Why Harvey Weinstein’s Guilt Matters to Black Women

In October 2017, I let out a big exhale when Harvey Weinstein became the target of accusations in the #MeToo movement and Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor immediately became part of the growing list of those who allegedly sexually harassed women and girls. As a feminist activist, I celebrated the public shaming of these men. As a black woman who has survived sexual violence, I quietly applauded the new narrative on rape and race in America that I saw unfolding.

In the first weeks of #MeToo, the celebrities accused of sexual assault were white men, not African-American men. It would take two almost months after Ashley Judd’s sexual harassment accusation against Mr. Weinstein in The New York Times before the first high-profile black man was accused, when Jenny Lumet wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that Russell Simmons had sexually assaulted her.

Finally, media representation had caught up to reality. According to the most recent data released by the Justice Department in a special report on female victims of violence, white men committed more than 57 percent of sexual assaults from 2005 to 2010 in the United States. This shift in our national consciousness also chiseled away at one of our nation’s most pernicious and enduring racial stereotypes: the black male rapist. This myth, born in the 19th century, worked to prohibit consensual sexual liaisons between white women and black men on one hand, and was used to justify the widespread lynching of black men on the other hand, by white mobs who falsely asserted their black male victims raped white women.

As that stereotype took hold, it destroyed the lives of black men and their families, and it had another chilling effect: It discouraged all women from coming forward with allegations against white men. And the stereotype of the black male rapist has intimidated black women who were assaulted by African-American men into silence out of fear of being labeled race traitors or, worse yet, of being seen as complicit with a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerated black men.

Before Mr. Weinstein’s conviction on Monday, many black women assaulted by African-American men have had to make a difficult choice: suffer quietly or seek justice by appearing to collude with a racist system.

In December, the rapper 50 Cent said as much to Oprah Winfrey when he blasted her in an Instagram post. “I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men,” he wrote. “No Harvey Weinstein, No Epstein, just Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons.” By then, Ms. Winfrey had already given a rousing Golden Globes speech in 2018 endorsing #MeToo and Times Up!, an organization founded by celebrities that grew in response to the Weinstein effect. Over the years, she had hosted more than 200 episodes on the topic of sexual assault on her daytime talk show, the bulk of which showcased white men as perpetrators.

Nevertheless, 50 Cent’s comments rang true for some who had witnessed another pattern over the last two decades: The most famous men arrested in the United States for sexual assault in the years before the #MeToo era, including Kobe Bryant, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, were black, notwithstanding the sexual assault accusations against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger around 2009 and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in 2011.

Such racial consistency gave cover to white men, who, according to the historian Estelle Freedman in her book “Redefining Rape,” historically “decided the terms and beneficiaries of U.S. citizenship” and also shaped rape laws that “contributed to the immunities enjoyed by white men who seduced, harassed or assaulted women of any race.” By doing so, she concluded, they reinforced their own “sexual privileges,” a legacy that lives on today.

But the racial pattern also gave cover to black men, who, until Mr. Weinstein, could use racial bias as a way to distract from and cast doubt on allegations against them. In Mr. Cosby’s case, his wife invoked “lynch mobs” in response to his guilty verdict. R. Kelly and Justin E. Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, invoked similar language to stave off sexual assault accusations from black women. When Clarence Thomas declared in 1991 that his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court were “a high-tech lynching” because of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment accusations against him, this dismissal of black women went mainstream.

This week, Mr. Cosby’s publicist Andrew Wyatt tried an even stranger racial strategy when he posted on Instagram his official statement about the Weinstein verdict: “If the #MeToo movement isn’t just about Becky [white women], I would challenge #MeToo and ask them to go back 400+ years and tarnish the names of those oppressors that raped slaves.” By insinuating that all #MeToo accusers are white women, Mr. Wyatt’s diatribe erased the black women who’ve come forward with allegations, like Lupita Nyong’o. Even more shockingly, he did so by acting as if Mr. Weinstein, a rich white man in America, did not share the same racial privilege as the slave masters whom he invoked.

There is no doubt that the Weinstein case, from beginning to end, was a watershed moment for rape survivors everywhere and the #MeToo movement at large. This is because it partly discredited another devastating myth: When a victim remains in contact with his or her assailant, he or she must be lying or simply a jilted lover.

One verdict cannot undo our long, terrible history of racial violence in this country. It is also unlikely to change the minds of rape apologists who, in a knee-jerk fashion, always discount the words of the accusers. Our biggest hope might have to be something smaller and yet still significant: to cast doubt on those, like 50 Cent, who race bait and to enable more survivors of all backgrounds to come forward and share their truth regardless of the identity of their perpetrators.

Until then, #MeToo.

The post Why Harvey Weinstein’s Guilt Matters to Black Women appeared first on New York Times.

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Author: New York Times

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