Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Esmin Green...Yes She Mattered

image I have started and deleted this post several times.  As a WOC I am deeply troubled by what happened to Esmin Green.  Her death once again reminds us which bodies matter in our society.  Ms.Green faced multiple areas of stigmatization, she was female, black and mentally ill.  These issues combined are enough to create her as other, and less than in our society.  In a culture that values money, masculinity, and whiteness such marginalization often results in death. In fact death has become so commonplace that often it is not extensively reported on.

Esmin Green was left to die alone, and  uncared for on a hospital floor. As she writhed on the floor in obvious pain, it was all clearly observable from a video camera.  At one point a security guard even entered the room, but did not take the time to investigate, or check on the clearly ill woman.  She collapsed at 5:32am and it wasn't until 6:35am, that an employee nudged her with her foot, and determined that she was in distress. Even on the tape on the investigation of her death, she was simply referred to as "the woman".  Clearly her social standing has attached itself to her now silent and cold body.  What kind of world is this where someone can be observed to be ill, and in pain for more than hour, before help is called?  She was not even considered worthy of a tap on the shoulder, no her status only earned her a nudge with a foot. 

According to CNN, "The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees the hospital, released a statement Tuesday saying it was "shocked and distressed by this situation. It is clear that some of our employees failed to act based on our compassionate standards of care."

Yes they most certainly did...but this upset is only because there were caught in their negligence.  Women akin to Esmin don't matter, they never have, and I doubt that they ever will, in my lifetime.  Really who cares about some mentally ill, poor black woman. If she cannot be exploited any longer, she might as well die and decrease the surplus population.  It was with callousness, and disregard for the sanctity of life, that the hospital staff acted.

As I sit and type up yet another sad report on the death of a WOC, I must ask once again where is the outrage?  Before typing this I roamed all over the feminist blogsphere  looking for some mention on this horrible miscarriage of justice, only once again to find silence.   At feministing you will find stories on Mortgentaler, Sexism in the media, and critique of a Kegels gym.  At Shakesville you will find, a post on Ingrid Betancourt, the show Americas Got Talent, Destroying Hillary Clinton Part II, Obama expanding faith based education, images of dogs, What Would Mao Do, and finally a post entitled begone wanton trollops which appears to be a critique of Kathleen Parker. At Feministe you will find, Stocking a library with Feminist books, Fathers Owning Daughters, and I am not a coffee drinker. Three mainstream feminist blogs and not one mention of Esmin Green.  The sad part about this, is that I am no longer surprised by the silence.

Earlier today I read a response by "The Flash" that she/he (not sure of gender preference) left on the thread Stealth, Marginalized Communities and the F Word at Feministe.

"Frankly, I’m constantly alienated away from feminism by the impulse to redefine feminism as needing to solve all problems. Why does feminism need to encompass anti-racism and anti-colonialism and anti-ableism and all these other anti-isms? why do feminists need to only identify as feminists and therefore make everything they believe into a feminist issue? It is possible to talk about power and privilege in many contexts, and trying to turn feminism into a one-stop-shop for progressive politics renders it meaningless. There are issues shared by feminists and other progressive activists, but that doesn’t mean that feminism needs to be redefined to include all of these things."

I think that, that statement fully explains the silence when deaths like Esmin Green occur. There is a lot of lipservice to intersectionality, and caring about multiple sites of oppression but our deaths, our rapes, our violations really do not matter. The category 'woman' is subsumed by rich or middle class white women, and anything falling short of the ideal is someone else's problem.  The fact that we are all women is unimportant, when one considers the political agenda that has been set out by mainstream feminism. Race and class are not issues that are deemed viable for social action simply because they do not heavily impact upon the group, that has elected themselves as representatives of the feminist community.

When I was attacked for not showing remorse at Hillary's loss of the Democratic nomination, I could not properly explain why, I could not feel the same sort of angst. The truth is, I am tired. I am so very tired of watching daily, helplessly as our bodies go abused and unrecognized. I am tired of being a filler when a representative black is needed, yet when my sisters cry out in real pain our calls for solidarity go unheard and unanswered.  How can we  call this a community, when daily the deaths of WOC  go unremarked upon? I have seen more people have emotion over the death of a pet dog than when bodies of colour die.

