As Gomer Pyle, a character in a popular 1960s TV sitcom used to say in an exaggerated Southern accent, “Sur-PRAHZ, sur-PRAHZ, sur-PRAHZ!” ‘What’s surprising is that anyone thought a severely restricted FBI “investigation” into charges that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school would actually come up with anything.
Of course it wouldn’t. The “investigation” was limited by the unpresident. The FBI was only given a few days to interview a handful of people who could corroborate Dr. Ford’s account of a drunken Kavanaugh pushing her onto a bed and forcing himself on her. There were many more who could have been interviewed about the incident, including Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh himself.
But it wasn’t a real “investigation.” The unpresident only wanted the FBI to look into the matter just enough so he could pretend concern, claim that nothing happened, and provide enough cover for the Repugnantthugs on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate to confirm Kavanaugh and rush him onto the high court bench.
Lately I’ve heard of some Black women who have dismissed the entire affair as having nothing to do with us. But it has everything to do with us.
Historically, Black women have been disproportionate victims of rape, beginning with the enslavement of our African ancestors. The white “massas” would routinely sexually assault enslaved Black women because they could get away with it. There were even rapes of enslaved Black women by white captains and crew of slave ships traveling from Africa through the Middle Passage to the U.S.
After the Civil War and the so-called emancipation of the enslaved, the rape of Black women by white men, especially in the South, increased. Like the white lynching of Black men, rape was a means for ensuring that Black women would stay in their “place.” Raping Black women was also considered a rite of passage for white boys. They could have their first sexual experience via raping Black women since we were not considered human. White women were off limits as they were to remain pure and virginal until marriage.
Today, Black women and other women of color are still treated as sexual objects with no agency over their own bodies. Eighteen percent of women who are raped in their lifetimes are Black. Eleven percent are Latinas. Thirty-four percent are Native American (American “Indian”) or Alaskan indigenous women, twenty-four percent are mixed race, and six percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. Seventeen percent are white.
Much was made of why Dr. Ford waited 30 years to come forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh. As seen during her recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, many Repugnantthugs on the panel challenged Dr. Ford’s credibility, and defended Kavanaugh’s “integrity” and “innocence.” Even the unpresident’s spin on the incident was that “our boys,” meaning young white males, are going through trying times due to women charging them with rape, whether they committed the crime or not. He even made fun of Dr. Ford’s testimony about her alleged sexual attack by Kavanaugh.
Black and other women of color who are rape victims have even less reason to report what happened to them to police or hospitals, because they fear they will not be believed. Black women in particular are wrongly stereotyped as hyper sexual and seductive, and are accused of “inviting” rape.
In this period of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, there was hope that more men in power would finally be brought to justice for rape. Actor-comedian Bill Cosby was convicted for serial rapes. Film mogul Harvey Weinstein and other film and television executives have been indicted or fired from their jobs after several of their victims told their stories to the news media.
Whatever happens to Kavanaugh and his Supreme Court nomination, and however much white men claim that they are the innocent victims of “unfounded” rape charges, more women are refusing to be silent about their victimization at the hands of white men. Black and other women of color are also overcoming their fears of speaking up, not only about white men and rape, but Black and men of color who rape. We women who are Black and of color are starting to understand that we are not being “disloyal” or “race traitors” if we report those of our men who rape.
Rape was never about sex. It was, and is, about power. The lesson of the Kavanaugh-Ford incident for Black women and other women of color is that it is imperative that we stand up for ourselves against sexual assault by the powerful, despite the very real possibility of our being disbelieved or ridiculed. By doing so, we reclaim our power over ourselves and our bodies. And we send a message to the powerful that they will no longer derive their power over us through rape, because they will no longer have us as victims.