Whose outrage gets the attention?

News Analysis

Why all the fuss now when Black women have been crying ‘Me too!’ since Jamestown?

Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

Starting with claims againt (and subsequent conviction of ) Bill Cosby, fast worsening to now comprise a considerable rouge’s gallery, including movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Minnesota notables Sen. Al Franken and Prairie Home Companion creator-star Garrison Keillor, the #MeToo Movement is yet one more social problem that wasn’t widely deemed important until it impacted White women publicly. It should surprise no one when the opinion is expressed that Black Women have dealt with sexual harassment in America since they stepped off the first slave ship at Jamestown onto plantations where they were routinely raped.

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“It has always seemed White women tend to use Black women as the door to achieve their own personal revelations.”

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Anita Hill can be considered a textbook example. In 1991, she knew what she’d be up against and refused to accuse Clarence Thomas of lording his position over her, first as a member of his staff at United States Department of Education, then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas vented his libido toward Hill with unwelcome advances, asking her out, making lewd comments about his being prodigiously equipped for sex and other offensive remarks.

Succumbing to pressure from politicians who were trying to scuttle Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, she relented and stepped forward only to see her reputation trashed. Thomas was acquitted and became Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January, Gina Beavers, writing for ValleyAdvocate.com, asserted, “As a Black woman, I cannot bring myself to seek refuge in the monumental arms of the #Me Too Movement. On the contrary, I often find myself feeling contempt and cynicism.

“But it’s not because I don’t empathize with the women who have come forward with their experiences of sexual victimization. Rather, in part, it is because the ubiquitous social media campaign was hijacked from Black activist Tarana Burke who created the original #MeToo [movement] 10 years ago for women of color.”

Beavers also noted, “[It] has always seemed…White women tend to use Black women as the door to achieve their own personal revelations about female empowerment.”

In the Twin Cities, Sarah Catherine Walker, a lobbyist for criminal justice groups, had to back State Representative Tony Cornish off of licentious entreaties pursuant to which he wound up resigning, apologizing, and footing her legal bill. There is, of course, no telling how many other women of color lack Walker’s wherewithal, particularly the ability to finance a lawsuit they might not win, and instead simply sit still and tolerate it to keep a job.

Minneapolis-based campaign writer Irna Landrum observed, “I have used my social media voice to talk about harassment and sexual violence,” she said. “It’s important for people to name the harm that has come to them and demand accountability. Especially Black women, because [we] do suffer sexualized violence at a much higher rate than White women. It’s important for us to be able to add our stories.”

Irna Landrum Dwight Hobbes/MSR News

She added that before Lupita Nyong’o of Black Panther fame, “The public face was these powerful Hollywood White women, and they’re the victims everybody could get behind.”

Walker reflected quite personally on Black women who do not fit that profile: “I immediately [think] of my mother and her older sister, the way that I’ve heard about them having to navigate unwanted advances in workplaces. They spent their entire careers avoiding sexual attention and compliments that you really can’t call compliments from men. They didn’t have the benefit of being supported to be vocal, to verbalize the discomfort they were feeling.”

Her mom and aunt were hardly by themselves. “I saw of a lot of [this] because they were Black women in a different kind of economic insecurity. They had families to care for. A lot of times, when they weren’t silent, they had to get creative and just make jokes about it. Or think of how they physically positioned themselves in spaces to not be accessible to men who wanted to flirt with them.”

Walker noted that the stereotyping of African American women as sex objects hasn’t helped their situation one bit. “Ever since slavery [women] were molested, but were also cast as over-sexual, like we asked for it. People didn’t think Black women were able to be raped. It is definitely telling how much more sympathy, how much media and how much action [follows] when White women start telling the same story.”

Landrum doesn’t downplay the sexual harassment of White women. “Everyone deserves to be upset about it. What I’m paying attention to is whose outrage gets paid attention to. Who do people care about?” She reflected, “I’ve been lucky in my career to primarily work with women.”

In an economic day and age when it’s easy to be just one paycheck away from falling further behind on the bills and possibly losing a roof overhead, sexual predators in the position of supervisor or employer often have a clear upper hand with which to victimize employees, particularly those of color.

As Black Women’s Blueprint founder-executive director Farah Tanis told NBC NEWS.com, “We will continue to encourage Black women to say ‘me too’ and create the safe spaces for them to be able to do so. [Black women need to be] safe economically, safe physically, safe spiritually.”

About Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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