Saturday, May 06, 2006

Black Girl Blues


      Film director Cauleen Smith forwarded me the following piece by the writer Thulani Davis, whose fantastic 1996 novel Maker of Saints (inspired by the work, life and death of Latina artist Ana Mendieta) I read last year. I loved the book’s take on race, art, sexuality and gender – it’s weighty and politically charged but completely accessible. In this letter, Ms. Davis takes up the cause of the young black woman who has accused three members of the Duke University Lacrosse team of rape.

      A Call to the Sisters
      By Thulani Davis
            As anyone paying attention to the Duke University case knows, the young woman who has accused three members of the Duke University Lacrosse team of rape is now facing a barrage of attacks on her character that is unusual for its vitriol, echoing the sentiment overheard from one of the team members that “she’s just a stripper.” She also faces continued threats on her life, according to family members interviewed by Essence reporter Kristal Brent Zook. None of us know what happened at that party, yet if this African American college student continues to try to withstand this unequal battle without support, a brutish tactic to intimidate her into dropping her charges make succeed.
            A letter I received today wondered why there has been no national support demanding a chance for a fair trial and making it evident that the national black community is concerned. The letter asked simply: Where are African American women? My friend observed there has been “no NOW, no NCNW [National Council of Negro Women], no black sororities, no black women's service clubs, no black congresswomen or other pols, no black women's' professional organizations. (No national support of any kind has been forthcoming except for the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson).” On the local level, Houston Baker, professor of English and African and African American Studies at Duke and North Carolina NAACP President William Barber have been speaking out. Seeing Baker made me wonder whether the African American faculty as a whole has asked or received a meeting with the Duke’s president. This should be done.
            African Americans are concerned. The details are part of a familiar nightmare, and one which once again presents the fear that Americans will simply tolerate the possibility that harm done to black women means nothing. We are wondering how many young African American college students on campuses across the country are vulnerable to such acts of violence.
            We are also paying close attention because the prevalence of racism teaches us that stripping at a party given by an all white male group getting drunk seems an extremely risky choice. No question. But is that the reason for the silence of African American women? Are we too making a judgment that deems rape destiny for some? The language quoted thus far from that night alone, not to mention the disturbing e-mail sent by one of the players, informs us that race was inextricably intertwined with sexuality (and violence in one case) as some of these young men expressed themselves. Regardless of what may have occurred in the bathroom at that party, this is a smug, racialized milieu that must be challenged, for it presents far too many dangers to all young people. So we must stand against the tolerance of such violence and threats of violence and we must stand with this student as we would our daughters.
            We must demand that those who represent us and those who lead the many thousands of organizations to which we belong let it be known that she and her family are not alone. We would not want our daughters, who may yet be unaware of the historical vulnerability of black women, to find themselves alone facing the goons on the phone and the lawyers who would divest them of their human dignity because they chose to make charges that they were assaulted. That is already an everyday reality that can only be stopped by those of us who watch and listen. Rape is not our lot in life. Let a court make the call, not the pressure.
            If this young woman is to have a chance to finish her education, start her working life and become a member of any of our churches, professional associations and give her children those same opportunities she needs our sense of community now, not later. Today she should be a concern, a sister, to the AKAs, the Deltas, Gammas, Sigmas and Zetas, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council of Negro Women, Black Women’s Agenda, the Black Radical Congress, the NAACP, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Bar Association, the Hip Hop Action Summit, African American students’ organizations, African American educators, clergy and dozens of other groups and associations. Write or call the ones with whom you associate.

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