Every week that passes in 2017, I almost have to pretend to be shocked by the extent of the ludicrous Caucacity that dominates the news cycle. And then there are rare cases where I actually am shocked.
Such a case happened roughly a week and a half ago when Lupita Nyong'o gave a harrowing account of her harassment and attempted assualt at the hands of fallen movie producer Harvey Weinstein. It shocked many, but confirmed what I and many other Black women (and other women of color) have known all along: Black women and other women of color were not spared the horror of being included in Jabba the Weinstein's rampage. Still the accounts of the women coming forward might have had you believing otherwise. Everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Angelina Jolie spoke out in the wake of the scandal, and anyone with eyes could see the scope of the victims was overwhelmingly white.
Many had hypothesized why Nyong’o and other women of color hadn't come out sooner. And while I was initially bracing myself to answer such questions that have obvious answers, the most caucacious thing happened:
Weinstein popped his head up from the hole he is currently rotting in in Arizona and fixed his greasy mouth to challenge Nyong'o's story — saying that he "remembered" it differently but that he wished her well.
Besides the fact that he should have been implicated as a rapist and a creep years ago, the fact that his disgusting statement is not even subtle gaslighting (read: it is totally gaslighting), the backlash to that bum was quick. Black folks everywhere — but especially Black femmes — were hip to the game, knowing immediately why Weinstein had picked Nyong'o to reply to. But mainstream audiences (read: White folls) were still pretty clueless about why Weinstein — who shouldn't possess an ounce of pride left but, nevertheless, will persist because he is a White man — could even dream about stepping to Nyong'o like that.
Again. It is a question that has an easy answer, but since we all have to start somewhere, I'll start with this:
Harvey Weinstein was able to challenge Lupita because no one cares about [sexual] violence that is perpetrated against Black femmes.
Except for other Black femmes.
You might be tempted to say that, no, that can't possibly be true! And if you are, I'd be tempted to tell you to look all around and stop being so naive.
Harsh, I know, but countless examples exist showing that Black women are rarely taken seriously when the issue of sexual assault arises — or, worse, they're are dismissed, have their stories undermined, have their innocence called into question, or lack any prominent media support not spearheaded by other Black women.
And there are countless examples. Truly.
R. Kelly's continued existence, which women like Jamilah Lemieux have talked about at length. The entire ordeal that was The Holtzclaw Trial — where numerous Black women had been assaulted and preyed upon by a police officer — and its lack of coverage. And most recently, the missing girls of DC.
The latter by far was the most damning example for me, because Black femmes everywhere had to watch as mainstream media barely mustered up a singular f**k to give while countless young Black girls (some as young as 10) were mysteriously going missing in DC this past March. And once again, it was only because other Black femmes raised alarms that anyone knew.
This lack of empathy can be traced back to the great evil that was slavery — and the stereotypes that resulted from it.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to surmise the kind of horror that awaited enslaved Black women, particularly when it came to rape and sexual assault. And to be honest, slave flicks, particularly 12 Years A Slave (which Nyong'o ironically starred in) left little to the imagination even if you didn't know.
These are the realities that these women faced and the legacy that this country holds that it would like to forget. But, of course, instead of learning from said history and seeking penance for such, society instead has weaponized stereotypes that were born during that era to justify violence against Black women today.
Mammies. The Sapphire. The Angry Black woman. These are just a handful of stereotypes that have been used to denigrate and dehumanize Black women for centuries, but no such stereotype does that better, in this case, than the Jezebel.
Jezebels refer to enslaved Black African women who were made out to be overtly sexual, as opposed to their counterparts, hyperpure White women (think of an extremely f**ked up Madonna-Whore dichotomy), and a stain on America's obsession with Judeo-Christian ideas of chastity and purity. And this hypersexuality was supposed to justify any rape or assault committed against them, because it "proved" that they were always ready for sex.
Mind you, this is all horse shit and literally was made up to ease the mind of White slaveholders who felt kind of, let's say, queasy about keeping living, breathing humans as slaves. I mean, if you convince yourself they're not worth a damn or barely human, it makes it easy to commit these kinds of crimes against them. It also guarantees that you will get away with this kind of thing if these stereotypes become widespread or commonplace, which they did and are something that we still contend with today.
And pervasive stereotypes like that deny Black women multiple facets of humanity (particularly expressing our sexuality freely and without consequence), but a really important one in situations like this is:
The right to be a victim.
I could get into all sorts of issues I have with the fictional "perfect victim" that America's judicial system has concocted in its imagination, but in the interest of time, I will not. That said, the idea of being a perfect victim (or rather, marking all the boxes out to meet the criteria for “the perfect victim” is something Black people have had to contend with since we were forcibly brought here. It is something we always have to contend with: issues of state-sanctioned violence (re: police brutality). And it is something Black femmes doubly have to contend with (along with questions of their purity) whenever they make the decision to go public with rape/sexual assault allegations.
With stereotypes like The Jezebel operating in the background, the question will always be if the Black woman is truly innocent or if she "asked for it" and simply didn't like what she got. And because of these kinds of attacks on our character and livelihood (even though they don't matter), we are in turn placed on trial instead of our abusers or assaulters. As a result, victimhood (and even survivorship) is denied to us, and with that comes the lack of mainstream support that we are so all used to seeing when it comes to Black women.
And there it is. That is why women of color — Black women, I should say — so often choose not to step forward about rape or sexual assault. That's why Harvey Weinstein could fix his dirty mouth to publicly challenge the great Lupita Nyong'o. And that's why we may not see any more women of color coming forward about him.
Because it would be one thing to go through this crucible to begin with if justice were guaranteed, but it's another thing entirely when you know that judicial system is literally rigged against you to lose. And that public perception will be right behind it to piss on your reputation and rip up your credibility.
So the next time you find yourself asking "why" in a situation like this, pick up a history book.
(Photo: James Shaw/REX/Shutterstock)
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