I don’t believe the furor over the 1999 Penn State Rape issue is truly about Nate Parker…nor the woman who he was accused of raping (named “Julia” in this essay)…nor is it truly about rape at all. The so-called empathy I hear for this young White woman is utilized perfectly to pressure a certain discussion and shame non-feminists, but no, it doesn’t ring true. In fact, in the discussion below on channel TV One’s show NewsOne with Roland Martin, it seems that the pundits wasted no time arguing how the issue affects them (and quickly stopped talking about the case, “Julia,” Jean, and Nate).
Whether Parker is innocent or guilty is not the real point of contention in this debate. He is just the latest log in feminism’s fire… In fact, regardless of the issue, Black feminists are happy to expose Black male villainy when convenient, and will ignore Black male sacrifice and chivalry at whim. As a good colleague point out to me,
“When Black men are disproportionately convicted, the system works, despite that Black men are over 50% of those exonerated for rape, or falsely accused by a Black woman for money (like Brian Banks), but when Black men are found innocent by the same system, Black men got away with rape and benefit from patriarchy.”
Were Parker’s guilt truly an issue, it would’ve been an issue after his turn in Pride (2007), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Red Tails (2012), or Non-Stop (2014). But no, none of those presented an opportune enough moment for Black women’s political advancement. The current moment, however, does… (The image above becomes somewhat prophetic as Parker is currently being socially lynched in the popular imagination. Damn…)
So no, this isn’t about justice. If it were, it would be reasonable to question the Black Feminist assumption that Black men get away with rape when our legal history illustrates quite the opposite. In fact, Black men are hyper-vulnerable to incarceration and death for rape. Incarceration has become about cheap labor, so even if we assume the mantra that “no one cares about Black women,” incarcerating Black men for their rape provides both the State and private industry the benefit of nigh-free labor and thus is not opposed (especially at the rates Black men have been increasingly locked up since the 1970s). So I may agree that American culture cares little for Black female humanity when compared to White female humanity, but this is not something Black men benefit from. For a Black male (Parker) to be proven innocent is NOT the norm for such cases and should be distinguished from the legacy of privileged, elite White men who were historically exonerated for such sexual crimes. Overwhelmingly speaking, this has not been the Black male legacy.
That said, the assault on Nate Parker is not about justice or about a new national conversation about rape or consent. It’s about advancing a Black Feminist agenda to center Black women and garner empathy. More to the point, the fervor is about expanding Black women’s influence on policy development and the potential acquisition of new institutional resources. And no, it’s not an accident that such things are reaching a crescendo on the eve of the country’s first women president. This is, in essence, Black Feminist Nationalism.
Nationalism has several meanings of relevance here:
- excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
- the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/nationalism)
- the belief that a particular cultural or ethnic group constitutes a distinct people deserving of political self-determination.
- exaggerated, passionate, or fanatical devotion to a national (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nationalism)
The third and fourth definitions above are most appropriate (although they all apply) because Black Feminist Nationalists see Black women as wholly distinct from Black men. Their greater access to benefits and middle-class options has convinced them that Black men are lesser beings altogether. Meanwhile, the fourth definition’s “fanatical devotion” to the advancement of Black women is truly at the heart of this bruh-ha-ha. Hence, Black Feminist Nationalists hijack movements (from feminist to anti-police brutality movements) like the Tea Party hijacked the Republican Party. It is important to remember that they do not represent all Black women, despite that they assume license to do so…and their ultimate goal? Power. Power for Black women at the expense of Black males, mirroring the intra-racial dynamic between White women (the second wealthiest U.S. demographic) and White men (the wealthiest)–even if the realities between Black men and women are nothing like those in White society. Here, Dr. Tommy J. Curry explains such errors regarding Black males and toxic masculinity and Nate Parker,
Nevertheless, were the fervor truly about rape and victimization, it would not be an intrusion for us to talk about the 1.2 million men who have been raped by both men AND women. It would not be an intrusion to talk about the fact that the Centers for Disease Control found that “…women rape men as often as men rape women.” It would not be an intrusion to note that, “an estimated 1 in 17 women and 1 in 20 men (5.9% and 5.0%, respectively) experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to taking the survey” (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report, p. 3). Or to note that the CDC had to invent
“…a category of sexual violence called “being made to penetrate.’ This definition includes victims [male & female] who were forced to penetrate someone else with their own body parts [or a foreign item], either by physical force or coercion, or when the victim was drunk or high or otherwise unable to consent. When those cases were taken into account, the rates of non-consensual sexual contact basically equalized, with 1.270 million women and 1.267 million men claiming to be victims of sexual violence.” “…both 1.1 percent in 2010, and 1.7 and 1.6 respectively in 2011” (Young, 2014).
