Week 4: The Women of Watts

Reflecting on the absence of women in the Watts documentary made me think of the voices of Wanda Coleman and Betty Pleasant – the women who have spoken out about the Watts rebellion. 
Much of the discourse surrounding the Watts rebellion is wrought with gendered terminology which is undoubtedly, exclusively male. For instance, in Betty Pleasant’s article, “‘Baby’ I Dodged Bullets While L.A. Burned” she speaks of “hard core rioters who were willing to die for the cause of the black brotherhood” (emphasis mine). The focus certainly did seem to be on the “brotherhood” as Pleasant frequently referred to participants as “the guys”. She even goes so far as to call it “Viet Watts,” likening it to war; specifically a war fought predominantly, if not exclusively, by men. Perhaps this emphasis on hyper-masculinity is one of the reasons Pleasant’s article is written with such separatism and conviction. I imagine that as a woman, it would be difficult to feel included in a movement of an oppressed community raising up against systemic racial injustices so heavily saturated with and centered around fraternal camaraderie, or the “brotherhood”.
Maybe this is the same reason Wanda Coleman states that despite the voices of, “James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and W. E. B. Du Bois . . . The hero I longed for did not seem to exist.” Coleman is right to mention this disparity. While James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have been powerful voices for the black identity, both of their works are fueled by a paternal, and distinctly fraternal, individualism. For instance, in all his talk about “black bodies,” Coates only gives, periodically, a brief nod to the black female body: “the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you never will know.” While he is right to say that his son, a male, will not even truly “know” the ways in which women must protect and guard their bodies, he leaves it at that and does not attempt to go any further. It is troubling that Coates’ book, which sets out to encompass the black experience and is often hailed for doing so, leaves such a glaring gap when it comes to the experience of the black female. 

Leave a Reply