Monday, October 3, 2016

Black Men Rape, Too.

Black men rape, too. I’m just going to let that sink in for somebody who has formed an opinion about this piece based on the title. I ask you to continue reading and hear me out. This is NOT an indictment against Black men, but an unearthing of a topic that has been buried too long.

We need to talk about sexual assault in the Black community at the hands of Black men. I know our history. I know the hypocrisy of holding up the sanctity of White womanhood while defiling Black womanhood. I know that Black men and boys have been the strange fruit of southern trees for nothing more than mere rumors. I’ve read the Kissing Case.  I’ve heard Emmett Till’s story. These tragedies are part of the history of racism. But this history does not erase the fact that some Black men are rapists and/or sexual predators, and that sexual abuse in the Black community is in a shoebox under the bed or in the back of the closet. We know it’s there, but we don’t want to talk about it. 

Statistics show that rape happens most often intra racially, not interracially. The narrative of the Big Black men preying on defenseless White women is a false as is the narrative that Black women are so sexually insatiable that we cannot be raped. These narratives are rooted in racism, and it’s time to change the story and tell the truth. 

In light of recent headlines involving well-known figures in the Black community, it is time that we pull that box out and examine its contents. We need to consider the real possibility that even those we admire can be capable of rape. Even those we love. Rapists don’t fall out of the sky. They breathe and live among us.

We need to address male privilege in a patriarchal society and what that looks like in our community. We live in a patriarchy with some misogyny thrown into the midst. Men feel entitled to sex, and Black men are no different. In my life, I have had some scary experiences that make me question how we raise boys. I definitely believe that American culture is rape culture. And Black men are not immune.
In 6th grade, a boy and his friend walked into the kindergarten class I was watching while the teacher stepped away. He turned off the lights and said, “It’s time to fuck.” Time stopped.  They were looking at me, and I was looking at them. My stomach knotted. After a few minutes, but what seemed like an eternity, they walked back out of the room. I didn’t report the incident.

In high school, the security officer harassed me every time I passed him in the hall. He’d stop me and asked for my pass while letting others pass freely. He looked me up and down salivating like a dog to a bone. Though he made me very uncomfortable, I didn’t report him. When I was growing up we didn’t have language around sexual harassment, and rape was something that happened to women who were snatched into dark allies. And somewhere I took to heart the message that Black men and boys were to be protected even at my own expense.

As a young woman, I went to visit my friend who lived out of town. She was older and like a bigger sister, so I trusted her judgment. She introduced me to a guy that she knew. I went out with him, and while we were in the car talking, out of nowhere he says, “How do you know I won’t rape you?” I didn’t. This was back in the day before cell phones and I was in a different state at the mercy of a man I did not know. Nothing happened, but it frightened me that he even said it.

I was dating a guy, and we were having sex. At one point, I said to him that I wanted to take a break from sex. I thought it was a reasonable request. After all, it is my body, right? Well, since we were dating and were sexual, he said that the least I could do was provide him with oral sex; I owed him that. I laugh now as I did then at the audacity of his statement. I did not owe him anything, nor did I oblige him.

Too often men think that women owe them sex. If we “go too far.” If we drink too much. If we’re wearing something sexy. If we had sex with them previously. If we are in a relationship. These things mean he can take it. Sex is not ours to give. We have no agency over our bodies. Because of this women give in when we don’t want to. Whores are not born; they’re made. (But that’s another post for another time)

Statistics say that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted and the rate is even higher for Black women and girls. Rape against Black females is easily dismissed. I’ve had conversations with women and girls who said they were raped and were not believed. I remember reading an excerpt from Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and being horrified by the notion that he said he went into Black communities to “practice” raping Black women before raping a White woman as a revolutionary act.

When the internet was ablaze with people arguing about Nate Parker’s rape allegation, a Facebook Friend, Floyd Webb posted this: “The conversation needs to be about how do we stop young men from thinking that rape is not a crime against a woman. That their machismo is really the lowest of cowardly and abusive behavior.”

We believe what we believe. But we should know better because we know what happens in our communities.  So, why do we think people like Bill Cosby, Nate Park or Derrick Rose are any different? I am not saying that any of these men are rapists. But I am asking why so many of us won’t even consider that one of them or all of them might be?

It is urgent that we teach our children about consent. No means no. Maybe means no. And yes means proceed with caution because yes to one sex act does not mean yes to all sexual activity. Yes, there are false allegations, but the statistics show that false accusations are the exception and not the rule. The number of sexual assault cases is actually under reported. It happens more than we want to admit. 

Webb went on to say, “’Taking the pussy’ is not a laughable action.  No means no. Consent is only by consent. Getting women drunk to take advantage of them is CRIMINAL.” Webb thinks rape continues to be pushed aside because a large number of men in power have at some point engaged in the same type of behavior. I have to agree with Webb. But I don’t think it’s always men with power. I think that any man raised in this society is capable of rape because of the messaging. Some recognize that the messaging is wrong; others act on it.

So instead of arguing for or against people whose lives we don’t really know anything about, let’s have a dialogue about sexual abuse community. I’m ready. Who’s with me? Awareness is the first step toward change.

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