The Erasure of Black Womanhood: Why Anthony Cumia's Twitter Rant is About More Than Race

3 years ago

On Wednesday, July 2, 2014, "Opie and Anthony" radio host Anthony Cumia went on a disgusting rant that lasted several tweets in which he used abhorrent language to describe an interaction he had with a Black woman in Times Square, New York City. He used words and phrases like “whore b*tch,” “c*nt,” “c*ntrag,” and “animal pig fuck c*nt b*tch,” all to describe a woman he claims attacked him. He claimed she attacked him because he was innocently taking pictures of a construction site at 3 a.m. (in the middle of Times Square) and she walked into his frame. He posted pictures of her—and from what we can see, there was no other focus of the images other than the woman herself. She did not appear to be casually walking into his frame, but rather, she seemed upset at him as she walked toward him, for whatever reason. He did not report the incident to police.

I’m not going to speculate too much about what happened during their interaction because like everyone else, I was NOT there. Interestingly enough, there are hundreds of people who believe the undeniable “facts,” as provided by Cumia, that he was “attacked” by this woman, with no evidence other than his tweets. I’m not sure how that works, but cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug.

Radio personality ANTHONY CUMIA speaking to fans in 2007, as he and partner Gregg ''Opie'' Hughes walked from their morning shift at CBS Radio to their home at XM Radio, resuming their live broadcasts of ''The Opie & Anthony Show'' on XM. The duo served a 30-day suspension for a radio bit where a homeless man said he'd like to have violent sex with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush. (Image: © Bryan Smith/ZUMAPress)

I’ve read several articles and tweets about this incident over the last five days. Almost all of them are focusing on the racial bigotry in his rant. To be clear, Cumia’s language is heavily coded in racial antagonism, as he uses words commonly used to denigrate people of color, especially Black people: “savages,” “illegals,” and “animals.” He also makes several references to the inherent violence of “that community” and charges Black people with using "instinctual violence"—using violence as a go-to response to any communication. He clearly has terrible ideas about Black people and they came out during his rant.

Cumia’s rationale for why she allegedly punched him several times? He is White. He made it clear in his tweets that she allegedly attacked him because he was a White man. He then lambasted several Black men who allegedly came to her defense during the incident, calling them “violent savages” who came to defend the woman he called a “pig.” Cumia continued to refer to the woman as a “c*nt animal,”“pig,” and “whore” in his Twitter tirade, and made suggestions that he would kill her himself were he an “illegal savage.” He referenced having a gun on him at the time, and said he was tempted to use it, but instead he wished that a “homeboy” would “beat her to death.” When asked if a “female” beat him, he responded, “No, an ANIMAL BITCH” used “instinctual violence” and he had to restrain himself from put “IT” to sleep. He doesn't seem to want to admit that during the alleged attack, he was bested by a woman so he instead makes her out to be a savage beast against which he could not defend himself.

Racial bigotry isn’t the only thing that was present in his tirade. What is going virtually unchecked—by his supporters, at least—is the unbridled sexism in his train of thought. I was hoping to see more aggressive articles about the blatant sexism, and to see more rallying behind this woman, or at least AGAINST him, from mainstream feminist publications. I found casual mentions of the sexism, but most of the focus was on the racism. Historically, Black women, especially, have felt excluded from the mainstream feminist movement—and at times like this, when Cumia clearly went on one of the most sexist tirades I’ve seen or heard in YEARS, I haven’t seen many of the Feminists-For-Pay speaking out in condemnation of his blatant sexism. Even in some of my followers' efforts to be supportive, they, too, are ignoring that this was a sexually charged, loaded rant attacking this woman’s existence as a woman.

I have been subjected to three days of Cumia’s supporters, all but one being White men, flooding my mentions with all types of insults and accusations of my “agenda.” They have targeted everything from my being a feminist woman to my being a Black woman and being “racist.” To be honest, all I did was screenshot his tweets; then, after he deleted about six months’ worth of tweets, I re-posted them, reminding him that we would never forget what he said. Since then, I’ve been inundated with primarily White male trolls harassing me in his defense.

Their key points:

  • Anthony Cumia never used the word “n**ger”, therefor nothing he said was racist
  • Cumia is not racist at all, and none of the words he used are in reference to Black people specifically
  • She was a hooker, judging by how she was dressed or she shouldn't have been out late at night
  • The five men who defended her were her pimps
  • She bashed his head in and he went blind in one eye
  • He is a victim being blamed like a woman who has been raped
  • “You weren’t there so how are you defending her?”
  • Why didn’t she go to the cops for help?
  • She hasn’t come forward because she is a hooker

Screen shot of Anthony Cumia's Twitter feed

When I have responded to them, my first question is “What about the sexism?” I’ve yet to receive a single response. None of Cumia's defenders seems to want to address the disgusting sexist language of calling a woman a “whore c*nt,” “c*nt,” “whore b*tch,” “c*nt rag,” or any other combination of these words. Cumia had an endless supply of epithets to use toward this woman, related primarily not to her being Black, but to her being a woman.

But here’s the thing: Cumia doesn’t even see her as human.

In two tweets, Cumia responds to questions from his supporters and refers to the woman as being an “it” and even worse, an “animal” that he had to restrain himself from putting to sleep.

