He’s a Rapist Even when He Ain’t: Black Feminism and the Perpetuation of Black Male Rapist IdeologyBy
Like many another person who had read of lynching in the South, I had accepted the idea meant to be conveyed—that although lynching was irregular and contrary to law and order, unreasoning anger over the terrible crime of rape led to the lynching; that perhaps the brute deserved death anyhow and the mob was justified in taking his life.
Crusade for Justice—Ida B. Wells
You know, I can see how Kobe Bryant could have done it…how he acts, his personality…I mean, he looks like a rapist.
Conversation with popular Black feminist blogger
The ongoing debate between Ebony.com and the popular feminist blog “What About Our Daughters” over the now removed article entitled “From Notorious to Glorious: Why Genarlow Wilson Is No Child Molester and Never Was,” by Chandra Thomas Whitfield, demonstrates more than a war of ideas—it has come to articulate a central idea between what is popularly considered feminist— and by effect for Black women— and how everything else that is not feminist is by necessity against Black women. Unfortunately, the central idea under contention is not one of degree, measured by the extent to which an action or concept benefits Black women, but categorical, as to whether or not a Black women’s magazine MUST on that basis understand a Black man charged with rape as being culpable, a priori, of rape.
Unfortunately, the discussions by Ebony.com concerning the celebration of Mr. Genarlow Wilson’s matriculation from Morehouse University have been depicted as the magazine and organization “siding with a rapist,” despite the fact that Mr. Wilson was never convicted of rape. Rather than a call for any substantive justice, these conversations demonstrate how deeply rooted the myth of the Black rapist is within the discursive moralism of these recent Black feminist pronouncements, and ask a public, without evidence or factual context, to treat Mr. Wilson as a rapist and sexual predator regardless of policy and legal opinion to the contrary. As the aforementioned quote by Wells cautions, Black men and anti-racist thinkers alike cannot take on faith than any ideology, including Black feminism, has totally separated itself from the historical and sexual vulnerability of the Black male to the rapist myth.
The Genarlow Wilson Case: The Facts and Context of Wilson’s Conviction for Aggravated Sexual Molestation.
It was a New Year’s Eve party at a Day’s Inn in 2003 where Mr. Genarlow and five of his high school friends had sex with a 17 year old classmate and oral sex with a fifteen year old Tiffany Cannon. When 17 year old (Morgan) awoke to find herself naked, she called her mother to pick her up from the hotel, and claimed that she thinks “they raped her.” Morgan’s mother called the police; they raided the hotel room, found a video tape of the sex act, and charged the boys with “rape, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated child molestation.” Mr. Genarlow, the only accused of the Douglasville Six to not take a plea deal, was acquitted of the rape charge of the 17 year old Morgan, but convicted for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year old Cannon. Because oral sex was considered “sodomy” under Georgia law, Mr. Genarlow was not protected under Georgia’s “Romeo and Juliet” law (close-in-age exemption) established by Dixon v. State (2004), which according to O.C.G.A. 16.6.3. would have made his “[felony] aggravated child molestation conviction which carries a mandatory 10 year sentence and registry as a sex offender into a [misdemeanor] statutory rape conviction punishable by up to a year in prison.” In fact, the very next year, (April 28, 2006), the Georgia legislature changed the law that imprisoned Wilson for 10 years eliminating the distinction between sodomy and sexual intercourse.
The details of this case, which seemed to be clear cut in the mind of the jurors and legal analysts for the last decade, especially since there was a video tape of the sex acts between the six boys and two girls that night, have recently come under attack by some Black feminists who seem to believe that Mr. Wilson has in fact gotten away with rape. Despite being convicted for consensual oral sex with a 15 year old when he was 17, and sentenced for 10 years by a law that was later deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” by the Georgia Supreme Court, Mr. Wilson is now said to be a “gang-rapist,” who continues to lie and erase the suffering of the female victims in the incident..
