Jennifer Carroll, the embattled lieutenant governor of Florida, is under fire this week for incendiary comments she made denigrating single black women and black lesbians. A black woman herself, she blurted out a nervous defense to allegations that she has been involved in a same-sex affair with a staffer in a television interview on Monday:
“I’m the one that’s married for twenty-nine years! The accuser is the one that’s been single for a long time. So usually black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”
The folly of her remarks is certainly obvious. As a married black lesbian couple that defies this misguided characterization that black lesbians are not feminine or attractive, and with one of us having been raised by a single black mother, we take personal offense to them.
But most disturbing is the ease with which she promotes the stereotyping and profiling of people based on arbitrary traits that have absolutely nothing to do with the content of their character, such as how they look, their family status, or their class.
Jennifer Carroll, of all people, should know better.
Born in Trinidad and having immigrated to America when she was 8 to be raised by relatives, she surely has felt the sting of cavalier judgment based on nothing more than her accent or her immigration status.
At a glance, few people would hardly recognize a “black woman that looks like her” for the retired Navy Lieutenant Commander that she is, having served honorably in the military, combating both racism and sexism, for 20 years.
Nor would many look at her and guess that she is a conservative Republican and self-professed “Tea Party Trini” who was the first black person ever to be elected statewide in Florida.
Because in America, we still seldom recognize black women’s ambitions and achievements, yet all too often make dangerous assumptions about who they are, or are supposed to be and typecast them as caricatures of themselves.
The consequences of this kind of profiling, stereotyping and stigma are all too apparent in Carroll’s home state of Florida, which has been ground zero for some of the most egregious cases to reach the national stage.
It was Florida pop star Anita Bryant that is credited as the mother of the anti-gay movement, having initiated the repeal of ordinances that prohibited discrimination against lesbians and gays in the late 1970s, leaving thousands of children vulnerable without legal ties to their gay parents. Her success in Florida spawned a host of hate-based policies around the country, that disproportionately harm black lesbians, which we are still working to dismantle today.
Current Florida Governor Rick Scott, who touts Carroll as the “embodiment of the American dream” and chose her as his running mate, has worked tirelessly to put in place an Arizona-like immigration policy that gives police officers the right to racially profile anyone who “looks like” they don’t belong. These types of biased policies target people like Carroll’s own family, so it’s a wonder that she stands steadfastly in support of these measures. Similarly Florida, under the Scott/Carroll administration, is leading the nation in voter suppression efforts which at their core are really just attempts to disenfranchise people of color, immigrants and the poor in order to shift the electorate in their favor.
And one can’t forget young Trayvon Martin, who is now dead because George Zimmerman, supported by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, looked at him and made assumptions about who he was and where he belonged, based on the color of his skin, his sweatshirt and his presence in a gated community. Trayvon could have easily been either of Carroll’s two sons.
The fact that Carroll champions these types of policies, that promote profiling and limit access to the institutions that facilitated the American dream that she has so benefitted from, is telling. Her statements weren’t just flippant off-the-cuff remarks made by a politician under pressure; these are real attitudes that she, a person with policy and regulatory authority harbors.
As Maya Angelou says, if you know better you do better, but it seems that Carroll, with all her military discipline and precision, has missed that lesson. Not so long ago she made an analogy suggesting that politicians be as sportsmanlike as NFL players, and despite their rivalry on the field, “pat each other on the back and mostly respect each other because of the bond they’ve formed over the years.”
Carroll should heed her own advice and respect the tenacity and grace that black women, gay and straight, in this country continue to exude despite the mischaracterizations and stereotypes that we have to combat daily. It’s unfortunate that instead of using her platform to uplift black women, she has chosen to join the chorus of those that would demean us.
Aisha & Danielle Moodie-Mills serve as advisors for LGBT Policy & Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress, and pen the politics and pop culture blog www.threeLOL.com. Follow their musings on twitter @threeLOL and @FIREInitiative.