Antoine Dodson’s Sister: On Invisibility as Violence

20 Aug

(Click here for original news story)

We are in the midst of Antoine Dodson Mania! For those that don’t know him, he’s the now famous man who fought off the intruder that climbed into his sister’s second story window in the middle of the night and tried to attack her with her daughter present. Remember his reaction? Hilarious right? I mean pissed off that his sister was attacked! LMFAO! So hilarious that now there is this song that has remixed the news clip and turned it into the new summertime hit.  It has even made the iTunes Top 20 and we can purchase sexual assualt for $1.99 and jam all day!  And the star of all this is of course was Antoine Dodson for his “comedic” reaction to violence and the Gregory Brothers for their creative innovation of putting it to song. Sarcasm aside, I must admit that to remix a news story like that is pretty amazing.  But what does it mean to remix violence against black women when our stories are already left behind?

See usually when a black woman is attacked we find some way of making it her fault. We ask questions like what was she wearing? What does she do for a living? How many sexual partners has she had in the past? You know, the typical stuff that removes accountability from her attacker.  But in this case, where a black woman minding her damn business awoke to an attacker in her second story apartment, normal victim-blaming would not work. So now what do we do, because we obviously can’t take a black woman’s story of violence seriously? Well, that’s simple.  We marginalize the attack and focus the story on her brother, whose anger we can exploit because it fits into stereotypes of queer masculinity that provide comic relief. The producers used the footage to lock Antoine in a frame, to capture him in place, in order to tell a story that fits their truths—black women’s confrontations with sexual violence are either not real or unimportant.  Framed under the guise of “news” this masquerades as a story about a woman awaking to an intruder in her bed but is really a story about a funny black man, hilarious in his anger. It was never about her.

I think we have to talk about the power of invisibility. As a child, I participated in the normal debates about what superpowers were the most desirable. For me, invisibility won hands down!  To be able to be invisible was the most super of all the powers.  See, I was nosey so being invisible would allow me to know exactly what my mother and her sisters talked about when I was shooed out of the room.  It would allow me to see what the forbidden boy’s bathroom looked like.  And those moments of being in a new place wouldn’t have felt nearly as terrifying if I could turn on the power of invisibility. Invisibility also afforded protection. Remember Violet from The Incredibles? Invisibility not only protects her from being noticed by the young man she has a crush on, it keeps her safe as she travels though the evil lab in search of her father.  Or Harry Potter and that banging invisibility cloak. It not only allowed him to freely explore the campus, but also often saved his life.

But as invisibility oscillates between power and protection, the ways in which it can be used as a tool of oppression become, well invisible.  For women of color, invisibility is often forced and along with hypervisibility, it is used to as means to discredit and oppress. This is indeed the case with Kelly Dodson, made invisible through the hypervisibility of her brother.  Her invisibility is highlighted by the numerous Antoine Dodson for President T-shirts and paraphernalia that exists in the same space that doesn’t even remember Kelly’s name. (In fact, I had to go back and watch the video to even remember her name; a video I found by merely typing in “Antoine Dodson”).

Kelly Dodson’s experience of violence gets reduced to a fragment of the news segment and even further condensed to one line in the song: “I was attacked by some idiot in the projects.” And while Antoine is central, that too is nothing to be celebrated. He is hypervisible as a caricature for public amusement. We all know Antoine’s name thanks to but the “Bed Intruder Song” the Gregory Brothers have taken his voice chopped it up, synthesized it, and put it to a beat so that they are no longer recognizable as his own.  He wasn’t looking for fame.  He was angry that he had to save his sister from being attacked! Antoine has been hypervisiblized in order to invisibilize Kelly. This is not the invisibility of Harry Potter, free to put it on and take it off, this is an act of erasure.

There is a difference between choosing invisibility and being made invisible.  See the choice of being invisible also comes with the recognition that you’re missing.  When Harry and the crew would return from their invisible outings people often asked where they were.  When you are made invisible through processes of erasure, people don’t even acknowledge that you’re gone.  It’s like you never existed.  So in a story that begins with the headline “a woman awakes” we don’t even acknowledge that the entire segment focused on a man—her brother.  We don’t even acknowledge that the moment she is the most upset and telling us that her young daughter was in the bed with her, the news reporter is talking over her, so this reality exists as background fodder.

As women of color, we have long yearned for black women’s experiences with oppression to be paid attention to.  Our stories of sexual assault, inside and outside of our communities never make the evening news.  And now, when we finally are awarded a few minutes of attention, we are  simultaneously erased.  We are further erased through the music that has increasingly been used to enslave rather than liberate us.  It is the music that has put us in a trance and even we are singing along to a black woman being attacked.  Singing along until we agree with her erasure.  Until her erasure becomes more of a reality than the attack.  Every note we sing erases Kelly Dodson.

