Black, woman, victim: Who shall I be today?

IsRapeWarFrontI was going to write a different post today, but then President Obama essentially called Bill Cosby a rapist. I’ll write that other post later.

I’m Black (just in case that wasn’t clear). I’m a woman. And I’m a rape victim. It might seem I would applaud automatically any man who spoke out against a rapist, right? But check that hierarchy:



Rape victim.

In terms of where my sensitivities rest, I’m Black first. Call it my personal Scoville subjugation scale.

As a Black person, I know all too well how the myth of the Black rapist has led to the death of thousands of Black men. How it is so endemic to the White collective consciousness that, even though lynching is now frowned upon, White cops and civilian kooks routinely kill Black men just for breathing. White women clutch their purses and cry rape because the myth of a Black rapist makes a great cover. And  it’s not like it doesn’t still happen, as a recent case in Brooklyn shows. So, when Black men are accused of rape — especially by White women — I’m skeptical. Sometimes it’s complicated.

This ain’t one of those times.

The fact that President Obama spoke out against Cosby makes me love him even more. Cosby was an icon in Black culture. President Obama is an iconoclast. Cosby is a man in a world dominated by men. President Obama defected. Goddess bless him.

I believed Cosby was a rapist. I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly why I believed that. In all fairness, I’d heard the rumors for years. I knew the woman he settled out of court with all those years ago was Black. Common sense told me the likelihood of a Crush-the-Cosby conspiracy was slim from a bunch of women with lots to lose and little to gain, even if they are White and he is Black. And when Beverly Johnson, a Black woman, came out — reluctantly and with complete understanding of what her statements would mean for a Black man — well, I was as sure as one could be without having taken the red pill myself.

I think this where my other definitions came into play. As a woman, I want to believe women when they cry rape. But as a Black woman who loves and protects Black men, when a White woman cries rape about a Black man, my brain immediately starts calculating probabilities. Automatically. The factors, the people, the situation — these factors are thrown into a belief formula developed over centuries of historical racism, perfected and adapted to decades of modern racism. The answer always falls at some point on a 1 – 10 scale of probability — Carolyn Bryant, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price? One. Barbara Bowman? Eight. And when the next two or three accusations started rolling in – 10. I wish I could have believed the first victim. But that’s another really ugly symptom of racism — I don’t have the privilege to be a woman first.

But I really think it was my third definition — victim — that sealed my opinion. As a want-to-be expert on racism and a sorry-to-be expert on rape, here’s what I know: Racism isn’t about prejudice and rape isn’t about sex. They’re both about POWER.

When comedian Hannibal Burris lit the fuse on the Cosby conflagration, he characterized Cosby as having the “smuggest old black man persona” and a sense that he could talk down to Black people because he “had a successful sitcom” in the ’80s. I had said the same, in slightly different words, for years.

To me, Cosby was always about power. About having power and making a choice about how he used it. For a while there, when he was proclaiming how f’d up young Black men are from every soapbox he could, Cosby was the darling of the right-wing, a poster child for bigots. Cosby didn’t give a damn about fueling modern racist beliefs with simplistic, blame-the-people-ignore-the-history explanations. And yet, how many of us were and still are defending him? Even if you don’t believe he’s guilty, please do what he didn’t: Keep it to yourself. Don’t dismiss women’s voices the way he dismissed Black folks’ voices.

Because of his power, Cosby voted himself Black folks’ moral judge and jury a long time ago. So, when women started saying he was a rapist, for me, it wasn’t such a huge leap of faith to believe it. Now, I’m sure that some folks will read that and accuse me of saying all powerful men are rapists. I’m not.

Hear me on this: Power doesn’t make all men rapists. But all men who rape want — and exert — power. We know the saying – power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. White slaveowners had it. Bill Cosby and Clarence Thomas had it. They all used their power for evil. Barack Obama has more power than any of them. He used his power for good.

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