[ OPINION ]
by Ria Moni
“On Monday, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at which A LOT is at stake. Obviously, a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is at stake, and with it, the future of a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, affirmative action, and so on.
Moreover, this is a pivotal test to see if we, as a society, have progressed AT ALL since the shameful Anita Hill hearings. Have we learned to believe women? Or, at least, are we willing to LISTEN to them? And will the MILLIONS of other women who are victims of sexual violence be more or less likely to come forward as a result of this hearing?” — Sean Carter
It feels like history repeats itself as if time is not linear at all. Nazis are back and marching through the streets. Anti-black racism is as fervent as it has ever been. Cops are killing unarmed black men in their own homes and accountability and justice are nowhere in sight. Civil rights are at risk of being rolled back and everyday it feels like some new terror is about to spring up. Republicans continue to put up alleged abusers as viable options to represent the republic. President Pussy Grabber is holding fascist rallies masquerading as campaign events. So maybe it is not that history repeats itself (or that we are stuck in a time loop from hell) but that we have never fully gotten to the root of the problems that plague us as a society. We have never gone through the necessary steps of atoning for the original sins of this country. The truth is, the United States was founded on anti-black racism and patriarchy that coalesced into what we now call Rape Culture.
Historically, white women have been portrayed as pure, delicate, and in need of protection from sexual violence. However, that protection was most often utilized against the lie of the hypersexual black man. This lie was created to justify white male slave owners own sexual violence against African women who would go on to birth their children who would inherit slavery.
Alternatively, if a white woman was to birth child from sexual relations with an African man, her child would be deemed free because the laws of chattel slavery had been codified to protect white men exclusively so that servitude was inherited from the mother and white women required fierce protection from the white man’s imagined threat of black sexuality. The archetypes of black womanhood are steeped in anti-blackness and are evident in the mistreatment of Anita Hill in 1991.
During slavery, in order to prevent white women from engaging in sex with black men, they created the lie of the hypersexual black man. And in order to excuse their own misdeeds they did the same to the black women they were forcing themselves on. In the antebellum south during the Reconstruction period between 1865-1877, “[w]hite mobs raped Black women and burned churches and homes…[t]he Klan raped Black women, lynched Black men, and terrorized Black communities”. Laws were put in place to make it a capital offense for a black man accused of raping a white woman, but not for black women who were routinely being raped for profit and as a form of racial terror.
The propaganda about the threat of the hypersexual black man was so strong that the first blockbuster film ever made in 1915 by D. W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation, was entirely devoted to indoctrinating the masses into the belief that white women must be protected from being raped by black men. If Christine Blasey-Ford were accusing Clarence Thomas, I for one, without a doubt feel she would be believed. History begs the question, was Anita Hill disbelieved by so many, (including former Vice President Joe Biden) because of the stereotypes of black women’s sexuality?
Hill was treated as though she needed no defending, an example of the Jezebel Stereotype that has been often studied and written about. Black women being portrayed as salacious seductresses who prey on white men predates American chattel slavery. So of course, these racist beliefs about African sexuality were facile excuses to justify and legalize sexual violence against enslaved black women.
Some may argue race is not an issue in the Kavanaugh situation. They may argue it wasn’t an issue in the Hill/Thomas situation, until he framed it as “a modern day lynching”, because both the “alleged” perpetrator and the victim are of the same race in both cases. But any feminist student of history and racial justice can tell you everything has a racial component. The feminist in me wonders: will Blasey-Ford be believed? But the anti-racist black feminist in me wonders: if so, why?
Will Blasey-Ford be believed because we, collectively, have made progress in understanding rape culture and the harms of patriarchy? Have we learned as a society to listen to and believe women? Does credit go to living in this current moment of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement? Or will it be because she is a white woman?
As pessimistic as it sounds, most likely Blasey-Ford won’t be believed and coming forward won’t stop the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh. We have been down this road before, a Republican is being nominated to the lifelong position of the Supreme Court and being accused of sexual misconduct from his past. This time his accuser is being hailed as a patriot by some for coming forward to stop the appointment of an alleged attempted rapist to the highest court in the land. But Anita Hill is the true patriot.