I demand a remix to this remix!  One who’s beat doesn’t influence your body to sway and your lips to smile as you sing the words.  One that instead causes your body to curl over in pain and your eyes to water.  One that makes you feel sad, or better yet angry that this happened! Can we remix this remix into a story that centers the black woman who was attacked?

So here is my letter to Kelly Dodson.

Dear Kelly,

We know that in these conversations about this internet sensation, YOU are missing.  We know that when they’re jamming to the music they aren’t thinking about YOU.  We know that you were never central, not in the original news story, not in the song, and not now.  All of this has been about its about trivializing your brother’s anger (characterizing as “emotions running high” instead of emotions running normal for someone whose family member was attacked), the creativity of these white boys (a group who has always profited off the abuse of black women), and the power and creative force of technology.  Well the Crunk Feminist Collective says it’s all about you!  We are sorry that this happened to you.  We are sorry that when you should be at peace in your home you were attacked.  We are sorry and angry that your little girl had to be present for that. We are sorry that you no longer feel safe in your own home.  We are grateful that you had someone home to help you and we are sorry that this is happening to your story.  We want to center you. We want this moment to be used to talk about the realities of our communities as spaces of vulnerability and danger for women of color.  We want to remember you as we work to build the communities we want to see, because lets be real, we have learned to make due but for us are neighborhoods are often scary as shit. We live in a state of violence that is so common that people can sing along to it.

We understand that you live in a community like many of us, one that is so far lacking in social safety nets that that you’re brother had to envision mechanism of accountability that would hold up regardless of a response from a police state that more often than not disregards violence done on the bodies of black women.  We completely understand the realities that would make your brother tell your attacker “you don’t have to confess we’re looking for you we’re gonna find you” and when he does that he’s “gonna beat his ass and then call the police while I beat his ass because I want you to feel what you made my sister feel.” And we don’t think his or your anger is comedic and we keep his statements in mind as we attempt to build an anti-violence movement that doesn’t combat violence with violence while recognizing the difficulty of doing so.

From this point on when we hear the “Bed Intruder Song” we will force ourselves to center you, and we will think about where we stand in our anti-violence movement.  We will dedicate a moment of silence to making a safe world for women and girls like you and your daughter.  We want to let you know that this is not okay and we are fed the fuck up!  Now Run Tell Dat Homeboy!

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32 Responses to “Antoine Dodson’s Sister: On Invisibility as Violence”

  1. TheBlackGuy August 20, 2010 at 12:25 PM #

    This was long as hell, but it definitely made the statement a lot of people are afraid to make. You are absolutely correct in your assessment that Kelly Dodson was the real victim here, and if it weren’t for her brother’s antics, this would have never been news.

    I think a lot of people were delighted by the comedic relief to an otherwise awful situation. Too delighted, in fact to pay attention to what really happened.

    Good article.

    • Chanel August 22, 2010 at 5:53 PM #

      @TheBlackGuy I know! When I looked at the length I was like OMG this is way too long but I couldn’t figure what should be cut, so there it is, length and all. I’m with you on the comedic relief. I find that people laugh at some of the most inappropriate things and always wonder if looking at it head on for what it really is is to painful. Kind of like “laugh to keep from crying.”

  2. teresz August 20, 2010 at 12:59 PM #

    Thanks for writing this. Was attempting to blog this same excact outlook, but never quite materialized,:-/ Im glad Im not the only one doesnt find this entertaining. Immediately upon viewing the video I was already disgusted only because the ONLY reason this even hit the news is becasue of Antoine’s reaction. Once again a black woman’s trauma is the country’s comic relief. I bet the last thing on Kelly’s mind after this incident was having a remix of her nightmare being played as a ringtone. Once again good post

  3. Sweetilocks August 20, 2010 at 1:37 PM #

    Agreed! I must say however, it’s more unsettling to me that Antoine is fully participating in the parodies of his sister’s attack, as if it’s something to joke about. I mean, the news station knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed him to go on and on like that, whereas most news programs would only record a snippet. But despite his overblown statement, I do believe that too much of the focus is on his caricture, rather than his sister’s real life nitemare. And what about the little girl, who had to be scared shitless? What about her imminent danger in the face of this experience? Makes no sense at all how this ever became funny.

    • Chanel August 22, 2010 at 6:02 PM #

      Yes that little girl! I cannot stop thinking about her and what was going through her mind. I hope she slept through it (though that seems unlikely). I’m still unsure about Antoine’s agency in all this. It seems like he’s trying to become in agent through a situation clearly meant to objectify him.

