They’re calling her “Naked Athena.” The Portland woman, who supposedly caused the police to back-off with her naked protest, has gone viral. The media, some NB-POC and most white women are celebrating her boldness; it’s an entirely different story in the Black community.
When I first saw the video/story, it was right before it had become really popular. I watched the video in its entirety and my first thought was not a positive one. It honestly wasn’t something that I cared that much about – I chalked it up to some regular degular white feminism mess and didn’t think more into it. I prioritize my “battles,” as there are so many, and this just wasn’t on the top of my list.
Then it started to go viral. It was being shared over and over and over again. Almost my entire timeline was filled with posts about it – but I just scrolled on by, didn’t stop to read them. And then, a friend of mine (a Black woman), made a post about how she was being attacked by white men and women over her critique of Naked Athena – and she was not here for it, rightfully so. She talked about the anti-blackness, liberal racism and microaggressions they happily engaged in. I saw other Black people comment, that they too, were not a fan of Naked Athena. I thought back to when I first saw the video and my negative reaction – maybe this was something worth fleshing out. It had climbed on my priority list.
I thought that I should probably re-watch the video and pay more attention. So, I did. And my second-time-around reaction was just as negative. Now, as I said, I had read a few critiques from Black people, but like me initially – they didn’t really go into detail. I’m sure, also like me, they were digesting and figuring out how best to explain it. Not that they’d need to, to other Black people, we all seemed to get it – but because they knew what was coming and were trying to prepare for it. And come, it did. But before I got into that, or what other Black people generally thought – I had to identify the problems I inherently had with it; without interference. So no more comment/post reading, at least for the time being.
What stood out to me first, was that it seemed performative. It didn’t seem genuine. Someone, right now, is laying in bed thinking “how could you know that?”. And look, you can call it a feeling, intuition or whatever. Me? The vibe was off. When you’ve grown accustomed to noticing performative actions (or more accurately for me- having them thrust on you), you pick up on things. I cannot tell you how many times, during protests, an “ally” has just stopped for the photo op and gone home – only to post about how they tirelessly protested for hor hours. Or how many times an “ally” has used the protest to promote themselves or their business or anything other than the cause. We may not always speak on every instance, but we see y’all. Are there people out there, protesting for the right reasons? Of course! But the performances happen entirely too much for there to be blind trust. Black people are cautious when it comes to “allies” and we should be.
But Janay, her silent, naked protest saved lives! The police backed off and surely there would have been more harm done, had she not done that.
So the official story goes. I hear very differently from Black people who were present. Some say the police were already about to leave. Others say they left for entirely unrelated reasons. Others still, say that she purposely did her act when she got word of them about to retreat. Many others point out that people were still gassed and harmed after her stunt. I find the different narratives important to point out, especially since they are conveniently being left out of the conversation.
Aren’t we (white people) supposed to put our bodies in between the police and protestors?
Sure. You’ll notice that the wall of moms, who interlocked arms and formed a human barrier, aren’t receiving much, if any, criticism. Why do you think that is? It was asked of them. Okay, not necessarily them specifically. But Black people, after being asked how white people can assist, have asked (in some cased demanded) if they can do this. That human barrier has more of a tangible impact.
I think people have a problem with her nudity. But that just shows how brave she is!
Certainly, there are people who have a problem with her nudity – but that’s not me or anyone I know or even anyone I’ve seen comment. I haven’t the slightest issue with nudity, or nudity as a protest, in general. But this, doesn’t sit right. If you’re confused because “didn’t you make a post a bit ago about white people getting in where they fit in? Resiting and protesting and assisting however they can? Don’t be. I said what I said and I meant it. I also said not to profit off of the movement, listen to Black voices and to consider your intersection – which includes not centering whiteness in a movement about…Black lives. I shouldn’t even have to remind people of that, but I digress. Nude protests are not new and they’ve even proven effective, in the past. But the purpose of a nude protest is to draw attention, to the CAUSE. And right now, the only thing getting attention is Naked Athena. The focus, even if it’s temporary, has shifted. We see that. She’s being touted as a hero, a revolutionary – in a massive way that Black activists and protestors are not.
How quickly we forget about the Black woman who, while not naked, danced and twerked to distract the police and cease brutality. The reaction from the media and some NB-POC and white people was very different. She wasn’t called brave. She was “ghetto, classless, just putting on a show, pointless, a negative distraction, taking away from the movement, giving the movement a bad name, a prop, a tease, a slut, not someone worth celebrating or remembering.”
But isn’t that her using white privilege for good?
I have to first point out that she supposedly isn’t white, but a NB-POC. She is, however, white-passing. And to answer the question, if using white privilege (or white-passing), centers whiteness, then no.
