Past Lies, Present Implications

This site has not dealt with the situation at Duke University concerning the Black woman who was allegedly raped by members of the Duke Lacrosse team. Our silence is broken today, courtesy of the perspective of a valued reader and guest contributor, Sakara R.

Read, Learn, Respond.


Some of us may be too young to know the name Tawana Brawley- that is, until a 27-year-old black female student from North Carolina Central University
(http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/429338.html) stepped forward and alleged that she was brutally assaulted by at least 3 players of the elite lacrosse team at Duke University.

For those of you who may not know who Ms. Brawley is, she too, a young (15 at the time in the 1980’s) black woman from New York City, bravely stepped forward under the protective arms of Rev. Al Sharpton and relayed a horrific account of being abducted and brutally raped by 6 white police officers culminating in her being found bruised, bloodied, covered in human feces and dumped in the garbage.

For those of us who grew up never taking the Rev seriously (he’s never been a Dr. King, or even a Jesse Jackson for most of us) – but not necessarily knowing why –Tawana Brawley is the reason why; her claims of sexual assault were nothing more than a successful albeit disturbing method of grabbing everyone’s attention. The fallout of her hoax (Tawana Brawley has never wavered from her allegations) carried long-lasting ramifications certainly even she never conceived possible at the time: the Rev lost his credibility (and never apologized), and black women everywhere were infuriated, but not just because she lied.

We were infuriated because there is an unspoken reality to the lives of black women since before our first feet on the plantation- being raped and brutalized by white men of privilege who have gotten away without so much as a slap on the wrist. That white privilege is the very reason why women of color who have experienced such terror, never speak up. It’s one thing to be held against your will, to have your clothes ripped from your body while you scream in a way that is beyond animalistic, while you are spread apart, slapped in the face, punched into silence, and raped- forced to have sex, and in some cases, perform sexual acts on the aggressor…but it is something else entirely to not be believed- or to have the rapist’s reputation, namesake, or bank account casting you into shame and somehow distorting the facts – suddenly you’re a liar. Women have taken their own lives when faced with such blatant disregard –nothing is more sacred than the sanity within our own minds, and when we’re forced (again) away from that, when the truth is torn from us, there is nothing left.

That is the very reason why many of my sister friends, the majority of whom have experienced some sort of sexual abuse/assault in their lives (you all know someone who has, and if every woman you knew who has experienced sexual abuse/assault told you, you’d be jaw dropped and in disbelief at the numbers of victims), have called saying “I hope it’s true…I hope it’s true.”

Stop and think about that for a moment. What kind of society do we sisters live in where we as women are forced to “hope” that another sister has actually been raped? Where we “hope” she was dragged like an animal to its slaughter, into a small bathroom with three crazed, drunken white men, who ripped her fingernails from her, choked her, beat her in the face, likely forced her onto the sink, raise one of her legs so far up that it dislocated her hip, rape her not once, not twice, but three times, and then assault her with a broom handle as well? We feel this way because, though Tawana Brawley lied, her lie still lives in the bodies of every woman of color sexual assaulted, and the minds of every law official who investigates such cases; they look at us and wonder “is she lying?” We “hope” its true because, right, wrong or otherwise, if it is, and if the accused are found guilty, it will be justice for countless women who never had justice themselves. Do we want someone to be a rapist, or predator? No, but we recognize, whether we like it or not that sexual predators exist and need to be identified and severely punished; too often they just are not.

Quite simply, black America is holding it’s collective breath. We don’t know what the outcome will be. Either the student accusing the Duke elite was raped, or she wasn’t; it is absolutely that uncomplicated.

What are the influences that will make it easy? Nothing will make it easy – those who are privileged, ignorant and racist (and believe one black woman represents all black women), have a Tawana Bradley to point to and say “it’s probably all a lie”. And since we as women of color are not privileged and our voice is consistently oppressed, the fact that we have a history beyond 500 years of being abused by advantaged white men is not counted as a relevant consideration.

There are people who believe that because someone like Tawana Brawley ever existed, this is all likely to be a hoax – statistics don’t show that women of color overwhelmingly lie about being sexually assaulted/abused, in order to gain attention. There is no group of women that holds such title of stereotype. Still, an internet search of Tawana Brawley’s name is linked in every way to the current Duke case, and therefore the Duke case is linked to doubt.

There is no “black leader” stepping out on the edge to stand as the protector of this new alleged victim; a 27-year-old single mother of two children attending North Carolina Central University as a sophomore. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to whether or not she made wise decisions that fateful March night, or if working as an escort, or dancer is a good idea either, some prominent white men have even called her a “ho.” But here is another little-known fact in the lives of women: she isn’t the first and won’t likely be the last to engage in those professions to pay for her higher education – black, white or otherwise.

