Do We Respond Differently To Sexual Assault When Black Men Are Accused? 

ESSENCE.COM Nov, 17, 2017

In the wake of women coming forward to accuse Hollywood juggernaut Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, more victims of sexual misconduct have felt empowered to come forward, fighting against a society steeped in volatile victim shaming with more protections for the accuser than the perpetrator.

Last week, signs accusing students of rape were put up throughout the campuses of Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University, bringing the current national conversation on sexual assault to the doorstep of these historically Black colleges and universities. The signs, which went up Wednesday, also accused the administrations of each school, which make up the Atlanta University Center Consortium, of covering up sexual assaults. 

On this week’s episode of ESSENCE Now, Tarana Burke, creator of the Me Too campaign, The Root editor Danielle Young and ESSENCE’s News and Culture Editor, Christina Coleman, discuss sexual assault in the Black community and how we respond to it.

Burke, who started her campaign to let survivors of sexual assault know they weren’t alone, wasn’t surprised to hear the news that Spelman students were actively calling out misconduct.

“Spelman has a long history of being very active and outspoken,” she said. But when it comes to how the Black community responds to sexual assault, it could look different from the Weinstein reaction.

“It’s drastically different. Sexual assault doesn’t know any race, class or gender, but the way we respond to it does. We can see that in the case of R Kelly. All his accusers are Black girls and he still has a prominent position in our community,” Burke said.

“There’s also the notion that because of racism and the various oppressions we operate under, Black women almost have to be complicit in their own abuse just to survive. We don’t report, we don’t come forward because look what happens when we do.”

Coleman said she also believes the way the Black community responds to sexual assault can endanger Black women.

“I think it’s a cultural thing. For Black people, we are taught at a really young age that we shouldn’t snitch, nobody wants to be a snitch,” Coleman said. “The other part is always protecting Black men. We saw that with Cosby,” she said, referencing the “bring a Black man down” rhetoric.

“But it is at the expense of Black women.”

Young, who recently came forward in an article about the sexual harassment she experienced, noted the difference with how we respond to sexual assault, particularly when a Black man is being accused.

“It’s a solidarity thing in blackness,” she said. “It’s up to us, Black women, to always lift up and to love and nurture and to hold up Black men.”

Check out the conversation above.

