?uestlove’s Black Feminist Response x Sabina O’Donnell

Sabina O’Donnell and Donte Johnson photo via thebeatofphilly.com

I have been haunted by the murder and rape of Sabina O’Donnell, allegedly by Donte Johnson.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP/KYW) Two weeks to the day after 20-year-old Sabina Rose O’Donnell was brutally raped and strangled to death in an empty lot, Philadelphia police have announced they have arrested the person they believe is responsible, 18-year-old Donte Johnson.”

I was in Philly May 29th for the Celebration of Black Writing Festival. It is a pretty city. An artistic city. A Black city. I can’t wait to go back.

What I also noticed was that it was an incredibly angry city. Oakland is arguably? just as angry however I think the pervasiveness and intensity of the weed acts as a major buffer in the ‘Town.

I learned about the murder of Sabina O’Donnell from a tweet from @questlove. Initially he tweeted about the murder and mentioned that Donte Johnson looked like a baby. Many Black women felt that this statement served the purpose of not holding Donte Johnson accountable for the murder that he allegedly committed.

In June, I reread Kimberly Williams Crenshaw’s essay “Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew” to respond to Slim Thugs (Bitches Ain’t Shit 2010 + Black Women need to do better rant) but the more I read Crenshaw, the more I realized that there was something amiss with ?uestlove’s response.

It finally dawned on me in mid August that ?uestlove’s response was in many ways a Black {Male} Feminist response.

I think this for four reasons.

The first is that ?uestlove centers his experience as a young cat who came of age in Philly, and the ways in which violence has had an impact on his life and the lives of the Black men and women around him.? Black feminist’s center the experience of Black women, men and children. He illustrates this when he writes:

i too at one point was an 18 year old black man from philadelphia. the 2 west philly neighborhoods i grew up in (to my knowledge) ? with the exception of my next door neighbor and my best bud down the street ? all the lives have been claimed in my age range. like seriously. if there were a reunion of all the kids in my age range from born from 1971-1976 that i grew up playing ball with and summer day camp and breakdancing and trading pac-man game patterns with, out of the combined 24 of us? (3 cousins included) only 3 are STILL LIVING or NOT in jail for a long time.

The second is that he focused on the conditions that would give rise to a young man, a 18 year old young Black man from Philly who could conceivably rape, strangle and leave for dead a twenty year old Black woman. He did this when he wrote:

look. i am NOT trying to be on some capn save a thug ish.

but dude. http://twitpic.com/1xageo look at him.

he is a fucking BABY.

the hell he see in his 18 years that brought him to THIS?!?!?!?!

The third is that Black feminists center the violence within Black communities.? ?uestlove does this when he writes,

this IS my neighborhood! i moved there to GET AWAY from the 3 things (robbery, rape, murder) committed a mere 138 second walk from my house! (yes i drove there 5am and tested the distance) so of course i had vested interest in finding justice served. i know many a single woman on my block. my mom and sister visit often and have to park away from my house occasionally.

Donte Johnson’s mother turned him in. Can you imagine being a Black mother turning your son in for this? #typeheartbreaking.

Fourth he alludes to how violence is a gendered act, which is a very sophisticated feminist theortical stance. He writes,

just as all the women in that neighborhood internalized sabina?s murder as ?that could have been me or any of us!!!? i internalized donte.

im sorry?.http://twitpic.com/1xageo could have been me or any of us.

this is why i said it breaks my heart. i want to know the specific conditions that drove this boy (yes i am using boy specifically) to this ugly act. i watched the tape. didn?t look like a drug addict to me the way he coordinated himself on the bike. i didn?t get a disheveled homeless drunken vibe either. ? –

The introduction to the Crenshaw essay says:

Many feminists have maintained that there is a tie between the way in which women are portrayed in the arts and popular entertainment and the way in which women are treated.~Diana Tietjens Myers

In reading ?uestlove’s post I was reminded of Kimberle Crenshaw’s feelings about 2 Live Crew. On one level she felt for them, because they were clearly being unfairly prosecuted because they were Black men. On another level Black women in their music were “all purpose ho’s.”

