A Note For Megan
Saturday/Sunday, September 16, 2007.
By Stephane Dunn
$10,000. I wonder if this would equal the cost of a prime black female slave’s body today if we take into account inflation and contemporary costs? Well, we know one thing, it’s the possible, low, get-out-of-jail-price if you get caught at kidnapping and brutalizing a black woman.
There has never been a national compassion and outrage over the historical and contemporary brutality directed against black women. Never. There are several reasons why this is so, but the two most glaring have everything, of course, to do with race and gender.
In slavery and beyond,through the Jim Crow years, the firmly established white supremacist patriarchal cult of true womanhood firmly situated black women as outside of ‘true womanhood’ status. They were less than women, animalistic and primitive rather than feminine and human.
Since their humanity and womanhood was not "true," Black women could and were sexual Jezebels and seducers of civilized white men but never rape victims. That legacy is alive and well, so much so, that in black rape cases that do make more than five second news spots, the legitimacy of the woman’s personhood and womanhood is as much a part of the story as the details of the actual case.
A case of rape and violence against a black woman will not even make the news unless the accused is famous, wealthy, or part of an elite social class. And so it was in the Duke University case last year. It did not become news because a black woman had been violated; it became news because it involved a group of young, white male Duke students.
It became even more news worthy as the case splintered and the media and national conscious could drop attention on the very real nature of racial and gender politics on elite campuses and become outraged over the ‘wrongful’ violation of those Duke lacrosse players. There is a disturbing subtext to the way the whole thing unraveled and the way it has since been reported on in the media. The cased proved shaky and the conversations about sexist ‘boys will be boys’ behavior and racialized thought seemed to die in quiet and in shame.
There is now another element that will linger in what I think of as the legacy of the Tawana Brawley scandal. In a country that has not wanted to and continues not to deal with or own the particular sexual and racial violence directed against black female bodies, this is sort of a ‘quiet’ justification, a confirmation of the other, less discussed racial myth that hangs in the shadow of the black male rapist myth; the myth that black women are not ‘true’ victims of rape and violence.
This is why the ‘face’ of the victim that is always positioned to invoke national attention, compassion, and outrage is never black and is certainly never black and female. Black male rape and violence against black women does not even make the news unless it meets the famous criteria and the rape and violence against black women by white folk, well, it had better be sensational enough to earn its way into the CNN two second spotlight.
When the black community went into battle over Don Imus’s infamous radio slur, even then, the national conversation never quite made it to a focus on the history of black women’s misrepresentation, mistreatment, and media neglect in this country; it dovetailed nicely into a frenzied address and attack on rap music representation.
All of this does not bode well for Ms. Megan Williams, who was raped, brutalized, traumatized, and quite frankly, probably would have been killed in relative obscurity. We are rightfully beginning to recognize that we are still at war to gain respect and recognition of our humanity.
We must rally now using all the technology at our disposal and our very bodies to demand the spotlight for Megan and for the personhood, womanhood, and very bodies of all those daily, anonymous, non-white female victims.
Stephane Dunn, Ph.D, is a writer, scholar, and educator. She specializes in popular culture, 20th century African American Studies, and American literature. A creative writer and cultural critic, she writes plays, creative nonfiction, and essays about film, popular culture, and contemporary social issues. Her forthcoming book, Baad 'Bitches' & Sassy Supermamas (University of Illinois Press), explores women's representations in 1970s black action films, with particular focus on the 'supermama flicks, Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, and Foxy Brown.
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