What one must consider, however, is that although female victims do not report rape enough, male victims assuredly do not, and such data is still not reflective of the state of affairs regarding male rape. The only difference is that prior to recent years, we never questioned whether or not there were specific tropes to female-committed rapes that might present differently than male-committed rapes. Still, recent data still presents new issues that further help complicate assumptions about men, such as
“The CDC also reports that men account for over a third of those experiencing another form of sexual violence—“sexual coercion.” That was defined as being pressured into sexual activity by psychological means: lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or “making repeated requests” for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down.
…as criminologists Richard Felson and Patrick Cundiff report in a fascinating recent analysis, a 15-year-old male is considerably more likely to be sexually assaulted than a woman over 40.
The CDC reports that 12.3 percent of female victims were 10 or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization; for male victims, that number is 27.8 percent.” (Young, 2014).
Men are raped in this country more than women, but because they are men they are only thought to be perpetrators of rape. How do I know they are raped more? When you add up “made to penetrate” cases, “rape” by the newer FBI definition of unwanted penetration rather than “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” (1930-2012 FBI definition of rape), “sexual coercion,” and prison sexual assault/rape statistics, men (statistically Black men especially) experience rape at much higher rates than women annually. And out of all of the data I’ve presented here, the rate of female rapists convicted of rape is virtually non-existent…so much so that many believe (as with the women in the Roland Martin clip above) that women are not rapists at all. Their entitled attitudes about who experiences rape should be offensive to anyone who knows the rape data beyond ideology. After all, if they were as passionate about their experiences of victimization and rape as they say, why would you exclude Black male victims (sons, brothers, fathers, and even toddlers)—whether at the hands of female or male aggressors?
And such Black feminists are not alone. Black male feminists have weighed in with the same fake outrage. One even argued that we should see Birth of A Nation and quickly go home to digest an inoculation of Black feminist works such as to watch Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ No! The Rape Documentary (I once questioned Simmons when she played the film at Scripps College years ago about the absence of men and boys in her documentary…to which she just stared at me). He also suggested that people reflect on observations by Essex Hemphill, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Tamura Lomax, and Esther Armah. He further argued that “We must gather in our living rooms and discuss what we will do to stop rape in our communities, with Elridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice in one hand, and Darlene Clark Hine’s “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West” (pdf) in the other.” Yet neither text highlights Black men’s experience with sexual victimization.
Hell, in an online debate with a male feminist colleague, I was told that to espouse non-feminist data “without proper context” (i.e. feminist approval) was tantamount to rampant irresponsibility, but feminists routinely ignore Black male rape and victimization, an act I find both offensive and rooted in self-interest. He argued that it should be taken as a given that men’s victimization of women was an inherent problem in men (but women’s rates of physical, emotional/psychological abuse were irrelevant). Somehow, him not knowing the data around rape was somehow acceptable–even for a professional psychologist. I explained that his position was misandrist, arrogant, and sexist, and sadly widespread and “intellectually legitimate” in most gender studies spaces. In other words, Black feminists don’t have to care about Black male rape rates because rape and sexual victimization only belong to women…and should only be used to advance their political agendas.
As the market on rape in the public imagination has been cornered by women, so too has the perspective we use to perceive it. In other words, even if rape cannot be proved, it must be perceived as a careless jaunt for a man to not admit guilt. One author suggested about Parker, “Yes, there was a phone conversation in which Nate tries to convince a girl she was coherent. Yes, she is grasping to shards, metaphorical bleeding hands on what she has left.” This may or may not be so, but though ignored, it is also equally part of our historically American experience that Black men were falsely accused of rape with no trial and had no recourse. The legacy of Black men accused of rape is one of being publicly ignored, despite that their wives may have seen them as suspect, daughters thought them threats, and communities defined them as monsters after their public lynching…and that’s if they didn’t go to prison or were beaten or killed at the mere accusation by a White woman (and these days, a woman period; I frequently tell people that a Black male professor’s career, for example, is in the hands of every 17-year old female student, as the mere accusation is tantamount to guilt, despite that, again, women rape men as often as men rape women). Essentially, Black male innocence is seen as a myth, while (White) female innocence as a concrete truth—yet neither should be without both scrutiny and the possibility of certainty.