In 1991, when she stood up against the appointment of Clarence Thomas she was not championed. She was attacked and degraded without mercy by both parties and a Judicial Committee made up entirely by white men. The Democratic Party, led by then Senator Joe Biden, was particularly vicious. White men are quick to protect themselves, and each other, in order to maintain their position at the head of the hierarchy. That is how patriarchy persists. According to Philosopher Kate Manne, something she calls himpathy is why. “Himpathy primarily concerns cases where powerful and privileged men garner unduly sympathetic attention over their less privileged female victims…It plays out in a variety of ways: denying her story altogether, trying to undermine her credibility, calling her a liar or hysterical, or implying it somehow wasn’t a big deal because it didn’t happen yesterday.” Another common theme is “he was a ‘good guy’ even back then, who was smart, athletic or popular.”
Republicans, centrists, moderates and people who are completely unaware of what it means to be an anti-racist consistently show us who they are, yet too many won’t believe them. However, Republican hypocrisy is especially evident, with their claims of being the party of family values and small government. But when asked to put forward the best of the best, we get pussy grabbers, attempted rapists, sexual harassers, vehement racists, and the like. The pervasiveness of rape culture is extremely evident in the worldview of Republican men as illustrated here in “a selection if what our politicians have to say about rape” compiled by Prajna Brianna Vieira.
Accountability & Forgiveness
Recently, I have been especially disheartened by the internalized misogyny that allows for some women to pose questions with all seriousness and sincerity about how to reconcile the need for accountability with the teachings of forgiveness that the church holds dear or to call these allegations laughable or obvious obstructionism. To me, this is not complicated. A person who is not seeking forgiveness and is not taking responsibility for their actions does not deserve forgiveness.
With Yom Kippur (also known as the Day of Atonement) behind us, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says, “The Jewish tradition teaches that repentance is really hard work, in contrast to the glib and easy way these accused perpetrators are seeking cheap forgiveness from popular culture. America is often perilously quick to welcome comebacks, in part because we don’t really know what it means to atone.” Universally, we should be looking for people to admit to their wrongdoings and take a solemn approach to making real lasting changes.
We should not be gaslighting those victimized by violence or oppression to grant forgiveness to those that have committed traumatizing acts against them. Once the feathers are out of the pillow, or the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can not put it back. Some harm is not repairable and those who have been traumatized, violated, irreparably harmed should not feel obligated to their abusers in anyway.
We should not seek to give forgiveness to someone who is denying and slandering someone they have already harmed and in the process are actively revictimizing. Besides the fact that the victim is the only person who should be in any position to grant forgiveness, without the laborious task of looking inward to do the work to become a person who does not cause harm, there is no atonement. Apologies without introspection and commitment to betterment will always fail.
Have we made progress in dismantling rape culture and patriarchy?
Simply put, no. We have not made progress in achieving either of these mainstream feminist objectives, because Black Lives still don’t Matter to white people who hold the power and codify the laws. We have seen time and time again that reform does not work. Until we, collectively, come to a felt understanding of the issue, we will not be able to get to its root, rip it out and reseed anew with purpose. As long as history is whitewashed, slavery is ignored, and its impact devalued, we will never be able to dismantle rape culture and patriarchy. As long as anti-racism is not the plan forward, we will continue to go around and around in circles making the same mistakes as “our forefathers” with no path forward. Without atonement for the sins of colonization, imperialism and slavery against black and brown people, the anti-black racism that created rape culture is here for good and we are all doomed to be stuck in the time loop from hell.
Ria Moni is Killing Georgina, writing poetry and prose from an intersectional black feminist perspective, organizing and raising awareness from an anti-racist framework, holding space for and amplifying the lives and experiences of black women and femmes.
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Artwork by Beth Bell: www.bethbragancabell.com