Earlier this month, former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was, to my surprise, convicted of raping several black women. Following this trial via twitter has been tumultuous for me. Tumultuous, rocky, but nonetheless, draining.
Daniel Holtzclaw targeted these black women strategically. He targeted poor black women in particular–mostly sex workers and drug addicts because he knew that they are not protected nor respected in society. He thought he would get away with it which explains his tears when his final verdict was announced and him mouthing “How could you?” to the jury as he was escorted out the courtroom.
We can all agree that Holtzclaw violated these women because they are disenfranchised by society right? So… why don’t we want to explore why they’re the most disenfranchised in society–including the black community?
After the verdict was announced a young black man prompted a dialogue on twitter that resulted in tons of backlash. He urged black men to look at the ways they contribute to rape culture that harms black women. Black men were not receptive to his challenge and saw it as “bashing” black men or him “tweeting for pussy.”
You know what though? I did see black men excited that Holtzclaw was convicted but as I saw the angry responses to the tweets challenging them to unlearn rape culture, the more I wondered… were they happy Holtzclaw was convicted because he harmed black women… or because he’s a non-black police officer? Because if it was the former, wouldn’t you want to be receptive in order to make the community safer for black women? I also wondered would the anger still be there if Holtzclaw had been a black man.
To make matters worse, I also saw other black women enabling these black men saying, “We need to lift our good black men up and not tear them down.” So on and so on.
Mind you, the man was not blaming black men for Holtzclaw’s actions. He was pointing out how we enable a culture that denies ALL black women of protection because of our tired respectability politics–a culture that allowed Holtzclaw to thrive in, thinking he’d get away with what he did because let’s be honest, it is rare for a non-black officer to get convicted of anything, especially not for sexually assaulting black women.
It had me thinking even further–made me think about how the black community contributes to rape culture and the dehumanization of black women.
Let’s think about it. These women that Holtzclaw targeted, how are they usually viewed in the black community? Most black people are going to say they “don’t respect themselves” and claim, “I can’t respect them if they don’t respect themselves.” Does that give a sense that we’re interested in providing a safe space for those black women? No, it doesn’t. And it for damn sure, doesn’t give those women the impression that we’d believe them or support them if they had came to us with their traumatic experience.
[TW: sexual assault]
The “respectable woman” trope that black people often use to police black women is toxic. It’s harmful and it does contribute to rape culture. Slut-shaming black women comes into play when people try to discredit a black woman when she says she’s been sexually assaulted. “She ain’t get raped. She be fucking niggas left to right. She lied because she wants attention and didn’t want to be called a hoe.” Does that sound familiar? A lot of black people are guilty of that line of thinking. A black woman’s sexual past is not relevant when she’s sexually assaulted. In fact, it’s not relevant at all and does not make her immune to abuse or violence.
Black people even do that to young black girls who have been preyed upon by older black men. “She was being fast.” “She was trying to be grown.” “She a little thot.” So on and so forth. It amazes me. Instead of holding these grown men accountable for taking advantage of young girls, we’re going to place fault on the underage, vulnerable girl? You’re going to call a young child out her name because an older man took advantage of her? That is completely backwards. These adult men knew what they were doing when they went after young teen girls. They know that teens girls are impressionable and are easier to manipulate. This is all about control.
That is what rape is about: control. It’s about denying someone agency over their body. Predators are the only people at fault, not the young black girls and black women they prey upon.
The Black community has this habit of not wanting to hold black men accountable for their harmful actions towards black women because, to the black community, black men are already “torn down” by the world enough and us criticizing their violent anti-black misogyny is “tearing black men down” too. The goal is to protect black men at all costs even if it’s at the expense of black women and girls–especially when that black man is successful and famous. Look at how the black community is so quick to cape for black sexual predators such as Bill Cosby and R. Kelly.
If a black woman cries out about abuse from a black man it is seen as a betrayal by the black community. Black women are suppose to suffer in silence if the person violating them is a black man because we must keep the black man’s image pure–since it’s already tainted enough. That’s not how this should work. If we want to better ourselves as a community, we need to hold each other accountable for how we harm one another.
Holding a black sexual predator accountable for violating black women and girls is not being “divisive.” Them sexually assaulting black women and girls IS divisive. Last time I checked, violating someone is how you lose someone’s trust and respect. We need to stop getting mad at each other for pointing out abuse in our community and redirect that anger to those who are causing harm in our community. Do we not want to make our community a safe space for black women? Do we want to continue this vicious cycle that dehumanizes black women? We go on and on about “black power” and “black unity” but is that black power and solidarity only for cis-hetero black men? Why is it that we wholeheartedly believe black men when they say they’ve experienced racial violence but we have to put a black woman through a thorough questionnaire before we can even consider believing her?
We, as a community, contribute to rape culture that harms black women and girls and we need to work to dismantle that. We have to unlearn victim-blaming and the misogynistic respectability politics that contribute to this toxicity. We need to reflect and unlearn anti-black misogyny so that we may rid this culture where black women and girls are violated with little to no protection, empathy, or justice. Black women and girls can be violated. I know the world has you believing that we are these strong super-humans who can not be vulnerable and are immune to abuse and violation but I’m here to remind you that we are humans and we are humans who deserve respect, protection, and peace. Period.