My father, Charles, when first teaching me about Emmett Till’s lynching when I was about nine years old, told me that Till, 14, was brutally murdered because he whistled at a white woman in the Jim Crow South. My father was just 15 years old the year that Till was killed and when he first saw Till’s grotesque remains in a Jet magazine, but the event was a seminal one for him and many other black boys and men across the South–a reminder to be wary lest they suffer similar fates.
(Emmett Till, 14. Racist whites in Mississippi blamed Till’s death on “NAACP agitators.”)
As my knowledge of Jim Crow increased through high school, with lessons imparted by both of my parents about their experiences with systemic racism growing up in the Jim Crow south, I learned that many lynchings occurred based upon some black boy or man being accused of raping or making passes at white women. One afternoon, while discussing D.W. Griffith’s virulently racist film “Birth of a Nation,” one that surmised that the Ku Klux Klan was founded to “defend the honor of white womanhood” from black men, my father, a history minor at Florida A&M University and a Civil War buff, said “Those Crackers collectively have never given a damn about white women–protecting them was just an excuse they used to kill black folks with impunity.”
My father’s words have never left me…
In reverse chronological order, whether it was Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore stalking and assaulting teenage girls in Alabama or Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken kissing and groping a reporter in 2006; whether it was movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulting actresses seeking employment or Kevin Spacey sexually assaulting actors seeking the same; whether it was President Donald Trump being accused of raping his first wife, Ivanna, in 1989, a 13-year-old girl accusing him of rape in 1994, or his own comments that as a celebrity, he could do “whatever he wants” including “kissing them in the mouth” or “grab ’em by the pussy;” whether it was President Bill Clinton having over a dozen women accuse or sue him for sexual harassment, assault, and yes, his impeachment proceedings for lying about having sexual relations with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky; or even allegations that George H.W. Bush groped a 16-year-old girl when he was in his early 80s and groping others while president tends to show that for rich, powerful and connected white men, boorish behavior has never been considered “rape” because they believe it to be their privilege, as white men, to take whatever they want–even someone’s body or virtue.
Make no mistake, men of all races rape and rape with impunity. But until recently, the media have done more to pillory black accused rapists/molesters like Bill Cosby, R. Kelly or Michael Jackson for rape and sexual assault–coverage that detrimentally impacted said famous black men’s careers–while allowing famous white alleged rapists like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and yes, Bill Clinton, to not just get passes for their ribald behavior, but to become even greater celebrated icons that even enjoyed the support of, get this, some feminists who defended these men on political or entertainment preference bases. Just last year, many of the same women who are righteously indignant about Roy Moore were giddy about the chances of Bill Clinton returning to the White House as the first “First Gentleman.”
There is a movement happening, folks, whether you call it #MeToo or give it no name at all, one that, at long last, is challenging and changing the “Boys will be Boys” mindset that has allowed so many men to harass, stalk and rape women while making work environments hostile. Rape culture is a bipartisan and mutli-racial reality, but again, for far too long, the popular media depiction of rapists has been of people of color, the “Willie Horton’s” if you will, which detracts from the truth that from the earliest slave ships that arrived with African women bearing babies sired by white men who raped them, to laws that white men drafted that forbade women from voting, owning property or serving on juries, that this culture of rape and sexism inculcated by white men and, tragically, adopted by those non-white men who are trying to mimic “Massa,” is toxic and must end!
Lest we forget…