Screen shots taken from Cumia's Twitter feed

Black women have historically been denied rights to humanity. As Black people, we’ve been considered property, animals, savages, etc. As women, we’ve been seen, well, not as “real women.” See, “womanhood” is reserved for certain types of women, and those women are generally White. Non-White women are constantly subjected to having their “womanhood” and “femininity” measured against the standards set by White women. Dorothy Roberts writes eloquently about how Black women are denied access to womanhood, and how our motherhood is considered illegitimate and never amounting to that of White women. She writes about historical efforts to destroy the bodies of Black women, and the ways in which racism and sexism manifest in the treatment of Black women.

In short, Black women are denied rights to call ourselves human beings by virtue of being Black and being women. Yet, somehow, we manage to affirm ourselves and assert ourselves as such, often in ways that those who wish to deny us these labels claim are “too much.” We’re “too loud,” “too angry,” and “too uppity” simply for declaring ourselves as human beings worthy of respect.

This woman appears to have stood up for herself, being unhappy with whatever took place in that exchange. For that, her image was spread to hundreds of thousands of people, with all types of disgusting labels attached to it. It could even be seen as if Cumia put out a hit on her, knowing that one of his most devoted fans might be violent enough to seek her out and hurt her now that Cumia has been fired for his rant. (Worth noting: I did find at least one article that addresses the misogyny as much as it addresses the racism.)

As a Black woman living in New York City, I have experienced street harassment on an almost daily basis since I was 11 years old. The ways in which women, particularly women of color, are sexually objectified as they walk down the street is out of control in this city. When I once engaged two NYPD officers about what support there is for women who experience this type of treatment, the answer was "Basically, nothing." Unless women can prove that they are being followed or stalked in a pattern that involves numerous occasions with the same perpetrator, verbal abuse and sexual harassment on the street are not illegal.

Having seen the pictures of the woman tweeted by Cumia, I can only imagine how often she finds herself subjected to this type of treatment. She is attractive, has a curvaceous figure, and appears to be confident enough to advocate for herself when she feels she is being violated (which seems to be the case in this situation, but that is as much speculating as I will do). I can say that if it were me walking late at night and I noticed a man aiming his camera in my direction, I would certainly inquire about whether or not he was taking pictures of me. If I was dissatisfied with his response and felt safe enough to do so, I would likely confront him and ask to see what he is taking pictures of.

Why? At three in the morning, I am NOT comfortable with a strange man taking pictures of me while I am walking on the street. It is SCARY. Cumia has built a career around being a prankster, and he is notorious for embarrassing people for shits and giggles. This is his schtick. Whether or not the woman was aware of who he was is of no consequence. What is missing from this discussion are the people getting to the point of why HE was outside that late at night. There has been tons of speculation as to why SHE was out there, and most of it has been negative (e.g., “She is a hooker” “She was probably looking for drugs”). I would consider his behavior to be creepy, at best, and definitely predatory. Ironically, Cumia has called her the predator, and made himself out to be victimized prey.

Why didn’t Cumia file a police report against a woman he alleges punched and bashed his head in so badly that he temporarily lost vision? As a White man, surely he knows that his word would likely have been trusted, and he would have received the treatment and care that he needed, yes?

Since he had his camera, why did he not take pictures of himself to support his claim that he was attacked? He took to Twitter within an hour of the attack to type this long tirade, so it wasn’t as if he had been in such poor condition that he could not at least collect evidence.

If this Black woman was such a violent animal who beat him so bad he couldn’t see, why come to Twitter to vent instead of seek help from the police, who are readily available on nearly every corner of Times Square, post-9/11?

Screen shot of Anthony Cumia's Twitter feed

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy his story that he was innocently taking pictures of a construction site at three in the morning, and a woman got so mad after walking into his frame that she beat him. I’m not buying that the five men who came to her assistance were doing so because she was in control of the situation and beating this poor, gun-strapped White man down to the ground. I don’t buy that Cumia did or said nothing wrong to her to provoke an interaction. His personality doesn’t give him any benefit of doubt, and his tirade certainly substantiates his pure hatred for Black people—and, more specifically, Black women.

I also don’t believe Cumia would have interacted the same way had the person been a Black man. For all his talk of “savagery,” I don’t think he would have bothered with a brother. There is an assumption that women are weaker, and are men’s for the taking. Cumia seemed put off by the fact that she even questioned why he was taking pictures of her, and he seemed even more enraged that there were men defending her, both in the moment and, subsequently, online.

I’m hoping that the fact that she is a woman is not erased from this narrative. I appreciate several people, particularly Black men with large social media platforms, who have voiced their opinions on this issue and have made it clear that they will not tolerate the abuse of Black women or the castigation of Black men. Unfortunately, some people focus only on the race issue, erasing the fact that this uncensored hatred is directed at her because she is a woman, even when he denied her humanity by calling her an animal several times. Even more unfortunate are the many, many people who assumed that Cumia—a man known for his racism and pranks—was telling the truth about his encounter, and have weighed in based on these faulty allegations of her “attack.”

For people like Cumia, Black women are not worth defense. And, to be honest, we can tell by his tweets that he didn’t expect anyone would defend her, especially not Black men. His rage seemed to peak in response to the challenges he received about the situation, which he really didn’t seem to expect. In my interactions with the White male trolls, I’ve noticed that they have changed their tone and back-pedaled when any of my male followers have confronted them for attacking me. They are more acquiescing, trying to connect on some unspoken “man code” that makes women inferior in thought, behavior, and worth.

This is about the abuse of Black WOMEN, and Anthony Cumia should be condemned—by social justice workers, advocates, pro-Black nationalists, mainstream White feminists, whoever—for embodying hundreds of years of the horrific, dehumanizing abuse of Black women and the demoralizing of Black men in one Twitter tirade.

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