As an aside, we all know that NB-POC and white people have been injured at protests, but it is still ingrained in people (people, police) to protect white bodies – especially unassuming or vulnerable white female bodies. After all, this is why the human shield of white moms, works. It’s why weaponizing white women tears works and is dangerous. It’s why white women (or men) calling the police on Black people for no reason, or threatening to do so, is an act of violence. Some of the critiques from Black people, include, how the nude protest wouldn’t work if the person were Black, fat, trans and/or didn’t have a socially accepted body type. This woman’s literal body is valued more, so she was able to have confidence in that safety net, so to speak. It was less dangerous for her to do and therefore, not really all that brave, as a lot of people are suggesting.
I have to mention, that I did, finally, scour the comments/posts about Naked Athena – from Black people and NB people. Mostly from strangers, but some friends and family, too. And there was a pattern. I think their comments speak better than I can, about the difference in how this act was perceived, so here are some of them:
Mostly white and some NB-POC commenters:
“This is admirable as shit!! I’m truly humbled by her courage.”
“She’s my favorite.”
“I am in tears. This is how you use yourself to make a difference. Did anything happen to her?”
“We need to rally around her and show her our support.”
“OMG, she is the best thing to come out of the protests.”
“I absolutely love her.”
“She’s a hero.”
“Who is she?? She needs a statue and a Nobel prize. She’s my kind of woman.”
“This is modern martyrdom. What a woman.”
“This is selflessness. Power in its purest form.”
“What a power play.”
“Rock on, Naked Athena!”
“I want this [pictue of Naked Athena sitting on the ground] as THE Portland statue.”
“Nothin’ like a little pussy power to keep bad men away.”
“Hi, can you be my new best friend? We can run around naked and piss off all the boys together. I promise to tag you in my Insta.”
“More of this. We need more of this.”
“Thi is how you use white privilege.”
“I haven’t seen anything as powerful during the protests. WOW.”
Black people and two NB-POC:
“Why are y’all like this?”
“This is peak white feminism”.
Im not even watching this video. I just saw white people patting her on the back and knew it was some bullshit. It’s always some bullshit when they start stroking each others ego.
“IT’S WHITE PERFORMATIVE ACTIVISM AND IM NOT HERE FOR IT.”
“Y’all… Really can’t believe i’m seeing this ridiculous white feminist new age yoni magic bullshit getting celebrated right now. Wtf?? people are getting fucking snatched up on the streets and white woman have this fucking audacity.”
“I have to laugh at the is yt woman bullshit. We get shot for doing nothing and she spreads her legs in the street and the cops withdraw.”
“How many other marginalized people with bodies that are others and considered vulgar would have been brutalized on the spot if they tried this? Did the cops back up because of her “divine feminine energy” or because the violence of the state Always yields to the innocence of white womanhood, because they are the same thing.”
“Another white woman who can do shit like this. Do you white people not understand my people are being stolen, raped, and killed? y’all do shit like this. She don’t give two fucks about us black people. She’s only there for the Instagram fame like a lot of white feminists.”
“This is some white feminist shit.”
“Who told Becky that we wanted this?”
“WHY is everyone talking about that naked white woman? Oh that’s right, a white woman does some random shit and the media and other white people fall over themselves to congratulate her.”
“FOH with this bullshit.”
“Who did this help?”
“YT women always manage to make the narrative about them.”
“Is a white woman being put on a pedestal for doing absolutely nothing again? *Yawns*”
“I watched this video. Clearly cops went away because of the loud noise. Not because of the naked white protester. Can you guys and everyone else stop glorifying the stunt now if you still are. It is offensive that is now center in BLM protests. Because all the talk is on her. She is distracting from the cause. Which is black people and our need to feel safe from police brutality. Because the talk is now on pussy power/ female bodies are powerful from white feminism and others. That is not true. Marginalized women bodies and privilege cis white woman bodies are not equal. Society views cis white woman bodies as powerful. Let’s stop centering on this because it minimizes black efforts and voices.”
“For white folx applauding the images and video of a naked protestor in Portland that causes cops to retreat momentarily, I wanted you to know that a lot of BIPOC folx are not feeling great about how this action is being focused on and applauded, particularly as if this is a white woman and as if it’s revolutionary. Please do not believe this person invented this idea. African women have done this as a form of protest (link in the comments)……. The issue is how the images and action are being shared and applauded by white folx in a way to center whiteness, white feminism and the martyrdom of white women. Those folx seem to be reading the person as a white woman, calling her “Athena” and “Lady Godiva” and hash tagging ‘pussypower.’ That is the problematic behavior I am trying to discuss. The shift of the focus from Black folx to white women or NBPOC women and the lack of open understanding about the privileges at work. The second image was shared in one of the BIPOC groups I’m in online. I believe it’s a response to the first image (and others like it) posted by white women.”
This is only a snippet, of course, of comments that I saw – but look for yourself. There will be outliers, there always are, but you’ll start to see the pattern.
It reminds me of this saying: that if you’re a woman (feminist) and you see that men overwhelmingly agree with you, while women side-eye your opinions, your views probably center men.
Except, in this conversation, it’s more like: if you’re white and you see that white people overwhelmingly agree with you, while Black people are side-eyeing you, your views probably center white people.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.