Jesse Jackson made a brief appearance on the news as his Rainbow Push Coalition dedicated itself to providing for all of the young mother’s college expenses going forward, and obviously there has been sharp criticism. Many have said that this was just a dumb idea on Jesse’s part; that he jumped the gun, should have waited to see what the courts decide, waited until the evidence was overwhelmingly in her favor. On the other hand, Jesse Jackson is no fool. He knows about Tawana Brawley – everyone does. So with those two facts on his side, he must have good cause to make that commitment. When asked if the money would still be committed if the accused were found not guilty, Jesse said yes. Again, he was accused of being out of his mind. However, I’ve heard quite a few people who seem to think that it’s helpful – one less “motive” for lying about being raped; college is paid for.

The alleged victim in this case never asked anyone to shine the spotlight on what she says happened and in fact the news was ignorant of the matter for weeks until a reporter came across a search warrant that peaked his interest. Students at Duke, hearing early on that a rape had occurred, complained loudly to its school administration that not enough was being done, and students at NCCU didn’t even know the woman was a member of their college community (http://www.afro.com/content/templates/?a=4840&z=1).

But other than the education support, we haven’t seen Jesse or anyone else on the news every day demanding justice is served; we’ve got DA Mike Nifong (http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/430653.html)
handling that all by himself. And while he’s working 18 hour days combing over evidence and hoping one of the 40+ attendees at the off-campus party steps forward as an act of contrition, he’s battling what has topped out at a dozen defense attorneys who are experts at securing verdicts of “not guilty,” even “not charged,” and have at their disposal money, and most of all, privilege. While Nifong is stuck with the evidence, the defense has the manipulation of public opinion. They’ve each received hefty retainers to devote every moment of their collective days, tearing up whatever information is out about the case; a simple way of tainting any jury pool against the alleged victim.

However, witness statements (an observant next door neighbor, http://www.newsobserver.com/100/story/424229.html), a time line that places her nowhere but the house rented by the lacrosse team captains, before going to the hospital by way of the nearby Kroger food’s parking lot and most important, a medical examination and rape kit that overwhelmingly point to physical as well as sexual assault, medical professionals who attended to her (and are specifically meticulous with this kind of evaluation) describe a level of emotional trauma and shock that could not be faked even an email from a teammate sent within an hour after the party broke up expressing a desire to want to have another party the following evening where he wanted to kill strippers and slice the skin from their flesh for sexual gratification lends itself towards “something happened that night” (http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/425834.html), are all pieces of evidence the DA stands by.

But, no one is stepping out on the edge; rather they’re talking to friends, colleagues and others and quietly thinking, “I hope it’s true.”

To make things all the more complicated, reporter DeWayne Wickham recounted in an April 17th article, an incident three years after the Tawana Brawley case, with shockingly similar details as the alleged Duke rape, where 6 white students at St. John’s University in New York were accused of raping a black student; 5 of them were members of the University’s lacrosse team. Though one of the accused agreed to testify against the others, those charged were found not guilty because the truth of her story was held in doubt
(http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/columnist/wickham/2006-04-17-wickham_x.htm).

In a warped way, it almost doesn’t matter if the current allegations against Duke’s students is true, and powerful black Americans and common black Americans know that. When you’re up against privilege, anything is possible. It often feels like (and isn’t far from the truth if not the truth itself) the elite can be caught on camera committing anything from a misdemeanor to felony murder and still get away with it. If that is the case, then what is the truth in this matter? Will we ever know it? When the blind scale of justice finally tips, what side will rise above the other, and why? What side will we be on?

- Sakara R.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

3 responses to “Past Lies, Present Implications”

  1. mark says :

    For me I hoping the accusser is not lying, Its not a good situation ethier way but if she is lying the next time someone is raped they may not come foward because they feel like they’ll get a raw deal having thier personal lives exposed to the media. Mark

  2. Anonymous says :

    an interesting op-ed from the washington post on this case. the lady doesn’t really take a side, but it’s something to ponder.

  3. Anonymous says :

    “Hope?” Undeveloped minds believe in what we HOPE, what we want to believe. In doing that, we block out any logical reasoning of facts.

    The facts point to very bad behavior by a group of college-age athletes.

    As the facts unfold, hopefully the truth — whatever it is — will come to light.

    My thoughts and well wishes are for all in this sad saga.

    Violence against women is world-wide. No one group is immune. Painting this into a race issue is distorting and sad.

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