Friday, September 22, 2006
Playing the Rape Card
The other day I was inspired to write on the "race card." Today I woke up and was driven to think about sexual assault and the concept of the "rape card." I must first admit that I can't really recall this term being as common as the race card, but in my view the ideas that motivate the concept of rape as illusion are the same that motivate race as illusion. This morning I received an email from a close friend that simply read "Dear Morehouse Brothers, stop raping your Spelman sisters." I was shocked, confused, and inquisitive. I ran to the trusty google news search and typed in Morehouse. A couple entries down I found this story from the AJC. As Tribe said, "Don't you know that things go in cycles." The article discusses the walk out that Spelman students executed in response to recently emerged "alleged" incidents of rape. I wrote alleged like that for a reason, let me explain.
Back in 1996 when I was a freshman at Morehouse there was a huge controversy that tore Spelman and Morehouse apart. There was an "alleged" rape of a Spelman woman by multiple Morehouse students on Morehouse's campus. The story was covered, literally, on the now defunct Emerge Magazine. At the ripe age of 17 I was in a world of confusion. I've always considered myself, despite my behaviors at times, as a feminist as well as a supporter of Black men. In the swirl of the rape controversy I didn't know where to stand. In my years prior to Morehouse I had decided to always believe any woman who said she had been assaulted be it physical or sexually (I do know these terms are not mutually exclusive but you know what I mean). But in a hall full of Black men, I began to doubt this idea. I wondered, what if she's lying? I honestly think it was the first time I found myself in conflict with my own politics in a way that I couldn't easily resolve. Well, I do not think I was alone in that, despite what the more vocal voices on Morehouse's campus said.
Instead of having to remedy this dilemma, for many years I thought I was absolved of this responsibility when it was found that the "alleged victim" was found in the same dorm in a compromising position shortly after. That is how "the rape", became "the alleged rape."
If you ask virtually any brother who went to the House during that time they will mention "the alleged rape." I have attempted to avoid that saying, but much like Tribe said "I try not to say it, but my lips are like an ooh-wop as I start to spray it." By naming it "the alleged rape" we employed the same rhetorical device as "the race card". I heard many brothas say, "If she was raped, then why would she be in the same dorm again?" and "she's a hoe." Slippery slope reasoning 101 was and has been in full effect on the campus and beyond. At the ripe age of 17,19, 28 or 65 many of us can't see how rape can occur, regardless of how we interpret a person's sexual proclivities. As my friend Dance recently posted, the truth is that rape is almost exclusively identified as the responsibility of women in our society. Essentially, if you can find a breech in her responsibility, you can find absolution.
Fast forward ten years, Spelman students walk out of classes to protest the silence that has existed between Morehouse and Spelman and sexual assault. Once again, the same "alleged rape" scenario is appearing under the guise of impartiality. Once again, I know many young brothers are "caught in the same situation" that I was in 10 years ago. In the fray of all these debates, disagreements, and arguments, most of us who debate "the truth" miss the forest for the trees. I have finally come to the conclusion that even if these incidents are found to be "untrue" or are "dismissed" we still must realize that there is no way in HELL that in a span of 10 years there have been 2 or 3 sexual assaults between our campuses. It is almost impossible to quantify how many sexual and physical assaults, because so many have gone un-noted, un-reported, and un-treated (and not just between Morehouse and Spelman). A word for the concerned, drop the debate and deal with reality. The fact is that rape is rampant in our society.
See, in my mind, I could accept "alleged rapes" but I couldn't accept "race cards". Though analytically dangerous, the best way for me to understand gender and oppression is to find an analog in the areas of race and oppression. Not until I re-read my words about the race card and read about my Spelman sisters and Morehouse brothers did I see the reality, alleged rapes and race cards are the same. Rhetorical tools used by the dominant to assure that we are never fully responsible for our actions. We have a problem, a serious problem.