Blogging “Yes” Day 12: Trying Rape of Black Women in the Media
We’re at day twelve of the Blogging “Yes” project, and today I read the essay “Trial by Media: Black Female Lasciviousness and the Question of Consent” by Samhita Mukhopadhyay (yes, two Feministing contributors in a row, if you noticed). This essay gets back to the question of black female sexuality and focuses especially on cases like the Duke lacrosse case and how the rape of women of color is “tried” in the media.
The information in this essay is fairly par-for-the course if you keep up with feminism online, but it would be a great read for someone unfamiliar with rape culture and the role of race in the dominant narrative surrounding rape.
Women of color are constructed as two opposing types of beings: the overtly sexual woman of color who was asking for it, or the innocent victim who needs protection from the men in her own horribly misogynistic community. Both frames position white sexuality as the “good” sexuality that is not overt, is respectful, and can protect women of all races.
In a way, we’re back to the mammy vs. jezebel stereotype, with the added element of privileged white men as protectors, and also as inherently innocent. This essay does a great job of highlighting how the Duke case quickly became about the sins of a black female stripper versus the white, elite, male college athletes that are the nation’s darlings. I think this is particularly evident in the popular phrase, “Duke lacrosse case,” which neither mentions the woman herself nor rape. The important things are 1) the elite university and 2) that the accused were athletes. What does that tell you about our culture?
As this essay points out, rape is a unique crime in that the focus is on the victim and the victim’s body, which she is only allowed to do certain things with–certainly not have sex, certainly not have sex or perform sexually for money. She’s also not supposed to drink, not supposed to have accused a man of rape in the past, not supposed to party, etc. etc. The victim-blaming narrative is, unsurprisingly, amplified with women of color, and the essay points out the deep historical roots of this connection.
Not only are black women culturally constructed as liars or deserving of rape, but like the immigrant women discussed in yesterday’s post, it is difficult for black women to report a rape in this environment. Black women may experience disbelief on the part of investigating officers and other officials, and may be interrogated more harshly than white women in court. All women who take a rape to trial run a risk of having every aspect of their lives inspected by the defence. When I was researching rape in law school, I was horrified to read the practice manuals that instruct defense attorneys to use sneaky tactics to force a woman to reveal irrelevant mental health information, information about alcohol consumption, etc. In addition, black women may understandably fear for their safety after Fox News had the audacity to air the Duke victim’s name, address, and other personal information. This, unfortunately, is the climate we live in.