There have been articles going around recently that have left me super unsettled. As the accusations against Cosby kept coming, there were people who lambasted the accusers as being part of an orchestrated modern day lynching. There was also an article that circulated about the inappropriateness of Amy Schumer’s race-based jokes. I agreed with the article, though I later read in another article that contained the author’s statement that the majority of white women’s rape allegations against men of color are false and that made me really uncomfortable.
And I’ll tell you why. But first it’s important to note that reality is that white women are conditioned and socialized to fear black men. And that is seriously fucked up. Especially since I would guess that most violence against white women is perpetrated by white men. American history is riddled with accounts of black men being brutalized and/or murdered for allegedly “harming” white women. “Harming” often means doing something as innocuous as talking to a white woman, as was the case Emmett Till, who was only a child when a group of white men heinously murdered him because he “flirted” with a white woman. But let’s be clear, at the root of this violence is a societal belief by white men that (white) women are their property and that black men are so abhorrent to white men (and white women too) that white men will go to extraordinarily terrible lengths to keep black men in their place (that is, away from white women because white women belong to, aka are the property of, white men).
So why does the backlash against Cosby’s accusers make me so uncomfortable, given this reality and that many of Cosby’s accusers are white women? Because while our culture is saturated with white supremacy, so too is it by patriarchy and rape culture. Rape culture, which leads us to discredit rape victims/survivors and generally show skepticism, instead of empathy, towards someone who discloses rape. The reality is that false rape allegations are extremely rare, and I assume this is often also the case even when the victim is white and the perpetrator is of color. This is not to say that white supremacy has never led a white woman to make up something vile about a black man. Unfortunately, this probably has happened. Nor is this to say that white women aren’t responsible for white supremacist because of patriarchy. It’s not that simple and certainly white women have been aggressors of white supremacy. The incident in Texas last month showed us that.
But. Even with the many layers of white supremacy that portray black men as aggressive perpetrators, the idea that anyone is lying about rape contributes to the general public discourse that rape victims are not credible and supports rape culture.
As a white woman, I was left feeling overwhelmed as I watched this all unfold. I wanted to stick up for women but also not be an asshole to people of color. I questioned why I felt uneasy when people say white women are often lying when they allege rape by a man of color. Was it my own privilege as a white woman? Or was it because as someone who worked in the DV field, I understood that white women hold status and power over men of color and men of color are capable of buying into misogyny and dehumanizing women of any race? Was it because violence against women is often dismissed and is also hard to prove? I mean, it is really difficult to convict someone of rape so often times what is classified as a false allegation is actually a real-life rape that could not be proved or where the victim was unsafe to go forward in testifying. I didn’t really know how to understand my trepidation. I wondered if anyone else was noticing this complicated dynamic.
Fortunately some very smart and aware people were. I’ve read several articles where people are noting that while white supremacy is real, patriarchy is also real. The defense of Bill Cosby shows the great lengths we go to in the US to protect the men in our lives, whether these men are directly in our lives as friends or family or indirectly as a loveable TV character. It is a really unfortunate reality that different oppressed groups often end up feeling in competition with one another and that only one of them can be right. With Cosby, it seems that many people felt compelled to ignore the rights of women in order to uphold a beloved, famous black man. And with this country’s historic and ongoing terrible mistreatment of people of color , I can’t say I blame them. But the reality is, white supremacy and misogyny are not mutually exclusive. A black man can perpetrate violence against women of any race, including white women, and that’s misogyny. At the same time, white supremacy categorizes this same black man into a group that is scapegoated for violence against white women and if he is accused of rape, he will be infinitely more vilified, both in and out of court (assuming his actions even get him to court). But when a black man faces tougher consequences for violence against women than a white man does, who is that really unfair to? To me, it’s unfair to women. This isn’t about the discrepancy between jail time for crack and cocaine and the mass incarceration of people of color for non-violent crimes. This is about rape, one of the worst things that can happen to someone. And if you rape someone, you should face tough consequences, regardless of your race.
The thing is, no one should get away with rape. And, no one should be vilified. Casting someone as all good or all bad is also really unhelpful and ultimately undermines our attempts to dismantle the dehumanizing beliefs that are at the root of all forms of oppression.
And now we have another mass shooting, this time at an Amy Schumer movie. Amy Schumer, who (perhaps unintentionally) makes jokes at the expense of people of color. Amy Schumer, who also raises public awareness and opinion on women’s sex lives and the way women view sex. The police aren’t sure the motive for the shooting. And yet, the shooter was a brazen misogynist (as well as a white supremacist and homophobe) and he killed two women at an Amy Schumer movie. The police haven’t called it terrorism, likely because, as a society, we uphold patriarchy at all costs. We saw this with Cosby and now, we see this with Houser.
But we need to stop this. Stop upholding white supremacy and stop upholding patriarchy. Remember that systems of oppression pin the oppressed against each other because this is an effective way of keeping us isolated and disempowered. White women need to remember our white privilege and (especially straight, middle class, cisgender white women) need to remember that while some women’s rights issues are relevant to all women, the idea that our struggle is identical is a myth and our white supremacy really harms women (and all genders) of color). At the same time, remember that the questioning of a rape victim supports rape culture, which is heavily tied to misogyny and patriarchy. Case in point to to this is the news that Donald Trump’s lawyer denied marital rape exists. Holy rape culture and patriarchal beliefs, batman! And oh wait, wasn’t it Donald Trump who claimed Mexicans are rapists? Is it just me or does this illustrate how white men blame men of color for violence against white women when in reality, their (white men’s) misogyny most harms white women?
Oh and just one more thing: Leave Camille Cosby alone, please. None of us know what her marriage is like (or not like). I certainly do not have personal knowledge of her or her relationship with Bill. But I’m inclined to let her be. Because I don’t know and because stories like this and this show that people who rape acquaintances/strangers have also been known to victimize their spouses. And if you can’t understand why someone would stand by an abuser, you need to educate yourself.