Your silence convicts you. When you do not show rage, and  when you cannot find the time to comment on a story like this, you are in collusion with every single person who is racist. Silence does not absolve you of the charge, rather it implies explicit agreement. I know whose bodies matter in this society and feminism has clearly chosen to align itself with whiteness and money, it is therefore foolish for women of colour to continue to direct our energies for your benefit.  I am no longer fooled by the world ally. Maya Angelou once famously said, that people will always show you who they are, and I believe that mainstream feminism has made it clear, who belongs in the sandbox, and who is raking the sand.


Jananole said...


I couldn't agree with you more. If it's any consolation, this site is vital to me, your boldness to speak truth to power encourages me to do the same thing in my life.

Ebony Intuition said...

I saw this footage on CNN last night and just couldn't believe that no one attempted to see if she was ok.

miss.lee said...

i feel you on this i think the only other blog ive read that wrote about esmin green was happy nappy head.

i was in utter shock that people could pass a person, in her condition and not feel compelled to act. thats the kind of world we live in though, because if its not of some benefit to a person, people dont act.


You dont know how much this blog entry means to me. I was more than outraged at this footage shown over and over. Black women are marked as invisible, any other marker and we are nonexistant. I mentioned this horrible incident in my ethics class and my teacher rolled over it like I brought up the U.S exchange rate or something. I couldnt beleive it. The look on my classmates faces. The utter...nonchalantness...and I AM NOT sure if that is a word, but you know exactly what I mean. A human front of other living breathing human beings capable of helping...What more can I say? Nothing can truly express my disgust.

I move further and further away from "feminism" every day...the more Collins...the more Hooks....the more Lorde...the more Smith....the more...Guy-Sheftall..I read....

Thanks for this post...

julie said...

I would like to say I am in shock. But alas.

I don't know what else to say but thank you for posting it.

You have written this well. Very well.

AJ said...

just wanted to also thank you for writing this--and, as other commenters have already seconded, I think your observations about the feminist blogosphere's silence on this are absolutely right.

monalisa said...

I don't think this has anything to do with racism or sexism. If you look at the video, you will remark that a black female patient, a black male patient and a black female nurse are ignoring this woman. So not only the victim is a black female in this case, but also the perpetrators are black females.

Renee said...

Perhaps you have never heard of internalized racism. When black people devalue each other as is clearly the case here it can only be the result of learning to view ourselves as less than.

monalisa said...


Than this counts also for white people. There has been a test with people faking to collapse in the middle of a street, to see how passers-by would react. And they found out that - contrary to their expactations - beautiful, young white women were as often ignored as all other people. This kind of thing happened besides also with two (white) female friends of mine: one girl fell severly on the middle of the road were cars were driving and nobody was helping her to get up. Another one collapsed after an attack of hyperventilation, again without receiving any help.
Al those things have only to do with a general, often incredible, indifference of people towards each other.

Anonymous said...

Your comment is right on target.

I am outraged that organizations like NAMI haven't said a word. And yes, I did call their main office.

If this patient had murdered someone in an ER, they would be screaming to loosen the mental health commitment laws. Uh, this woman was hospitalized involuntarily and look what happened?

Great point about the lack of silence on feminist blogs. Hillary Clinton is very silent on this issue even though she represents New York. I did call her office but I doubt they will take me seriously since I am not a New York Resident.


Sandalstraps said...


Related to Renee's point: the racism of any moral atrocity can be found - especially in cases where institutions are involved - in the race of the victim rather than the race of the perpetrator. This principle is most evident in police shootings.

When, for instance NYC police officers fire 50 rounds into an unarmed black man, it is a racist act, even if some of the officers involved are also black. This is because the institution involved dehumanizes and devalues blacks, creating a situation in which there is no cost to killing a black man.

This event is related. What matters where is that an institution created an environment in which the life of a mentally ill black woman had no value. As such, no one - black or white - internalized any moral obligation toward this woman. Her blackness - while not the only factor - is not accidental here. Her gender - while not the only factor - is not accidental here. And her illness - while not the only factor - is not accidental here.

Because of these accidents of birth, as well as the institutional environment, this woman's life was deemed worthless, and she was treated as such.

I would also add that while I have some sympathy for your comment that "this applies to whit people, too," there are a couple of relevant points.

First, whites as whites have never been subject to systematic dehumanization. While some white people are always going to be victims of garden variety moral callousness, their race is only accidentally related to their treatment. When whites are singled out as whites, and when being white is directly associated with systematic oppression, then some analogy can be made. But thus far that is not the case.

