VOICES | The color of protection


A girl was groped by a gang of boys at Valleyfair on the Fourth of July; her father was there to protect her, but he failed. Unpleasant. But the fact that the boys then beat the father to a pulp made it a Big Deal. We expect daddies to protect little girls. Rumors that the girl was white and her perps were black pushed it beyond Big Deal and into the realm of Serious News. Suddenly the radio talkers and the opinion writers and the newscasters kicked into overdrive. It seems the appetite for frightening tales of black-on-white crime, particularly black male on white female crime, can never truly be sated.

When the police report clarified that the victims and the perpetrators were all black-all of them, even the girl whose body allegedly triggered the whole thing-the reaction was … a resounding shrug.. The shrug was reduced to a yawn when Shakopee police revised their initial statement: The girl was 16, not 12 (therefore more woman than child) and she was swatted on the head, not the derriere (therefore more annoying than sexy).

Don’t misunderstand: I would like gropers of children to be punished. I would like their booking photos printed on the front page of the Star Tribune, thank you very much. On second thought, forget the Strib. It continues to employ Katherine Kersten, who didn’t miss the opportunity to write a hysterical column about how narcissistic hip-hop musicians like Pharrell Williams and Snoop Dogg made those Valleyfair boys want to grab a hunk of tasty girl flesh. Except maybe they didn’t. I don’t know. It sure sounds to me like a bunch of bullies were trolling Valleyfair looking to beat up just about anybody, and then they did. Don’t misunderstand: I would like those who commit physical assault to be punished too. But like the proverbial onion, this story just stinks worse the more you peel it back.

Two weeks after the Valleyfair attack made local news, Time magazine published a piece on a lavish Purity Ball held in Colorado Springs. The girls’ dresses were as frilly and sweet as wedding cakes, which was probably the point. Fathers snuggled reverent daughters in their arms and claimed to the Time reporter that they were not simply defending these girls’ virginity; they were shielding their integrity from the likes of … well, let’s be honest, Pharrell Williams and Snoop Dogg.

The skin of the girls and men in the Time photographs was uniformly pink, which is not to suggest that no brownish people were present. Rather, it suggests how little anyone cares. For the protection of white girls is still a cultural imperative in 2008 America. This fascinates me all the more because I happen to have one of these precious little girls in my house. The Perfect American Girl is not an abstraction: She kisses me good night. My 3-year-old daughter is pink-skinned, blue-eyed and boasts a full head of butter-yellow curls. I think this is a whole ‘nother column.

White girlhood has a protective advantage: People care. But it seems to me that we’ve gone too far. My daughter’s hymen is not my property, nor is it her father’s. A young pink body is not the manifestation of all things hopeful and innocent, no matter what the blogosphere says. Misguided assumptions do more widespread damage than the fists of angry teenage hooligans.

My daughter’s brain is no one’s property either. She can think what she wants. She may very well end up wanting a fluffy white dress should she marry, and I’ll have to accept it. I’ll just try to educate her, and I’ll continue to remind her of her white privilege. My responsibility is to enable her to use it for good, not evil. Just look at the latest from uber-blonde Paris Hilton, who struck back with a hilarious video on Funnyordie.com when John McCain implied that his black rival shared her inherent fragility. And you’d better believe that when Paris spoke, people listened. I sure did. Her dad must be so proud.

Shannon Drury is a self-described radical housewife. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.