If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it? I wonder when a Black woman yells rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment does anyone hear it? Does anyone feel it? Does anyone care? Or do the cries of Black women fall on deaf ears, met with blind eyes, indifference, nonchalance, and aloofness?
Recently in Louisville, Kentucky, Councilperson Jessica Green tearfully urged the immediate release of Metro Council Democrats investigation into sexual harassment claims against fellow council member Dan Johnson. It was reported that Jessica Green told council leadership that Dan Johnson groped her during a group photo just before a mayoral press conference. When Jessica turned to face Johnson, Jessica states, that Johnson, “whispered in her ear laughing, ‘You know that was an accident, right?’” Jessica’s tearful comments came after numerous articles in the local paper and what I can imagine is mental exhaustion from dealing with a situation that she would have liked to have not happened and one that she would like to put behind her.
Before I continue let me clearly state, I understand when you are dealing with rape, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault charges against anyone, it is wise to have all the facts come out. As Black people, some in our community have had their lives turned upside down even taken because someone has alleged rape or assault that did not occur. The history of Emmett Till and the ultimate confession given by his accuser shows us this. I do not rush to paint anyone with the brush of being a victim or a predator. However, I have found that when Black women yell rape, sexual assault or harassment, it often falls on deaf ears, just like the tree in the forest.
Since Black women were brought to the shores of America, Black women have been assaulted and raped by White men. Black women were forced into slavery and sexual servitude or suffered the consequences that came with resistance. Even if a Black woman was married, her marriage held no sanctity within the bondages of slavery. A slave master could take a slave woman that had a husband and do whatever he wanted to her and with her and her husband couldn’t say a word. History attempts to record these rapes as relationships; however, there is no relationship when someone has all the power, and you have no power. A relationship stands on an exchange of power not built on a foundation where one member of the relationship is powerless.
Because this world has never seen Black women as anything but sexual chattel, centuries later the same exchange still exist. It was not until 2011 nearly 67 years later that the state of Alabama apologized to Recy Taylor for failure to prosecute the six White men that kidnapped and brutally assaulted her in 1944. We can look at the exploitation of Sarah Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman, that was exhibited at a freak show under the name “Hottentot Venus.” Some have said that Sarah was treated like an animal, on display to showcase her wide hips, backside, and labia for the White masses. Sarah died at just 25 years old in 1815. Her body was dissected and her remains exhibited in a Paris museum. It was not until 2002, 187 years later that Sarah’s remains were returned to South Africa where she could be buried in her hometown.
We can look at the rape of 13 Black women by former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw who specifically targeted Black women with the likelihood they would have warrants or drug offenses, because who would believe them anyway?
The assault on Black women does not stop at White men. In a study of 300 women it was found that over half, 60% of Black women, have been sexually abused by a Black man before the age of 18. Sexual assault in the Black community has taken on the code of no snitching. Black women are forced and raised with a code of silence, protecting their abuser. A silence that often times extends their entire lives.
How many years does it take for a Black woman that cries rape, sexual assault or harassment to be heard?
Will it take nearly two centuries, like Sarah?
Recently I watched the made for TV movie, Confirmation, detailing the sexual harassment issues that surrounded Anita Hill and the Supreme Court confirmation of Clarence Thomas. One thing that Anita said that resonated with me is, “It would have been more comfortable to remain silent.” And for many Black women, this is the reality. It would have been more comfortable to remain silent. It would have been more comfortable for Jessica Green to remain silent instead of coming under scrutiny by her friends and colleagues. It would have been more comfortable for Jessica Green not to plead with her colleagues, “I am a real person. I’m not unlike your wives, your girlfriends, your daughters…” Unfortunately, this world does not see her that way. Jessica is a Black woman. This world has never made any room for Black women to be the victim. In this world, Black women are conditioned to believe and inherently know that their lives will be more comfortable if they remain silent. That they can keep their jobs if they remain silent. That they will not cause issues in the family if they remain silent. That mommy won’t be mad at them if they remain silent. That they can continue to pay their mortgages and put food on the table if they remain silent. That they will not be blackballed in their industry in they remain silent. It is that same silence that kills us, that consoles us in knowing that we can weep in our pillows at night knowing our lives will not be disrupted. So, we choke down the sexual remarks; we swallow the unrequested touches, we block vicious childhood memories of uncles, brothers, fathers and family friends, we absorb the brutal bitterness of rape fighting to find some way to live beyond it all. We exist with the always hovering cloud of, “who would believe us anyway?” Knowing that if a Black woman cries rape in the forest, no one will ever hear her.