My inbox is apparently on quarantine right now, as well, so let’s talk about Naked Athena for a second. That is the name given to a person who showed up nude at the increasingly violent demonstrations in Portland on June 18, an act that garnered praise nationwide. They struck yoga poses in nothing but a facemask and a beanie, and to the surprise of everyone except people of color, police didn’t beat them or shoot them dead in the street like Athens’ own Edward Wright. My social media feeds are currently overflowing with worship of this person’s actions, describing them as an apparition and a goddess, and these actions as supernatural, magical, mystical and more.
I fail to see the mysticism or magic of presenting a feminine white body to law enforcement. I will concede that white women are considered precious and fragile to the point that they are treated as a group to be protected and exalted by the status quo, and I’m sure that a cop would hesitate to crack a blond skull before my nappy one. This is the logic behind allyship at demonstrations: Put the white people up front, and cops will often hesitate to inflict the same violence that they do on bodies of color. For that, I am thankful to this naked person, and I recognize the danger they faced with their action. But I can’t put their behavior above that of every other white person being a human shield at a demonstration.
You’ve probably noticed that I’m using gender-neutral pronouns, and it’s because I have learned from mutual acquaintances in PDX that this person is a nonbinary white-passing person of color. I think we can respect their identity while also turning a critical eye on the way most people decided to interpret those photos: A thin, long-limbed woman did ballet poses and upavistha konasana while butt-naked, and this act was so bold and powerful that federal “secret police” were so awestruck by the energy flowing from her yoni space that they put down their guns and joined a leftist militia.
This centers the white experience. Their actions caused the news to shift from scary reports of people being disappeared by federal law enforcement to the power and beauty of Naked Athena, the cops’ blue lights flickering off of her powdery skin as she emerges like a phoenix from a cloud of tear gas. These warrantless arrests have taken a backseat to a fantasy that also perpetuates the sexist narrative of white female fragility and victimhood, that we should exalt this person for putting the most precious of naked bodies at risk. A line of white allies with their arms linked together would have accomplished the same, if not more.
There’s also the whole “nudity without consent” thing—that’s not appropriate no matter what the situation. If you want people to see you naked, you need their consent. We could talk about nudity as protest, sure, but women of color (and women in India, specifically) have used nude protest in the past and end up being described as crazy instead of goddesses. It reminds me of the stereotype of the “hairy bra-burning feminist” of the civils rights era versus the beauty of Pussy Riot, who enamored the media with their soft smiles and youthful breasts. Does anyone even remember what they were protesting?
We all love a powerful image, but powerful images do not create change, and they threaten to drown out the actual point of these demonstrations. Right now, American citizens are practicing their right of free speech, and they are being arrested by unidentified law enforcement officers who do not have jurisdiction.
I mean, where are the militias? These are the “jack-booted storm troopers” that the right wing has been paranoid about since the days of The Turner Diaries, and the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of sovereign citizens and tax protesters. It’s remarkable that moms, dads with leaf blowers and a naked leftist are willing to stand up to the “deep state” where self-identified “patriots” will not.
Either way, I do appreciate the thought behind Athena’s protest, but I don’t think that this particular bold act should take precedence over the fight on the ground.
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