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[BLANK_AUDIO] Frustrated student at Atlanta's HBCU, Moorehouse and Spellman College are speaking out against sexual assault on campus with the hashtag we know what you did. Students have also posted signs on both campuses naming alleged rapists and accusing administrators at both schools of protecting the perpetrators. But when it comes to listening to and protecting black women who have been sexually assaulted, is it the school's fault, or is this just the latest incidence of symptomatic in the black community as a whole? So here to discuss it is the writer and producer of the Root and host of the Root Live, Danielle Young. And Essence.com senior news and culture editor Kristina Coleman And social activist and creator of the hashtag Me Too, Tarana Burke. Welcome, ladies. And Tarana, you started the hashtag Me Too movement over ten years ago. And in went viral amidst a recent Hollywood sexual harassment scandal. Now, do you think Spalman and Morehouse's movement Would have happened if there was this resurgence of sisterhood against sexual harassment? Well I mean Spielman has a long history of being very active, and the young women who go to Spielman are pretty active and outspoken, but I'm sure it's because of this current wave of people coming forward and talking about their experience with sexual violence, it's probably been a catalyst fo them to come forward now. Okay, so Tina, I know some of the Spelman women say they found it tougher to speak out because Morehouse men are their brothers. Now, you went to an HBCU yourself. How does the notion of family at an HBCU affect the protection black women may or may not receive? You know, I think it's a cultural thing, for the black community, but also the collegiate community. For black people, we're taught from a really young age that we shouldn't snitch. Nobody wants to be a snitch. So You can't tell on anybody. And the other part is us always protecting black men. You saw that with Cosby. People didn't want to believe the victims because they said he was about to buy NBC. You can't bring a black man down. And I think when you attend an HPCU And you live, and breathe, and you operate in this culture of blackness. Right. But what you want to protect your own naturally. Mm-hm. And also we've been kind of taught that and conditioned to to that. Mm. But it's at the expense of black women. Black women, so unfortunate, and Danielle, you've bravely opened up about your sexual harassment experiences with famous men. Saying we're taught as women to make excuses for black men, explain what you meant by that. It's similar to what these ladies were saying. You know, it's a solidarity thing in blackness and it expands sexes. It's up to us, the black woman, to always lift up and to love and nurture. You know what Michelle Obama said, and to hold up men, especially for us with black men, so That's where I come from with that. Being taught and having that learned, I don't know. That kind of. >Just. Behavior. Yeah. Yeah. Let's talk about the differences between how black accusers and white accusers are treated. How does that work. It's drastically different. So, I've said it a hundred times, sexual assault doesn't know any race, class, or gender but the way we respond to it does. So, we can see that in the case of R. Kelly and how his accusers are black girls and he still has a prominent position in our community. And so, there's also the notion that because of racism and various oppressions we operate under Black women have to almost be complicit in their own abuse in order to survive. And so we don't report. We don't come forward because look what happens. When we do, nobody, people tend to not believe you. Even teaching our boys and our women or girls that There are so many forms that this can take, and at the very basic level, if someone's talking to you in a way that you don't like, that is not okay. Consent, you know you have to understand what consent is, and then maybe we won't have to in the future Deal with the issues or rape and actual violent sexual assault. How do you speak up in the moment without first appearing as an angry black woman, or you're just taking the vibe out of the room, or whatever it is? How do you speak up in that moment? When you're In moment, [CROSSTALK] Yeah, and it's very hard to do. You go back to Danielle's title, and she talked about, I'm smiling, but really, I'm cringing on the inside. And that just goes to show to show how hard it is for women, that we usually resort to this awkward Kind of, we laugh- We laugh it off. We giggle, we wanna laugh it off, because someone [CROSSTALK] To diminish ourselves. Yeah, yeah, because someone is gonna tell us it's not a big deal, and just to forget about it. And so I wish I had the answers on how to be stronger, to come forward. But I think that what Tayrona said, this is really the tip of the iceberg. And once you see that people The communities and society is willing to support this women, they may will be easy. Yeah, but [INAUDIBLE] I wanna get your thought on this. How do we get men get involved in this? Because I think as women we get it, but how do we get men to also understand the different variations of such a harassment and also what not to do? Well, I agree about consent. I agree that we need to comprehensive sex education in Schools. But beyond that, I mean y'all clearly saw that thing with Charlamagne the other day when, Charlamagne tha god came out and started talking about that men are raised in a rape culture. That is to me very clear an indication that there's a change happening through hearts and minds. Now before we hed out let's check in with you all who have been watching us on social media. Kala is standing by Some of your comments. Hey Kayla, what are folks saying? So we're still asking, in cases of sexual assault and rape, do you think the black community is over protective of black men at the expense of black women? @AlexVogue says, we know what you did, the hash tag this is a lot, take time for yourself to sit, please cry, go to counseling, stand your ground. These people are definitely not the only predators. Please denounce sexual violence friend or not. And it looks like [UNKNOWN] voting no. He's watching us on Facebook and he wrote about blackmail will be guilty and proven innocent in this case in any case. So he's not here for it. And shout out to Nancy Clairmont. She says this is such a valuable and necessary discussion. Must not stop talking this through. Absolutely. That is absolutely right, we have to keep talking about it. Now as Kayla mentioned we've been discussing the recent allegations of rape and sexual assault at Spellman and more house colleges. And we've been asking you in todays viewer pole Cases of sexual assault, is the black community overprotective of black men at the expense of black women? Was it A for yes, or B for no? Here's how you voted. Let's see how you voted today. The result is 97% 97% say yes and 3% say no. Wow. Okay. So, first of all, two things; the no I'm hearing is mostly from men. Which is really sad because, men, we have to do better. But I think we can all agree. There is some issues with sexual assault. We do live in a rape culture, I think we can all agree there, and that something needs to get done. So, we will keep continuing to talk about it.