This week, my undergraduate alma mater, Morehouse College, made news not for its prestigious history of producing leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee or current Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, or for adding to its lead among HBCU’s in producing Rhodes Scholars. No, the news featured yet another allegation of rape by a young woman who attends our equally prestigious sister school, Spelman College.
Many of my Spelman Sisters were immediately apoplectic; many of my Morehouse Brothers immediately launched into “protect our brand” mode more than specific concern about the allegations, specifically, and rape on our campus in general.
For reasons that are far too complex to adequately address in a blog (or even two), Rape remains one of the most polarizing subjects among Black people. The root of this reality, I believe, stems from the fact that American Black culture by and large is similar to the same Christian dominated, patriarchal social structure that was the norm among Whites during early American history, a period that encompassed our ancestors enslavement by White men who often raped enslaved Black women with impunity.
Because of such sick and deeply shared histories and cultural mores, whenever a public incident of rape or alleged rape occurs, the anecdotal evidence that I have observed strongly suggests that there is a knee jerk reaction among many Black men— and a strong number of Black women—who scrutinize the accuser far more than the accused. Well, that is if the accused is a Black male; when Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was accused and convicted of raping over a dozen Black women out in Oklahoma last year, Black media and social media went in hard on him, in part, because he is “white” (mixed, actually, but I learned long ago that among many Black folks, a mixed person with no discernable Black ancestry is White; see, for reference, George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer).
But in the court of public opinion, when the alleged rapist is a Black man like former NFL star Darren Sharper, Florida Gators wide receiver Treon Harris or legendary comic and philanthropist Bill Cosby, to name a few, the cloak of protection and defense among many Blacks for the alleged rapist is swift and absolute.
The victims are run through the typical “slut shaming” questions such as: 1.Why did she have on a skirt and no panties, she must have wanted it, 2. Why was she at his house, apartment or dorm room that time of night because my momma told me that ain’t nothing open after midnight but a convenience store and some legs; ergo, she must have wanted it; 3. Why did she drink, smoke weed, pop a molly, roll beans or snort coke with that man—surely she should have known what would happen next; ergo, she must have wanted it.
The aforementioned questions are not restricted to Black women, mind you, in fact, when the alleged victim is white and the accused is a Black man, Black social and traditional media light up with the additional reminders that false accusations of rape by White women led to many Black men dangling as “strange fruit” from southern and Midwestern trees from 1865 to the late 1960s. I, too, often incorporate this history as reminders in any rape case to use caution and allow the facts to hail forth first before condemning someone, such as the alleged rape case involving former Florida State University Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston from a few years back.
As a former prosecutor in the very Tallahassee office that was considering charges against Winston and as a defense attorney who routinely handles (and often wins) cases against the same, I took it upon myself to carefully review the evidence in Winston’s case once released. I concluded (and still conclude) that Winston was falsely accused of rape by his alleged victim.
But when the facts are there, to Hell with caution…
You see, for every falsely accused man like Winston, there are thousands upon thousands of cases where the accusation was legit—regardless of color. Some cases see a courtroom but many others do not, as victims fear the inevitable scrutiny that such events will entail.
As such, I say this morning to my Black brothers that chances are VERY great that you are related to or know women who have been raped. They collectively are our mothers, wives, sisters and girlfriends—many of them just may never tell you/us because they have listened to you/us defend alleged rapists without much scrutiny. They have listened to you/us blast Tupac’s line “….a lot of real G’s are doing time, because a groupie bit the truth and told a lie.”
Tupac’s line, mind you, is absolutely true in SOME instances—but not all. Not by a longshot based upon my career experiences.
Equally compelling is the fact that while many of us know women who have been raped, we also know many men who have raped—or were about to rape someone’s mother, sister, child or future wife. In my lifetime, I have intervened in three instances where I am convinced that if I and/or my squad had not stepped up, three women would have been victims of gang rape. Ironically, two were at Morehouse, once during my freshman year and again during my junior year. The last time was a few years ago when, while serving as a volunteer at the HCASC quiz bowl tourney in Orlando, if I had been a minute late to 3 am airport duty to help the students load their bags on the van, I would have missed a clearly inebriated young Black female being led like a lamb to slaughter to a hotel room by four young men who were ready to ravage her.
How do I know, when I used my booming command voice to shout “Hey, what the fuck is going on?” those young men took off like roaches when the lights flip on. Fortunately, I was able to get the young woman safely to her hotel room and roommates.
Further, lest we forget that many Black boys and men get molested and raped, too. The recent revelations that rap music legend Afrika Bambaataa of the Zulu Nation may have molested hundreds of boys has been met with a collective yawn among many Black men. Oddly if not perversely, the same slut shame questions asked of girls and women are being asked on social and in the traditional media comments sections by some brothers about the brothers who were victimized by Bambaataa.
Even worse was the response by one of my favorite rap artists, KRS-ONE of Boogie Down Productions, who recently averred: “For me, if you keep it hip-hop, nothing can be taken away from Afrika Bambaataa. But if you want to dig into dude’s personal life and accusations that’s being made and so on, personally, I don’t give a fuck. If somebody was harmed or whatever, y’all gotta deal with that shit. That don’t stop what you did for hip-hop. It don’t take away none of it. History is history. But deal with that. That’s personal.”
I beg to differ, KRS-ONE, you have to give a fuck. We all do. Why? Because until we, as Black men, can begin to move past the trite dismissals of rape conduct and a culture of apathy where we shame the accuser more than analyzing the facts against the accused; when we as Black men automatically defend the accused regardless of the evidence offered by the accuser; when we, as Black men, worry more about the “brand” of the Cosby Show or the good name of Dear Ol’ Morehouse as opposed to making sure that women and girls, men and boys, can confront those who violate their bodies by rape, then we, collectively, are no better than those evil White slave masters who violated our ancestors by raping them years ago.