In this recent wave of films (such as Taraji P. Henson’s upcoming Hidden Figures), TV shows (such as Empire), TV channels (such as Centric), and social media endeavors catering to Black female (and female in general) dollars, it would seem that Black men are finding themselves erased from any serious discussion in the mainstream regarding sex and their own victimization. Despite what seems to be, we all must remember that such media phenomena are capitalist-based, and capital is always the name of the game. Nate Parker’s issue is no different.
The case against Parker is well-documented, and even court transcripts and phone calls are available for public scrutiny. Despite this, posters labeling Parker as a rapist also help secure the idea that he is a rapist, urging people to even avoid reading the case transcripts (I mean really, how many people bothered to actually read the data around all of the Cosby accusers?). We live in a culture with the reading patience of 140 characters.
Nate Parker in the popular imagination?
Parker’s public conviction runs contrary to the fact that “Julia” herself clarifies that she wasn’t opposed to sex with Parker (the night in question and the next morning), while she apparently did not remember her active participation of giving Celestin fellatio and/or a handjob. But what this case ultimately hinges on is a debate about consent, what that looks like on a daily basis, alcohol consumption, and awareness. As Parker says to “Julia” on multiple occasions in the phone conversation she initiated (where she lied about being pregnant and included the police in a phone call attempt to get Parker/Celestin to apologize for raping her), how do you know who is truly aware and who is not? At a blood/alcohol rate of 0.05 (Devecka Closing Statement, p. 561), see chart below, how does one tell?
A hybridizing of effects as described at Alcohol’s Effects from Virginia Tech and Federal
Aviation Regulation (CFR) 91.17: Alcohol and Flying (hosted on FlightPhysical.com)
I am a rape survivor. I was raped by both a White male and Black female before the age of nine. I don’t take such matters lightly and I don’t believe that she WASN’T raped because I like Nate Parker. To be clear, I am indifferent to Parker, his career, or the potential of this film. I have no vested interest in either hurting or helping neither him nor “Julia.” But I must say I find social lynching–amidst emotional claims “for Black rape victims”– disingenuous and exploitative…and they ignore half the Black communities’ victims of rape.
To be clear, I think Parker and Celestin’s actions were unwise and dangerous, leaving too much room for misunderstanding. The question of whether Parker is guilty of rape was addressed by “Julia” herself, as her primary problem was Parker’s inclusion of his friend in their sex act but not sex with Parker himself. But what does consent look like over time in relationships? We publicly laud the idea of incident-by-incident consent but what would that actually look like? If the person in question does not resist, never says “no” or “stop,” seems to actively participate (Parker raises the issue of her “going to town” on Celastin in their phone call) and appears lucid, how then do we contemplate consent? If she (because most would ignore men in this dynamic) does not say yes at the onset of every sexual engagement, are we really talking about sexual violation? How many married couples should go to jail because they haven’t had incident-by-incident verbal consent?
Several times over the years, female associates have spent the night with me. On several occasions they have taken certain liberties with my body that I often hadn’t condoned, and by the time I’d awake she’d be quite far along into a sexual act that I was completely unaware of… Where does consent fall into that narrative? I did not protest then, but were I to decide that such a thing was a violation that I did not want, is it acceptable for me to do so now? Does gender make a difference despite the rape rates quoted above? Does it change anything that there are no female rapists in our popular imagination? Does it complicate my ability to report as a man because no one takes it seriously–again, despite the reported incidents and rates? Am I visible? Why isn’t my pain acknowledged in the court of public opinion? What would happen if I claimed rape and she disagreed, would the public believe her because she is a woman and disregard that she is in fact a rapist? When you think of it, what image do you conjure when you think of a female rapist? Is it Chantae Gilman, the woman who plead guilty to breaking into a man’s apartment and raping him in his sleep? Where were Black Feminist Nationalists on this case? Did they admonish her for her behavior…I mean, it is just about the injustice of folk being sexually victimized, right?
The woman below raped four kids at a daycare, yet there seems to be no widespread indignation about this? Why not? I contend that it’s because female sexual aggression and rape are downplayed to suit a lobby for women’s dollars. In other words, from news media to daily social media conversation, corporate entities courting potential female customers do not want to offend them, and thus will not center women as sexual deviants…only as heroes and sacrificial martyrs.
