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A Black "Thug" Toddler Equals National Coverage. A White Woman Leaves Kids in Car to Die So She Can Have Sex? Near Silence


Where is a white version of Don Lemon when we need him? A brave white man to lecture white women about their bad parenting skills, out of control libidos, and the rampant "bad" culture among White Americans, more generally?

Alas, what shall we do with the white women?

Heather Jensen left her two children unattended in an automobile so that she could sneak off and have sex with a man who is not her live-in boyfriend. Heather Jensen's two children died from heat exposure while their mother rutted with her Lothario. The deaths of William and Tyler were directly caused by their mother's negligence and lack of impulse control.

Ennisha Devers's child was video recorded in her home while he cussed and acted like a "thug". The video recording was shared by a local police organization that is concerned with how "the black poor" are raising their children, and as an example of a broken culture which produces criminals, thugs, and hooligans. Apparently, black toddlers who use profanity when prompted by adults will be incarcerated later in life.

A story about black "thug" toddlers prompts a national conversation. By comparison, a story about a white woman whose irresponsible behavior results in the deaths of her two children is an outlier, and passes without much comment from the national media.

For many otherwise smart, well-intentioned, and decent white people (and some others) white supremacy's intersection with white privilege exists as an abstraction. This is the very nature of privilege: it blinds those who possess and enjoy it.

In all, the disparate reaction by the news media--and the public-- to Heather Jensen and Ennisha Dever is a glaring example of how white privilege operates as a system of social relationships and beliefs, beliefs that in turn impact how people interpret the world around them.

Ennisha Devers's bad parenting was greeted with tens of thousands of comments on websites, coverage on national TV and radio, and debated on social media. These responses ranged from gross and ugly racist screeds against both Ennisha Devers and her child, to the "polite" bigotry which operates from assumptions that link black and brown people together with long-held stereotypes about African-Americans as irresponsible citizens, and more recent Right-wing talking points about black women as "welfare queens" who are drains on (white) society.

Heather Jensen's lethal choice to abandon her children in a car while she had sex elsewhere has been greeted with a mix of concern, anger at the mother's poor decision-making, and sympathy for how such an impulsive choice led to a tragedy.

Unlike in the case of Ennisha Devers and her swearing child, there is no mass clarion call, moral panic, or effort to generalize from Heather Jensen to white women as a group. Heather Jensen's race is not the center of the story; it goes unmentioned because Heather Jensen's identity as a white woman is framed as being irrelevant to the death of her children.

Black women are stigmatized both because of their race and their gender in American society. Moreover, white racism holds black women in a particular and almost unique type of contempt while simultaneously being fascinated with black women's bodies and sexuality. Ennisha Devers is a natural villain, one who is easily reduced to her gender and race by the White Gaze.

White privilege deems Heather Jensen, as it does when white people commit crimes--or other undesirable or socially deviant acts--to be an individual. There, Whiteness asserts its power to make white people into the ultimate individuals: the ill deeds of a given person who happens to be white are presented by the mass media and other elites as telling us nothing about "white people" as a group. To even suggest such a question, however pressing and important, is impolitic and howled at with cries of "reverse" or "anti-white" racism.

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