Also, while I have seen such examples of "gotcha" journalism, wherein a film crew creates a situation that the general public by and large refuses to respond to, this case is not analagous to that. Here a woman was in a hospital, and that hospital refused her treatment. This goes beyond moral callousness, then. As heinous as it is to see someone seriously ill or injured, and refuse to aid them, it is so much worse to have someone in hour care, to be charged with responsibility for their health, their medical treatment, and to refuse them aid.

Renee said...

Well sandalstraps I cannot possibly improve upon your commentary.

Ashley said...

"I don't think this has anything to do with racism or sexism. If you look at the video, you will remark that a black female patient, a black male patient and a black female nurse are ignoring this woman. So not only the victim is a black female in this case, but also the perpetrators are black females."

So? Some of the worst misogynists I've met are women.

Thanks for an important (if depressing) post, Renee.

Chris Daniels, Boston said...

As a woman who has often been closer to the "poor" side of the spectrum, under or uninsured, and a daily survivor of chronic major depression, I turned ice cold inside when I found Esmin's story, buried in the back pages of a video news archive. There was a human BEING, lying on the floor in distress, and not one person RECOGNIZED her existence or suffering. If I'd been in that ER, I would have kicked the lot of them in the nearest extremity and told them to get off their fat, self-entitled asses and DO something!! Then I would have called a cop and had the lot of them charged with depraved indifference homicide when she died. The older I get, the more radical I get, because I'm so damned tired of poor women or women with limited power being treated like disposable diapers!!!

I couldn't help but wonder if that will happen to me someday as well. Am I only one psychological crisis away from death at the hands of our society and health care system?

Stories like these do two things to me: (1) they reinforce the constant, daily grinding knowledge that my society does not value me as a woman or a human being (like I don't get enough from all the demeaning lousy jobs and constant news about domestic homicides), but it also makes me less inclined to speak openly to anyone when I'm struggling with my "noonday demon". I KNOW my depression wants to take my life, that's why I battle every day, but if the health care system that's supposed to help me is going to hasten my death, maybe I'm better off staying home?

I think I just found a new place to hang; thanks for speaking out! It gives me the strength to do the same.

Renee said...

Welcome Chris, womanist musings is all about truth telling....we live it and the world should know it.

Sumayyah said...

And it has happened again.

diabola said...

Thank you for this blog entry. It is very articulate and -- more importantly -- speaks about racism in feminism. Though I am Asian American, I grew up and currently live among a well-educated Caucasian-dominated population where I have been readily accepted. Because of my experience and background, I have been ignorant of racism (and classism). As an example of my ignorance, I hadn't even thought that feminism could be racist. (I didn't even occur to me to see this as a racist or misogynist issue.) Though there may be differences in perspectives and agendas, don't feminists all have the same goal? But so far, I have mostly been speaking with people of similar backgrounds; we mostly have the same ideas. Thank you for sharing other viewpoints, other stories. They are just as important and valid, and very necessary. (And people like me need to learn.)

The death of Esmin Green is tragic. It never should have happened. As someone who seeks a career in health care -- as a person -- I am horrified. Having not seen this in any feeds (other than NYT), or blogs (other than here), I feel that the world (or at least the Internet) feels like Green is just another mentally ill woman who is not Caucasian. Yes, let's ignore the fact that she was blatantly mistreated by an institution -- health care -- that is supposed to help. She doesn't matter anyway. The silence on the Internet reveals and reinforces the bias against non-Caucasian women. We all should be outraged.

And that comment from "The Flash"? The hell? That pisses me off. Feminism doesn't need to include other progressive movements? What is feminism about? The dehumanisation and mistreatment of a woman because she is a woman. What is racism about? The dehumanisation of a person because of her or his race. What is classism about? All that because of class. All these "isms" have a common goal: to remove prejudice, bias, mistreatment, dehumanisation of anyone because of a trait. Many of those traits overlap. A feminist issue -- easily -- can also be racist, classist, ageist, disability-ist. Misogyny only occurs when it isn't racist (or any other "ist")? Please.

I like how you defined womanism. Though I believe that a label is a label is a label, the new word and its definition forces me to understand and be aware of feminism outside of what I know. Womanism feels inclusive, understanding, diverse, and cohesive -- just what (I believe) humanity should and could be. (I think that I'll be visiting more.)

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