Where respectability and rape collide, the bodies of black women and girls are too often the casualties.
By Kirsten West Savali, theroot.com
Many young women and men arrive at Atlanta University Center, that bastion of black excellence and prestige, believing that it will provide shelter from the violence, sexual and otherwise, that lies beyond its gates.
That untested expectation lives somewhere between not knowing the truth and choosing to believe the lies we often tell ourselves about our cherished spaces.
I arrived at Clark Atlanta University in the fall of 1998. By spring of 1999, I had become acquainted with two women who told me they had been raped by their Morehouse “brothers”—two women who remained silent because society had taught them that anything they said would and could be used against them. Upper-class students told me that this kind of thing had been happening for decades in the AUC. And as the years went by, I heard more stories, read more news reports, watched the threads of kinship become undone publicly as more and more sisters began speaking out about sexual assaults against them.
So when I read the traumatic tweets of @RapedAtSpelman, an anonymous Spelman freshman who claims that she was raped by four Morehouse students at a party, I was not surprised by her story—or by the hashtags #RapedByMorehouse and #RapedAtSpelman that exploded across social media in response.
Nor was I surprised by her claims that she was allegedly ignored by Spelman’s dean for close to a month before finally being met with pressure to remain silent.
The alleged victim’s feelings of worthlessness are all too common. According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs:
African-American women have a “tendency to withstand abuse, subordinate feelings and concerns with safety, and make a conscious self-sacrifice for what she perceives as the greater good of the community, but to her own physical, psychological and spiritual detriment.” (Ashbury, 1993, Bent-Goodley 2001, p. 323)
And this is why black women and girls are less likely than their white counterparts to report being raped or sexually assaulted:
For every African-American/Black woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African American/Black women do not report theirs. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Hart & Rennison, 2003. U.S. Department of Justice)
This is a crisis that prestigious black institutions of higher learning are not precluded from experiencing; in fact, they are ripe for it. Wherever there is masculinity, privilege and power—and a perceived responsibility to protect all three—there will be rape. We don’t teach our daughters that enough. We don’t teach our sons that enough.
We don’t teach them that rape is both tradition and inheritance—as is the institutional protection of the men who commit it. We are taught early on that prison is not intended for “good” black men and that black women should conduct themselves as “ladies,” not as promiscuous excuses to send them there. We are told that we must protect them from white supremacy’s iron claws. That we must become the containers into which men pour their pathology, the keepers of the secrets that kill us.
In January, BuzzFeed’s Anita Badejo, in the investigative report “Our Hands Are Tied Because of This Damn Brother-Sisterhood Thing,” delved into the so-called Morehouse Mystique, which “embodies all that is good, noble, and strong in the African American Educated male.” Banah Ghadbian, Spelman’s 2015 valedictorian, described the archetypical Spelman woman this way: “She’s middle class, she’s Southern, she has good manners, she’s heterosexual, she’s not deviant in any way.”
This is what so many black women are taught: good men lead, good women behave. And if they are transgender or genderqueer, good luck finding anyone who will give a damn if they are assaulted, or even whether they live or die.
In response to @RapedAtSpelman’s tweets, Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell announced that an investigation is underway: “Our hearts go out to this student and I want to personally offer her our full support and assistance,” Schmidt Campbell said in a statement provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We are a family at Spelman and we will not tolerate any episode of sexual violence,” she wrote. “No student should ever have to suffer and endure the experience she has recounted on social media. Spelman is conducting a full and thorough review of these events.”
Schmidt Campbell made a similar statement in January in response to the BuzzFeed report, saying, “The women who filed those complaints exhibited courage and fearlessness. At the same time, the circumstances that occasioned those complaints are unacceptable.”