrant and a Muslim, officers immediately categorized her as a terrorist. Without any justification Tashnuba was constantly on surveillance. Tashnuba’s chatroom conversation, her leaving home and a school essay were the primary evidence that were used by officers to justify their actions of labelling Tashnuba as a terrorist (Ritchie 63: 2017). In Mya’s case, because she identified herself as a black and transgendered woman she was labelled as a terrorist. Just like Tashnuba’s , the judgment of labelling Mya as a terrorist, was done first and the action was taken accordingly. The officers then presented any evidence they could find to label and justify their act of shooting Mya, as righteous.

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Even though, both cases involved the labelling of coloured woman as terrorists, both Mya and Tashnuba, differed not only by colour but also by their acts. Due to this, their cases were presented differently, which ultimately resulted in different outcomes for both women. Even though, the novel presented Mya and the importance of her case in great detail, it fails to mention Mya’s past where she was convicted for armed robbery, assault, theft, and prostitution. The book also fails to mention how, due to violating her probation multiple times, an arrest warrant was also sent out on the day she was killed (Hermann 2015). Ideally, for Andrea Ritchie the purpose of presenting Mya’s case was to show the importance on the concept of labelling coloured woman. Officers were controlling the narrative of Mya Hall by representing her, as a violent, harmful and careless individual. And due to classification anxiety, officers were ideally stereotyping Mya and concluding her as a terrorist. While cross-dressing laws which were used to criminalize and justify physical violence against gender nonconforming people for many past centuries, police officers continue to treat people they perceive to be violating gender norms, such as Mya, as suspicious, potentially dangerous, and likely to be involved in criminalized activity like drug use, terrorism etc. (Ritchie 131:2017).

Muslims, especially after 9/11, have been stereotyped and racially identified as terrorist. And due to this, officers involved in Tashnuba’s case had enough evidence to spy on her. Unlike Mya, Tashnuba was a minor which is why, surveillance wasn’t enough evidence to arrest her. This is why, officers had posed as youth counsellors, so they could enter Tashnuba’s home to collect more evidence which enhanced their predetermined narrative. Even after when she was taken into custody, Tashnuba, through various news outlets, explains how officers had played good cop, bad cop and fabricated lies to force her into confessing that she was a terrorist (Dood 2005). Yet due to the incompliance of Tashnuba, and her mother’s agreement with the DOJ, she and her mother were deported overnight. And unlike Mya’s case which was not forgotten and was spoken out by the women associated in the BYP100, Black lives matter and the Ferguson action, Tashnuba’s case was kept hidden (Ritchie 203: 2017). It was kept away from the general public to avoid providing any justification on spying on a minor, riots by the public and media , and a federal investigation on the case and the officers involved.

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In general, experiences and lives cannot be separated into distinct identities of race, class and gender. Rather these identities overlap, in various ways depending on the context and situation, and is defined as intersectionality. This term recognizes the positions of women of color and how they are outcastes which ideally, puts them at a greater risk for these forms of violence compared to white women. The discourses embedded in the nation’s laws, policies, and social services that are situated around women, unfortunately, erase the experiences of the women of color by either invoking the white women’s experiences as more serious (Gurusami 2019) . Feminism has historically used a hierarchy of race, which is visible in today’s society. Due to white supremacy, the important links between both racism and the patriarchy, and their damage to the struggles to women of colour, are given less importance.

To conclude, both Mya and Tashnuba’s case highlights policing in each of these cases, and describes the ideology and narratives, rooted in fear and exclusion, and targets women who are perceived to be threatening the social order. The cases also highlight how Police officers don’t just enforce existing laws — they make laws when deciding what is suspicious and who to target for questioning, harassment, and arrest (Ritchie 191:2017). This ultimately explains how even though we continue to evolve in technology, we fail to evolve in gender justice for all and every kind of woman.

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