To substantiate her claim that Mr. Wilson is a rapist, Ms. McCauley offers a quote from an “attorney who saw the videotape during the trial,” and believes that the tape showed “a gang rape of a semi-conscious, 17-year-old girl, followed by a bizarre display of sexual precociousness by a 15-year-old girl.” What Ms. McCauley fails to disclose to the reader is that this is not the testimony of just any attorney interested in the case, but the unsolicited opinion of William J. Atkins, the longtime friend and employee of Georgia District Attorney David McDade, who published a defense of McDade’s (non-racist) character and integrity.. The irony of this defense, and the narrative advocated by McDade, who has been tried for sexual harassment (Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 16, 1999), is that McDade himself was threatened with criminal charges for the distribution of child pornography, since he believed it was legal to make copies of and distribute the “sex tape” of minors to the public, news outlets, and members of the Georgia legislature. McDade later defended his actions as necessary due to Georgia’s “open records” laws (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/16/2007), but the federal prosecutors office of Georgia declared possession and distribution of the tape a violation of child pornography laws (Carlos Campos, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/13/2007).
Despite the concerns of community leaders, federal prosecutors, and even juvenile and family experts like Karen Baynes who warned that the release of that tape victimizes all the juveniles involved and “re-victimizes the girls involved,” there has been no serious journalistic or academic conversation as to how the criminalization of teen sex and the puritanical adjudication of this common and normal activity victimizes Black children ignorant of the law and its use.
What I find most troubling and dangerous about the position that the author of “What About Our Daughters” takes is the hypocrisy of how a public audience is supposed to evaluate the character and culpability of Mr. Wilson. On the one hand, Ms. McCauley urges the readers, and Ebony to label Mr. Wilson based on his conviction as a “child molester.” As Ms. McCauley says about Ebony.com’s article “From Notorious to Glorious: Genarlow Wilson is No Child Molester and Never Was,” “Yes, this article title is a lie—he is in fact a convicted child molester.” Ms. McCauley is correct; he was convicted by a jury of aggravated child molestation, but also acquitted by that very same jury of rape. So why does Ms. McCauley insist on believing Mr. Wilson is a rapist despite the findings of the jury and courts she tells us as readers we should trust?
The tape was shown on CNN on February 17, 2007, and seems to suggest quite strongly that rape was not a justifiable conviction. When Georgia Senator Eric Johnson tells viewers that we are witnessing a rape of an unconscious 17 year old, and the molestation of a 15 year old drugged and intoxicated by the 6 boys, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez steps in correcting his interpretation of the events pointing out that the 17 year old was not unconscious and was not physically forced to have sex with the young men, the 15 year old did not drink at all that night, and points out that Johnson maintains an interpretation of events the jurors said was not present on the tape. Journalist Maureen Downey (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10/10/2006) reported that one of the boys was concerned for the health of the 17 year old and asked if “she needs to go to the hospital.” Even the 15 year old’s mother, Veda Cannon, came to the defense of Genarlow Wilson and stated that her daughter told her that the sex between her and Wilson as well as the other four boys was consensual (Jeremy Redmon, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/14/2007), though McDade was adamant in censoring and even threatening Veda Cannon when this hit the airways (Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/9/2007).
The O.J. Defense?: Just Because It’s Black and Feminist Doesn’t Make it Right!
The conversations surrounding Mr. Wilson’s path to matriculation from Morehouse by popular Black feminist blogs perpetuate a dangerous complacency towards institutional racism, white supremacy, sexual predator myths, and ideology that Black intellectuals cannot afford. The trope of “centering Black men,” judging situations by the “genitalia involved and not the circumstance” strives to deem the moralization of Black men as rapists as the categorical imperative of gender advocacy. I find it morally deplorable that readers are being told to support a sodomy law that not only is deployed against Black men disproportionately, but homosexual teens as well. Remember even the author of the Child Protection Act of 1995, Sen. Matt Towery was clear that his bill was never meant to police teen sex, or convict Genarlow Wilson as a felon child molester.
Should we ignore the historical milieu of these charges, and ignore the tribulations of Marcus Dixon, the reality that oral sex between married (hetero) couples was illegal until 1998, the fact that until 1996 sex with a 14 year old was legal, or that Kari McCarley, a 27 year old white woman who had sex with a 16 year old male student got 3 months in jail and probation in Georgia? Identity politics should not trump facts; if anything they should make us better aware of the complexities and dynamics of white supremacy. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the aim of this recent attack against Mr. Wilson. We want to avoid the logic of a recent feminist reply to the disclosure of these facts I recently received on Facebook: “People are acquitted of crimes they commit all the time! Need I say OJ? Come on Tommy, we all know he did it!”
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