Believing Survivors When the Rapist is Black: On Bill Cosby
We have to put survivors first. That is what we as an organization and Black feminist activists have been calling for since the founding of Black Women's Blueprint: believe survivors. Believe Black women. We have called for community to do this in voice and in actions with the cases of Cosby, R. Kelly, with Harvey Weinstein and the more than hundred men accused of either rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment in Hollywood. However with Cosby, R. Kelly and other Black men accused of sexual violence, the community has been reticent and the backlash against Black anti-violence advocates has been devastating. "Racism" is why Cosby is under scrutiny, is what our critics say. However there is no recognition that rape and sexual abuse are rampant in all communities, including Black communities. There is a lack of attention to survivors. In addition to race, gender and sexuality are also facets of our identities. "Survivorship" and "victimhood" are facets of identities for those who choose to claim them, in a country with a history of not acknowledging that Black girls and women are rapeable.
It is with little doubt that a myriad of racialized issues constituting anti-blackness, the hyper-sexualization of Black men, and the contrasting conceptions of white purity have influenced, and will continue to influence the Cosby case. The unquestioning acceptance of the allegations by the media, the way in which the story has been framed, the haste and fashion in which numerous sources have capitalized on these allegations, is reminiscent of America’s unsettling history of protecting white women from Black men. It is equally difficult to ignore the breadth of evidence revealing white male celebrities and politicians who have committed similar sexual crimes and continue to escape public admonition. However, accusing an individual who has reported a rape of deception, regardless of their race, ultimately boils down to one thing: victim-blaming - sustaining the societal tide of silencing victims of sexual assault as career destroyers, gold diggers, attention-seekers, or story fabricators.
We must remove the blinders from the eyes of our community members and redirect our empathy toward survivors, while addressing what could be irreparable trauma Cosby has caused his victims, which include Black women. Double standards are a weak justification for turning a blind eye to sexual assault that is committed within in our communities.
Wielding his cultural influence and economic power, Cosby has consciously intimidated his victims into silence for decades. All talk of racism aside, the raging river which exists between community and survivors cannot be bridged without some level of accountability. Those who consistently do harm against others through sexual assault require emotional and mental guidance, counseling, and intensive intervention and education on practicing consent. It is critical to bear in mind that rape not only harms the humanity of the survivor of the assault, but it further undermines the humanity of the perpetrator. These individuals do not benefit from blind sympathy and virulent efforts by friends, family members, or colleagues who wish to protect the tarnished images of their beloved heroes or loved ones even when they practice sexual violence. Refusing to hold those accountable of violating someone else’s bodily autonomy not only does a vast disservice to the victim, but additionally perpetuates an insidious system of rape culture that impacts entire communities.
Through their PR tactics and their rhetoric since the first survivor came forward, it is evident that the Cosby PR team made every attempt to salvage Cosby's image as "America's Dad," whose legacy is now tarnished. However, this legacy has not been tarnished by racism. Though it presents an enticing rationale for those in Black communities still mourning the abrupt loss of the once-beloved comedian's legacy and wishing to confirm his innocence, we must ask you to wake up. These efforts to frame the defamed comedian as the trusted paternal figure he once signified are endeavors steeped in patriarchal ideology, aimed at removing meaning from the word:“rapist.” Digesting news that a loved one has committed rape is painful. Any statements accusing Black women of perpetuating and aiding racism and racist America is false and disdainful to survivors, dismissive of their humanity and their basic right to truth, justice and healing. The time is now. We call on community to stop making moral exceptions for abusive Black men.
Black Women's Blueprint will continue to post updates and fight for the continued awakening needed among our communities to the realities of sexual assault.
Join us for The March for Survivors and The March for Black Women, Saturday, Sept 29, 2018, DC National Mall. https://www.blackwomensblueprint.org/