However, female innocence is not the only thing Parker faces. He also faces the specter of White female’s capacity to garner empathy (even during the court case, a waitress felt sorry for “Julia” because she had to wait alone at a restaurant for Parker to come; this is important because as part of the case narrative, her pity for “Julia” reflects Julia’s victimization even BEFORE the actual sexual incident, and paints Parker as both emotionally and physically abusive). White female empathy, then, runs contrary to Black male stereotypes of sexual aggression and monstrousness. In fact, two prevailing stereotypes at odds with this case were between “innocent White femininity” (albeit sexually-promiscuous) and “Black rapist masculinity.” The only difference between this incident and others was that Parker (and eventually Celestin) was found innocent. This is fairly unprecedented in relation to sex and accusations of rape by White women. In most cases these men would find themselves in prison for decades at the mere accusation. After all, Black men have been incarcerated for rape simply because White women dreamed he committed the act. While others from slavery to the 1960s would be lynched without even a trial. Labeling Black men as rapists is an American past-time, so Parker’s exoneration is not the norm but the exception, and should be taken seriously (he apparently had an all White jury except for one Black woman). Comedian D.L. Hughley summarizes this point well:
Feminists recognize that responding to the specter of a deceased White women who committed suicide at age 30 by overdosing on 200 sleeping pills is virtually impossible to do “correctly,” and will leave Parker vulnerable to be used as fodder for advancement of women’s issues (strangely enough in this case, Black women’s), but it won’t advance our understanding of rape and consent. At best, it will only be remembered that men rape women, and Black feminists can claim that Black men rape more than any other despite research to the contrary. “Julia’s” lack of recollection of the evening’s events have been successfully recast as her being “unconscious,” her participation solely defined as a violation of her personal freedom, and her suicide as a direct result of the 1999 incident. Yet at no point does she garner the respect of having her life be considered difficult before and after the incident. We just assume it such, and in the popular imagination she might as well have committed suicide after the trial’s end. But at least two things are important to remember: first, we don’t actually know why she committed suicide exactly, and to assume it had to do with something 12 years earlier is disrespectful to her, dangerously assumptive, either lazy or politically-driven. Apparently, after the incident, “Julia”
“…was unable to cope with her life post-rape and exam. She became paranoid, depressed, used mind altering drugs to self-medicate like many mentally ill persons, and was suicidal. She eventually committed suicide in 2012, while residing in a hospital for the mentally ill.”
I cannot help but wonder if we considered her family background, her psychological state before college, her experiences afterwards, etc. This is not to say she wasn’t traumatized by her experience with Parker and Celestin, but to reduce her mental state and depression to just that event might be a bit presumptuous. After all, TheRoot.com released an article citing four of Parker’s contemporaries from Penn State (students, alumni, staff) who attended the trail and heard all of the evidence. They suggest that the court that eventually exonerated Parker and Celestin were not lenient, but in fact were actively trying to incarcerate both men indefinitely. They argued that “Julia” suffered from medicated depression before the incident took place. They contend that “Misinformation suggests that a spiral into depression was triggered by the alleged incident in 1999. However, court records and testimony by medical professionals revealed a history of chronic depression that dated back to childhood and the use of antidepressant medication that preceded this event.”
They also argued that Penn State had been rife with racial tension for decades, and this issue was part of that dynamic. They further argue that, “Witnesses were threatened by the investigators who were trying to build a case against Mr. Parker and Mr. Celestin. As a result of those threats, some witnesses (including one of the undersigned) had to seek legal protection from the very investigators charged with finding the facts.” In one case they say, “A key prosecution eyewitness changed his statement several times after being threatened and coerced by police investigators.” They further propose that accusations that Parker and Celestin harassed “Julia” were untrue, as they were never named in her civil suit against Penn State, and also because both men had bail orders to avoid “Julia” at the cost of incarceration.
Second, we must separate the 1999 Penn State incident from people’s desire for Nate to be the latest Black rapist. In other words, your investment in this case does not make it what you want it to be…this is about people’s lives…both female AND male.
To summate, here are a few guidelines in response to Black Feminist Nationalists:
- No, you’re not “toxic male” or a rapist for going to a HBCU.
- No, a threesome is not rape, and you can’t have it both ways. You can’t suggest that some sex acts are problematic because it’s unfavorable to admit that women participants enjoy it and then claim such acts are a product of sexual agency and liberation. Women who enjoy threesomes should not be re-imagined as rape victims because they offend your sensibilities…
- No, Black men are not rapists by birth.
- No, you’re not a rape supporter/apologist because you decided to read the transcripts rather than follow public opinion.
- No, Parker shouldn’t be considered a rapist because you were raped.
- [To Black men] Yes, your life matters, regardless of how Black feminists use you to suit their agendas.
If we avoided all Hollywood films where their creators had drunken, risque threesome sex almost 20 years ago, there’d be no film industry. I hope for the best for “Julia’s” family and feel sorrow for her life ending the way it did, but it’s irresponsible to directly link that to Parker because it suits your political agenda.
Yes, I’ll see the film.