• The Big O

Emijah Smith was victim shamed by the media. Would that have occurred if she was White?

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

KUOW shamed Smith for being a victim of Domestic Violence.

Emijah Smith was a finalist for the vacant Seattle School Board seat. (Photo - Children's Alliance)

In our community, when it is said that someone is fighting “demons’ of their past, one automatically assumes that said demons might include past drug use or criminal activity. This narrative has been enhanced in the past few years as the term demon is closely tied with the national opioid crisis. It is not uncommon in news reports for writers to associate the word demon with the catastrophic effects that opioid abuse has had on our nation.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I saw a headline on KUOW’s website referring to Emijah Smith defense of her home and family seven years ago as her fighting demons of her past. Since when is it okay to portray someone who overcame domestic violence and sexual assault and committed themselves to bettering the community, fighting demons? I thought our society celebrated those who escaped situations of abuse, not shame them.

KUOW's original headline in which say that Emijah Smith "reckons with old demons"

Smith, who has never been convicted of any crime, is a parent of two boys, community activist, and up until yesterday was a finalist for the vacant Seattle School Board District VII seat and is far from fighting any past demons and more accurately has used past experiences to fuel her commitment to positive change in our community especially in the areas of education and criminal justice reform. Oh, she also has a Masters Degree in Public Administration.

The headline at KUOW set the stage for a negative narrative of a Black woman who became violent, perhaps out of control. The article however, lacked substantial balance to give readers a holistic view of who Emijah Smith is in totality. KUOW had an opportunity to yes lay plain the facts of the incident and as a highly respected media outlet they did that but they neglected to give readers a true understanding that yes that incident occurred but since we are looking in the rear view mirror, that today that debacle was more of a speed bump rather than a detour as the incident has not deviated Emijah Smith’s calling for community service and her support for women who have been and currently are victims of domestic violence.

Here is why narrative matters:

KUOW’s article was released a day before the Seattle School Board was set to select the finalist. KUOW’s artwork on the article was a collage of screenshots of court documents, profanity laden quotes, and an image of Emijah Smith. The article image alone was so disturbing to Smith that she requested that I not repost it (she later agreed as she wanted the public to see for themselves). Perhaps KUOW did not realize that for a victim of domestic violence, seeing images of the court documents regarding the incident plastered on the internet for the world to see, might just kinda be a little tiny bit traumatizing and insensitive to her...and her children.

The artwork that accompanied the KUOW article. Notice the images of court documents, a photo of where the incident occured, profanity laden quotes, a picture of Smith, with a backdrop of school writing paper.

Ask yourself this, if Emijah Smith was White and was representing Queen Anne instead of South Seattle would KUOW’s narrative and corresponding artwork been one of someone fighting demons of her past or would they have trumpeted how a White woman “overcame” the scourge of domestic violence and the shame of sexual assault and stood up to her attackers and not only that but became a source of hope and inspiration to her community by tirelessly committing herself to social change. In this hypothetical scenario, yes, I am sure they would have still outlined the court documents around the incident but that most likely would have been used as mere mile markers to indicate how far she has come in life. Emijah was not afforded this perspective. She was shamed.

We reached out to KUOW in regards to the headline. As you will see in the screenshots below, they viewed the word demon in a different light that many in our community did. Ultimately, they agreed that perhaps that wording did not best communicate the issue with Emijah Smith. Perhaps they were out of touch and why wouldn't they be as the very same words in this English language impact different people and communities differently. Perhaps because it was a Black woman there is a bias that her pain was not valid and that perhaps although she was a victim it was somehow her fault.

KUOW spoke with a social worker, Christiann Staph, about the case. I wont assume to know all of Staph’s qualifications but perhaps KUOW could have reached out to Ashley McGirt, MSW who is also a licensed social worker that is from our community and has years of practice in working with Black women who have experienced trauma due to domestic violence and sexual assault and who must must reconcile their trauma within a society that more than often turns a blind eye on violence against Black women.

As for the incident that day seven years ago. Against the terms of an executed Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) which bans third-party contact, a known associate (third-party) of the restrained individual approached Emijah’s home. This alone was already a violation of the DVPO. Not knowing the person's intentions but knowing the potential danger of the situation. Emijah did what many mama bears in our community, I would say any community, would do, she protected her home and children to the very best of her ability. In other states like Florida, she would have just been “standing her ground”.

KUOW’s Online Managing Editor, Isolde Rafferty, is a world class professional for sure, who’s career includes stints with NBCNews.com and the New York Times to name a few. She is also a Garfield Bulldog like myself and I am fairly certain that it was not her intent to incite the community (call it the Bulldog benefit of the doubt). However, perhaps this presents an opportunity for Rafferty to take a deeper look into issues that impact our community and take that into perspective in KUOW’s reporting. KUOW has a massive platform and because of the size and reach of their platform, KUOW should keep in mind the real life implications of what they publish as well as the narratives they are presenting to the public. As although KUOW did update the headline, who knows what impact it may have had on decision makers.

KUOW did update the headline later in the day.

Smith is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault who has not let that define who she is today. Today she is strong, powerful, brilliant, and committed. Smith took an incident that unfortunately so many women never fully recover from and has blossomed to become a well respected policy expert and education advocate. So well respected that she was one of three finalists for that vacant Seattle School Board seat.

To Emijah Smith, let me tell you this, you will find no shame here with me. What you will find is an acknowledgement of your courage and appreciation of your commitment to our community.

To our community members, you better start reading these headlines and understanding the narratives about our sisters, mothers, daughters, and aunts that are out there and hold people accountable. It is our collective job to do so.

#NoSurrender #FightingForEveryInch #NotOnMyWatch

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