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.


Dance_Soul said...

Ok - so I was a little confused in the beginning. You almost got beat down for the "alleged" rape comment. I was just going to mention what you did about "finding a breech in her responsibility." That is so true. People look for anything that will make the victim/survivor seem acocuntable for her rape or sexual assault. I totally see where you were going...especially with the concept of a mere two rapes in 10 years. Unfortunately, even women think that rape can't occur if the man is a boyfriend, husband, or even friend. We cannot begin to imagine the number of rapes that go unreported. Thats the catch 22 about working as a SART volunteer. The days that I don't get calls I worry that someone didn't report. As long as there is a power differential between men and women and men who feel insecure about their status in society - there will be rape. Rape isn't about sex or women - its about power. Good Post - there will be no need to burn you at the Stake - I look forward to part two. ;)

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks Dumi for doing this post.

I want people to know that rape is included in domestic abuse and it happens to women at a much more alarming number than people think (1 out of 4 women will experience a form of domestic abuse). Abuse being classified as sexually, physical, psychological and financial. Current language and response to abuse (all types) against women is far from sufficient. Newspapers hardly ever properly cover abuse stories. They call it random violence when it's not random at all. Boyfriends, Husband, Friends, Relatives, Housemates, Girlfriends do abuse. Just because you know them, does not mean its not abuse or rape.

If have an opinion and/or experience I urge people to talk out about this. When you raise your voice, you help our sistas raise theirs. Start early, talk to your youth (men and women) about teen dating violence and healthy relationships.

Folks interested in learning more should check out,,, or

Dumi said...

Thanks for the comments Dance and M. Ironically, my only comments on this came from folks who I know are working on the domestic abuse frontlines. I got a good deal of positive feedback from brothas on this post too, but no public responses... interesting.

Anonymous said...

Dumi, this was a good post. Of course, as I mentioned to you on the phone, I agree with what you had to say. But what I appreciated most about the post is that it was the voice of a man. There is so much power in a man calling attention to our privelege in this society and how it translates into abuse that at times even we do not see.

I would just like to say this. Just as you were vocal here Dumi, many brothas will openly express discontent for rape. But less brothas will go as far as you and think deeply about their own misconceptions and biases around rape and sexual assault. Brothas, hell america in general, needs to look into the mirror and ask the hard question. Where do my hypocrisies lie? Chances are they are along the lines of the priveleges you possess in a particular social category. And YES the majority of us do holds positins of power and privelege in some context or another. After accepting our limited insights the next thing is to never search society for the answer in how to eradicate these prejudices and injustices from our minds or the world. Rather we must begin to push ourselves first. Push ourselves to grow in humanity. So, to close I pray that more and more people work to understand what humanity means and what it represents. I would write on it, but I have to go to sleep. Besides my original point was to say that you were right on and I encourage all men to dig deep into their minds and hearts for their true feelings around the issues of rape and sexual assault. And if necessary, align your heart and mind with a balanced and honest view on the matter.
Oh, and I guess I am the first male to respond to the post.

RachelsTavern said...

Fabulous post. Whether it's whites or men there is this sort of mentality in the dominant group where people are more than willing to give the "benefit of the doubt" to the racist/rapist.

It is almost like people will disbelieve until they find some sort of definitive proof (and not always that), which they still don't want to believe.

It is very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what ever happened with regard to the allegations? There was a lot of media attention in the beginning and then it just stopped.

Dumi said...

As far as I know, the charges were dropped.