  4. cece August 20, 2010 at 6:01 PM #

    Thank you for this. I am so glad someone brought KD and her daughter back to the forefront of the issue. The popularity of AD and the music remix (still can’t bring myself to listen to it) misrepresents AD’s experience with the issue of his sister being attacked and as you properly stated, made KD invisible, and the vulnerability of and violence against women as ordinary as hearing about paint being sold in a paint store. The media representation of the attack and the remix is a perfect case of 21st century exploitation and society’s desire to pretend that “it’s all good” and purely in the name of fun. Even if this is small stuff in the big picture of things, I still can’t crack a smile.

  5. politicallyincorrect August 20, 2010 at 7:41 PM #

    We can be all politically correct and pontificate about everything, but b/c of Antoine’s “antics” his family was able to move out of the projects. If you ever watch is NPR interview he has a lot of important things to say

    • crunktastic August 20, 2010 at 11:46 PM #

      You totally missed the sentiment of this piece, PoliticallyIncorrect. The point was not that Antoine Dodson’s comments were unimportant. He was a real trooper on his sister’s behalf. The point is that Kelly Dodson’s story gets erased in this narrative, so that folks can make comedic fodder out Antoine’s presumed queerness. Yes, it’s great that there has been some level of economic benefit for this working class family. But Black folks should not have to be publicly exploited at their own expense, in order to be able to have a safe place to live. U can dismiss the sentiments expressed here all you want, but your ability to totally miss the point and to ignore the importance of Kelly Dodson’s victimization is proof positive that CF Chanel’s arguments are right on target.

      • politicallyincorrect August 22, 2010 at 1:20 PM #

        Have you listened to or read Antoine’s interview for yourself. How is any public boo hooing going to help this family. Did you know the family called the media b/c their needs were not being met by the housing police?

        You call them working class, they were in the projects of Alabama, there is a good chance they were actually poor.

        Activism on Kelly behalf would be great and is still possible. Whats even greater her not having to sleep in that same bedroom she got attacked every night.

        I understand what you are saying but I think Kelly needed to be removed from her situation immediately first. And its easy for folks who live in comfort not to notice that

      • susiemaye August 22, 2010 at 3:25 PM #

        It’s interesting to me that your comments about folks making assumptions is filled with assumptions about the writer’s (and responders’) class politics (and background), in addition to their proclivity (or lack thereof) for activism. That’s not a good look.

        Ultimately, I’m not sure why shutting down conversation about how aspects of the media have caricatured Antoine and dismissed Kelly is even a viable answer to anything at all.

      • Chanel August 22, 2010 at 6:55 PM #


    • Chanel August 22, 2010 at 6:45 PM #

      PoliticallyIncorrect, do you have a link to this NPR interview? I can’t seem to find it.

      I think its great that they were able to make enough money to leave the projects but I also wonder who else is profiting off of this? How much are the Gregory Brother’s making in comparison to the Dodsons? Who is authorizing the Antoine Dodson T-shirts and such?

      Overall, I meant for this piece to talk about those things we aren’t noticing. So, the housing police that you bring up as well as the program of escape in our communities. So while it is great this family was able to move out of the projects but I also think that its tragic that the only way we can be safe in our communities is to leave them. Escape is real and often the only solution we have but that’s disheartening. If the housing police would not respond to the Dodson’s then I’m sure they aren’t responding to anyone. Violence in the projects is real and we don’t need a response that silences those who are most vulnerable.

    • Sister Toldja August 22, 2010 at 8:23 PM #

      @PoliticallyIncorrect- As other commenters said, it seems you missed the point of the piece. Black women who are the victims of violence (sexual or otherwise) are often rendered invisible. In this particular case, you have this very unique set of circumstances where we end up with a family (allegedy) now having the means to move to an (allegedly) safer home. Is that the best possible ending to this terrible story? In many ways, yes. But you know what would be even better? If also we took this opportunity to look at how the media treats Black victims. The next sister to be attacked in her home in the projects might not have a flamboyant brother to give a memorable soundbite, but she very well likely will be presented in a way that marginalizes the horror of her ordeal.

      Even if you giggled at Antoine or feel good about the Dotson family’s new diggs, there is no reason you cant stop and consider the fact that Black victims are not often publicly treated as such.

    • Tonya September 6, 2010 at 7:21 PM #

      Alright. They got moved. It’s the situation that needs to be changed, too! What about those women with children that are still in the same housing complex and DIDN’T/DON’T have a way out?

      It matters how this is seen. The fact that it took ‘antics’ for anything to be done is telling. The fact that they HAD to go to the media is telling. It’s not about ‘political correctness’ and your dismissal of it. It’s about changing the situation that his sister and his niece had to endure.

