U.N.I.T.Y. On a Whole ‘Nother Level: The Role of Black Men in the Rape/Race Movement
“That low pro hoe she’ll be cut like a afro […] but I know she’s a loser […] Me and the crew used to do her.” Bell Biv Devoe
“B****** ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks.” Snoop Dogg
“Put a Molly all up in her champagne, she ain’t even know it, I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” – Rick Ross
By now most of us are familiar with the track. Each generation has its own version but the message remains the same. Women are disposable. Women are objects.
“It’s just a song”
“He ain’t talking to me”
“I just listen to the beat”
We find ways to justify the words. In large part because of the historical censoring of Black men, we are reluctant to stifle their communication in any way, even at the detriment of both Black men and women. But these are more than lyrics. These words perpetuate the notion that Black women are just asking for it. Harmful to Black women? Yes. What we often fail to discuss is just how harmful those same lyrics are to Black men.
The social construction of the Black female identity has included the Jezebel identity since our arrival upon what is now known as American soil. To justify the repeated sexual abuse of slaves, Black women were portrayed as overtly sexual, lascivious females. Thus, slave owners were merely giving Black female slaves what they wanted. They were asking for it. In the same way, the social construction of the Black male identity portrayed Black men as sexual predators who sought to violate the chastity of white women. Thus, it was necessary for slave owners to tame (usually violently and often fatally) the sexual nature of the “Black beast” in order to protect white women.
We know that an overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims (85%) are assaulted by someone they know. Someone in their circle. Someone they trust. So when women of color are violated, men of color are depicted as perpetrators.
More succinctly, when white women are victims of sexual assault, Black men are constructed as the perpetrators. When Black women are victims of sexual assault, Black men are constructed as the perpetrators.
Within communities of color, liberation and empowerment are collective endeavors. The liberation of Black men is dependent upon the liberation of Black women. Likewise, the empowerment of Black women is contingent upon the empowerment of Black men. As such, our concerns must be addressed within an intersectional framework. That is to say that rape/race work must incorporate socioeconomic concerns and sexual equity. Rape/race work must address a larger system of privilege and oppression.
To that end, men of color are not allies. The term “ally” implies that men of color are supporters in the anti-rape movement; affected because they choose to engage, that Black men themselves are not oppressed by rape culture. To the contrary, men of color are as much the subjects of the anti-rape movement as women of color.
Doing rape/race work is difficult for both women and men of color. As a trained advocate, one comes to understand that believing the victim is key to their healing. As a citizen of the United States of America, one comes to understand that Black male suspects are not always given the privilege of due process. So those of us who do rape/race work find ourselves in a unique position. Unique, but not contradicting. Rape/race work requires that one do both—believe the victim and push for due process for the perpetrator. The dichotomy often results in the metaphorical and political splitting of oneself unless we understand that both of these things work to keep women safe. Believing the victim facilitates the healing process. Advocating for due process helps to ensure that the right person is prosecuted.
Rape/race work requires an intersectional lens. Examining what rape culture means for women, women of color, women with disabilities, poor women, homeless women, etc. What we know is that women in all of these groups face unique circumstances that make them more likely to be sexually assaulted. What we also know is that many of those same circumstances disproportionately affect Black men. In eradicating the system of privilege and oppression that perpetuates violence against women of color, we reduce harm to Black men.
People ask, “Do Black men have a place in the rape/race movement?” Absolutely. They must. And that role is much more than that of an ally.
*Originally published at alliedthought.com