Yes, The Hood Needs A Conversation About Rape Culture
The first step is to stop blaming victims.
I have conversations with a friend of mine about gender inequality almost every day. But seeing as how she’s typically 100 percent correct, I don’t argue back valid points as much as spew back juvenile thoughts that end up displaying just how conditioned I’ve allowed myself to become.
To quote Shawn Carter: “I could blame my environment but, ain’t no reason why I be…” A mixed cocktail of male supremacy, rape culture, hypermasculinity, ghetto culture, victim blaming, victim shaming and a host of other problematic views helped shape me. In this regard, I am not alone. I’d imagine most black males who grew up in places like I did, on the west side of Gary, Indiana, have been conditioned in the same way.
Luckily and stubbornly I’ve learned better. This piece is an attempt to start doing better.
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Naturally, the tragic story of Kenneka Jenkins has been heavy in our conversations this week. For the record, as I write this, no details have been confirmed by authorities other than her death.
We can only hope the truth is revealed promptly, but the response by many to what is perceived to have taken place is beyond disheartening. Whatever doubts I had about the existence of rape culture and male absolvement were put to bed the second I logged into Facebook on Monday afternoon.
The first post I read brought up a code subscribed to by many, a drunk code if you will: never leave your drunk or inebriated friends for any reason. “If we came together we leaving together,” one post said. I had no clue what the post was referencing until clicking the ‘Justice for Kenneka hashtag.
Searching the hashtag on Twitter and Facebook revealed a seemingly never-ending barrage of tweets and statuses, at least 80% of which directed at either at Kenneka’s friends (who were allegedly partying with Kenneka only to end up leaving the hotel with Kenneka’s car and cell phone but no Kenneka) or at Kenneka herself for selecting them as friends.
Admittedly, these suggestions didn’t bother me at first. In fact, I agreed with them. After all, how could choosing friends wisely be bad advice? It’s what I’d tell my daughter if I had one. But after a bit more scrolling I finally came across confirmation that Kenneka was dead, found in a freezer and assumed to be raped and murdered beforehand.
Once the element of rape and murder entered the conversation (whether true or not), I felt troubled by the overflow of victim blaming. Even still I had to fight my own urges to do the same. Those urges to believe that better decision making from the victim could have somehow prevented the outcome. In this particular situation though, criticism of the friends is somewhat plausible as they are assumed to, at the worst, have had a hand in the cover-up, and at the very least, according to Kenneka’s mom, have not been fully truthful or forthcoming with details regarding Kenneka’s disappearance.
Still, I was quite surprised to see such little public angst towards the males whom they believed to be rapist(s) or murderer(s) in the situation.
The question posed to me then moved from what I would tell my daughter to what would I tell my son. I have this problem with thinking everyone automatically knows right from wrong particularly when it comes to sexual consent. I, mistakenly, assume all guys seek enthusiastic consent as avidly as I do.
More importantly though, by shaping my view of rape culture around the fact I myself don’t rape or assault, is there any difference between me and the white moderates I so often criticize for not denouncing the racist activities of their fellow Caucasians?
When black women call black men terrorists of the black community, my first reaction is defensiveness and to autopilot into my feelings ultimately arguing up a storm. But the simple fact is we are. Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas lit the internet on fire with a piece that challenged black men to be better by comparing their actions against black women and their inability to recognize the trauma caused by them. The level of denial with which the article was met certainly proved what he had a point.
But rape culture is a global issue that transcends race, culture and nationality.
In the wake of the allegations against prominent white males like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and others, the veil is being lifted into the world of a culture that fails to properly discourage or even identify toxic behavior.
The largest problem with rape culture is that as a whole, we’re convinced it doesn’t exist. In fact, we vehemently argue against it. Problems must be identified before they can be solved. Many steps must be taken.
A list of great ways to address can be found over at The Nation. Here’s number one to start with.
1. Name the real problems: Violent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation. Learn 50 key facts about domestic violence. Here’s one: the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases 270% once a gun is present in the home Remember, a violent act is not a tragic event done by an individual or a group of crazies. Violence functions in society as” a means of asserting and securing power.”