      However, I agree about the ‘poor’ statement. Why change it to make it palatable? They were poor. They worked, and they were POOR. I’m sick of folks saying they are middle class champions. Middle class to the rest of the world is LUXURY. I’m more worried about those at the bottom and who they fare in this land of plenty.

  6. Lena August 22, 2010 at 4:02 PM #

    by an odd twist, Antoine has made enough from the Intruder song to move his family out of the projects & to (I would hope) a safer place.

  7. hb August 22, 2010 at 6:02 PM #

    For some people and throughout the history of this “new world” the rape of black women has been nothing if not funny.

    To quote Eula Peazant, “As far as this place is concerned we never was a pure ‘oman.” [Daughters of the Dust.]

    And I don’t quote that here to valorize or fetishize a “purity” that I don’t believe in. The point is people can laugh at and listen to this song because black women still can’t be raped and have it register AS rape, as violence.

  8. Stephanie Rooker August 22, 2010 at 8:59 PM #

    Great article.

    FYI: The Gregory Bros are splitting the song profits with the Dodsons.

    Thanks so much for this!

  9. Nikki August 23, 2010 at 10:44 PM #

    so the question we are left with, at the end of the day is ***what about Kelly?*** and maybe that’s what we should ask at the mere mention of AD, reframe and refocus and ask what about Kelly, and for that matter, what about all of the other women who couldn’t move out of the projects and may now be subject to the “bed intruder” (why are we not calling him a rapist, he was attempting a rape, even that has been sanitized)

    What about Kelly?

  10. Nuala August 25, 2010 at 3:50 PM #

    “Yes, it’s great that there has been some level of economic benefit for this working class family. But Black folks should not have to be publicly exploited at their own expense, in order to be able to have a safe place to live.”

    My sentiments exactly. THANK YOU.

    Discussing this media spectacle is not about being politically correct. It’s about acknowledging and challenging destructive and oppressive messages disguised as comedy. We can and must do and demand better. This is why this dialogue exists.

  11. Laurie August 26, 2010 at 9:55 PM #

    You make such a crucial point.

  12. Nana Baakan August 27, 2010 at 8:29 PM #

    This was great. I wondered where the other side of the coin was, and what point it would take. It kept gnawing at me, there is a little more to this than meets the eye, but to be honest, I couldn’t think of it. With this view, maybe I can stop waking up with this tune in my head. Maybe this slice of reality will hit me over the head, and many others so that we can see what is really going on and admit that quiet as it’s kept we are still quite gullible and light years away from some serious real issues. I wonder how Antionne feels, I wonder how Kelly feels, and I wonder how I would feel, if it were me. There is so much going on in the media that it’s hard to tell, decipher the real motivations. As an artist, I was struck by the creativity, and I am often suckered in by that very thing. Thank you for pulling my coat tail and putting in my face. I have also experience “invisibility” in situations where I was abused.. It’s frustrating and very, very painful. I am not sure if this is any solace, but there is some serious movement to get that whole family into a better environment. I hope and pray that does happen and that she gets the emotional support she really needs, right now! Blessings, Nana Baakan

  13. Jen August 29, 2010 at 12:49 PM #

    good post..great share, great to read it

  14. wordLife September 15, 2010 at 2:01 PM #

    You totally re-arranged my perspective on this topic. well-written and everything you say is oh so true.

    • TaKeshia Brooks/Inda Lauryn December 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM #

      Considering the whole thing going on with the Julian Assange case, it just breaks my heart to see what became of the Kelly Dodson (whose name I did not know until THIS WEEK) thing. Unfortunately, the only place I saw that looked at this thing in the right context is InfoMania when Conor Knighton sarcastically said how much he loved the Bed Intruder song and wished someone was almost assaulted every day. No one wants to think about black women and sexual assault. I didn’t laugh at Antoine Dodson’s rant but I was just disgusted at what it became. If only Kelly’s situation were getting as much as the Julian Assange case…

  15. Passerby January 6, 2011 at 3:56 AM #

    Hey i know this is an older post but i found this in a search and i have to say i agree that it minimilizes a serious crime, however, after that video went viral anthony dodson (the brother) became an instant celebrity, putting their project days behind them. The money has also afforded funding towards a new megans law app on iphone which will further help to prevent these kind of things. And while it was originally a joke, the creators do this to lots of other news reports, this one just happened to autotune extremely well. On top of that, every 1.99 made on itunes is split 50/50 with the dodsons. While the situation was traumatizing, it won’t be happening to her anymore BECAUSE this video made them able to afford to live somewhere much much better. check out his website. the man has even made follow up videos of his own and done live performances. Yeah its kinda sad that a serious situation would be sold this way but the man willingly sold it too. >


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