What do I mean by all purpose ho’s? Well she this is how she desribes hearing 2 Live Crew for the first time,

” On first hearing 2 Live Crew I was shocked; unlike Gates I did not “bust out laughing…” We hear about cunts being fucked until backbones are cracked, asses being busted, dicks being rammed down throats, and semen splattered across faces. Black women are cunts, bitches and all purpose “ho’s.”

As I read Crenshaw’s impression of? 2 Live Crew, I can’t help but think of ?uestlove’s question around Donte Johnson, which was,

“the hell he see in his 18 years that brought him to THIS?!?!?!?!”

The text of the entire post is here.

Did mainstream “all purpose ho” rap music contribute to the conditions where Donte Johnson could possibly strangle, rape, and leave Sabina Rose O’Donnel for dead?

How could it not?

Isn’t it easier to kill a “bitch” than it is to kill a human being?

Who stands to gain if we refuse to see the connection between how women are depicted in pop culture and how they are treated in the streets?

Who stands to lose?

Am I saying that there is a one to one correlation between the music and street treatment? No?

I understand that many things shape who we are. Our family lives. Our zip codes. Our personal choices.

I also know that there are several things that contribute to the hood looking the way it does. White institutions, created, approved of? and maintain(ed) the hood. #nixonland.

However I am still thinking about Crenshaw, Slim Thug and the impact that the music has on reducing us to all purpose ho’s.

Am I saying that the music and how we treat each other in the street are connected in that they both can involve violence that impacts Black people?


Is his response a Black feminist response?

Had you ever thought about it before?

What do you think of his response?

All purpose ho’s?

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  1. says

    a. define what you mean by “black feminist response” because my first inclination is to say, no. but let’s define & work under the same assumption.

    b. his response was amazing, and open, and hella vulnerable. we don’t often hear dudes, especially black men, break down THEIR environment/upbringing in such a way that doesn’t make excuses for actions but seeks to understand how he/they got THERE. type powerful.

    c. yes, there is definitely a correlation between pop culture & images and how women are treated. i see it daily with my students. whoever is still on that, “music aint responsible” shit needs to walk into any urban school and see how boys & girls interact. crazy.

  2. Renina says

    Hi BD,

    By Black feminist response I mean one that(and I hope my headings were clear about this) one that:
    1. Centers the experience of the person, not just focusing on the theoretical aspects. But the day to day shit of our lives.
    2. A response that take violence seriously.
    3. A response that interrogates how violence is often GENDERED act in the hood. Meaning patterns of violence that occur to men and women consistently overtime in a way that has to do with whether they are men or women.

    Does that help clear it up?

  3. Jenn says

    Are you really that delusional?

    Ps: his mother turned him in because the neighbors knew it was him and was going to take it in thier own hands.

    I hope you never have anything like this happen to you. I lost a friend and Philly lost an amazing woman. Don’t try to make excuses for an animal.

  4. Renina says

    Hi Jenn,

    Clearly, you re a new reader to let me share with you.
    If you knew Sabina O’Donnell, I am sorry for your loss. As I said I was haunted by her murder all summer.

    If you disagree with the piece then say so, how and how. Calling folks thangs, in this space.
    Not tolerated. You will get blocked.

    Second. Human beings are NOT animals. They are people. Full stop.

    If you disagree with that sentiment, then you can do so. But name calling and all that.
    Not here. Take it somewhere else.


  5. says

    Really? He’s an animal? SMH.

    I see one of the contributing factors of a kid committing a crime of that nature in that statement.

  6. says

    Hey M. Dot, I found this one statement odd.

    “im sorry?.http://twitpic.com/1xageo could have been me or any of us.”

    If Donte Johnson was harassed, beat up or accidentally, inadvertantly shot by the police then maybe I might agree. I’m sorry, there’s no way I can identify with some one who is willing to rape or murder some one randomly. I would normally say, I understand where he’s coming from but I really can’t. I grew up with guys who violently robbed people and shot people for various reasons but rape is something else altogether. Simply put, nah . . . it could not have been me, not at all, not in any environment.

    I feel for Sabina O’Donnell’s family.

    The Diana Tietjens Myers quote is on point and applies to video games, comics, film to music.