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When I read Bill Fletcher’s BC article last month on the rape of his friend, it was like déjà vu. “My Friend was Raped” underscored an all-too familiar response to sexual victimization of Black women by Black men, that of silent suffering.

I had just heard an eerily similar story chronicled in “NO! The Rape Documentary”. The women’s section of the Organization for Black Struggle has featured Aishah Simmon’s poignant and award-winning film at our 17th annual women’s history month program. Aishah’s work explores the historical reality of rape and other forms of sexual assault through survivor stories, scholarship, spirituality and activism.

The showing of NO! was on the heels of a screening of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Another young independent filmmaker, Byron Hurt, made a powerful contribution to the ongoing discussion on masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture.

I thought I was experiencing a panic attack during one part of Hurt’s film, where scantily-clothed young women were being sexually harassed and taunted by young men. Some were holding video cams under short dresses, hoping to score with a pantiless victim. Others were squeezing the butts of women. I guess my maternal instincts kicked in because I just wanted to beat one of those brothas down—and not with any damn rhymes. I did a lot of deep breathing during that screening.

Then the nation received the news that the charges against the Duke Lacrosse players, accused of rape, would be dropped. Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty readily admitted that their parents’ money—referred to as “financial successes”—was a contributing factor in their ability to prove their prosecutions false.

A host of other factors were cast aside, including the initial physical examination of the rape victim, that showed signs of sexual assault. Disregarded as well, was the acknowledgment by Duke University’s own president Richard Brodhead that there was a "history of boorish behavior and underage drinking" among lacrosse players.

The Women’s Commission of the Black Workers for Justice recently issued a statement condemning Attorney General Roy Cooper for his dismissal of the case. The Commission believes that the decision to dismiss charges is a continuation of “the historic legacy of an unbridled white racist power structure arrayed against the powerless and oppressed Black female and Black community who cannot protect and defend themselves under an unjust political and legal system where they have no control.”

The statement was also signed by the Human Justice Coalition, Down East/Wilson Labor Council, Coalition Against Racism and the Southern Anti-Racism Network. Many other organizations have issued statements with similar concerns. Given the number of Black men falsely accused of intra-racial rape, with less evidence than that produced in the Duke Lacrosse rape, we can use this as an opportunity for a national discussion about rape as well as the limitations of the American judicial system. Enter convicted rapist Jerry Miller, the 200th DNA exonerated person in this country.

All of this brought me back to NO! The Rape Documentary.

Although the rape stats say that one out of every three women in the US will be sexually assaulted, those stats are higher in the African-American community where we have allowed a rope of silence to choke the voices of anger, outrage and healing that need to be expressed.

The general consensus is that 9 out of 10 rapes go unreported. The National Victim Center has called rape "the most underreported violent crime in America.” The National Black Women’s Health Project affirms that approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact, of a sexual nature, by age 18.

Johnnetta Cole, former president of Bennett College and one of the riveting voices featured in NO!, rhetorically demanded to know why we are silent on “one of the most barbaric, intensively painful and ultimately destructive acts” that a community can endure. My work with young women often takes me into the world in which they live. For poor, Black girls, it is criminal—literally. Our growing tolerance for the sexual objectification and exploitation of our youngest is a clear and present danger.

I have hundreds of examples from which to to draw, whether it be a teen making extra money by giving her mother’s boyfriend blow jobs (her mother’s suggestion) to adolescent girls baring their breasts in order to get discounts for hair products at a local convenience store. (The incidents were caught on the store’s own surveillance camera.) It is both frustrating and overwhelming to deal with the many individual symptoms of a diseased system. We must get to the place where we put sexual and domestic violence on the front burner, as Bill Fletcher suggests, but it won’t be easy.

It means launching a multi-faceted struggle when and where we can. This calls for an overhaul of the justice system, because one of the main reasons Black women don’t report rape is to keep that Black man out of a racist criminal system. We have done so in the hopes of community justice that hardly ever seems to materialize. It means confronting, filtering and eliminating the misogynist and sexist toxins that have crept into our political, social and cultural environments. This means starting in our homes, honoring and valuing girls and women, teaching equality to all sexes so that we all become change agents in some way.

It means developing and strengthening the support systems for victims of sexual violence so that they are not re-victimized and silenced, but get the spiritual, emotional and psychological support they so desperately need.

It means struggling with our brothers, especially those in the progressive movement, to take up seriously, this issue with themselves and their peers. One of the stories in NO! involved “an avowed pro-feminist” rapist brother whose hurtful actions spoke more forcefully than his empty radical rhetoric.

It means moving past the view that erroneously pits racial oppression against women’s oppression. It’s the old let’s-fight-together-to-eliminate-racism-first, then-we’ll-deal-with-sexism argument that has plagued the Black Liberation Movement for years. Homophobia, another oppression needing to be dealt with by the Black community, is rarely even on the radar screen.

Our movements and our communities must seek a humane, yet determined, approach to the consequences of unchecked patriarchy and unbridled violence on our individual and collective psyche and being. Each time we say “NO!” to a form of sexual oppression, we are saying “NO!” to a capitalist system that utilizes oppression to continue its dominance and exploitation. It is most successful when it gets us to take an active part in propping up that system.

Organized activities, events and campaigns must be multiplied, hopefully with leadership by men with a genuine understanding of their role in gender oppression. Even critiquing the trivialization of women’s violence, by the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, has its place in this important debate.

On April 28th, one such event will take place in Durham, North Carolina. It is the "National Day of Truth-Telling” to speak out against sexual violence but also to address its root causes. It has been the hotbed of confusion, resentment and anger since the rape occurred at a Duke Lacrosse team party. An organized effort emerged to untangle the web and educate the community towards a place of healing and empowerment.

I fervently believe that we can create a critical mass of people who will bring a sense of urgency and justice to this issue that will ultimately transform our society. Further, I need to be able to look into that young girl’s eyes and assure her that a more humane world for women is coming.

BC Editorial Board member Jamala Rogers is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.



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April 26, 2007
Issue 227

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