Black and white women have different lived experiences even when we face the same violence on and off campus.
[TW: this essay contains mentions of rape.]
“The Senate confirms Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”
My Uber driver read his CNN text alert aloud and made this unsolicited announcement as we sat in bumper to bumper traffic.
My entire body tensed up. I wanted to escape—escape this Uber, escape this country, escape this body, but instead, I sat in silence. The same silence I’ve been sitting in for the past five years.
Before 2018, I had no idea who Brett Kavanaugh was. Before Dr. Ford brought allegations of sexual assault against him, I wasn’t particularly interested in his confirmation. I figured any one of Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court would be about the same—white, male, and willing to pass legislation that harms Black women like myself.
After hearing the details of Dr. Ford’s testimony—
“I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life.”
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and they’re having fun at my expense.”
“…I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details…I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
—I realized that I did know a Brett Kavanaugh. I met him college. We were both drunk at a house party. I’ve saved the details of my assault for several therapists who couldn’t help me and a former lover who ended up assaulting me too.
I never thought of going to the police or campus officials because drunk Black women aren’t given the benefit of the doubt. We’re seen as “disruptive” or “loud” by school administrators. And police officers are notorious for perpetuating sexual violence themselves against Black women like me.
Daniel Holtzclaw, who was on the Oklahoma City police force, was convicted of raping and assaulting eight Black women while he was on duty. It’s believed that Holtzclaw specifically targeted Black women due to their vulnerability in situations involving interactions with the police. With police shootings dominating the headlines in 2017, it’s not hard to imagine that Holtzclaw’s victims feared for their lives.
Although 2017 and 2018 have been shaped by the #MeToo movement, the results have been vastly different for BIPOC and white women despite the fact that Tarana Burke, a Black woman, started the Me Too campaign over a decade ago.
Black and white women have different lived experiences even when we face the same violence on and off campus. According to the Women of Color Network, 40 percent of Black women report experiencing coercive sexual contact before they turn 18. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that “more than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes — a higher share than among women overall.” Additionally, Black women experienced intimate partner violence 35 percent more often than white women, but were less likely to use social services, report to the police, or go to the hospital.
And it makes sense why Black women like me wouldn’t go to these institutions for help. Misogynoir has created the trope of the hypersexual Black Jezebel that is essentially “unrapeable.” Since slavery, Black women’s bodies have been seen as not truly their own. When society refuses to recognize your agency and bodily autonomy, reaching out for help after an assault can compound the trauma.
So when other sexual assault victims bravely told their stories and protested in solidarity with Dr. Ford, I remained silent yet hopeful. I was hopeful that this time would be different. I hoped that there wouldn’t be a repeat of what happened to Anita Hill in the 1990s. I believed Dr. Ford’s testimony would compel the Senate to take just action, but instead, I saw that causing a woman a lifetime of pain wasn’t a disqualifying offense.
As a young Black woman who was assaulted while in college and shortly after, I empathize with Dr. Ford. But I also believe that if a well-off, successful white woman can’t get justice, there’s little hope for someone like me. Although I appreciate Dr. Ford’s efforts, I’m uninterested in reliving the pain caused by my sexual assault just for the men who assaulted me to face no consequences.
Examples of perpetrators of violence being able to go on to live their lives don’t stop at Brett Kavanaugh. They range from Brock Turner, a rapist who only spent three months in jail, to Donald Trump, who bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia, yet still went on to become the president of the United States. And in 2017, the Trump administration turned his personal lack of concern for consent into policies that will affect millions by rescinding Title IX, guidance that tackled “campus sexual assault more aggressively.”
I’m human. I have feelings and emotions and trauma, but I don’t have to bleed in front of the world to prove that fact.
We’re all worse off because of rape culture. BIPOC, however, are even less protected than their white counterparts. So when Dr. Ford, who was described as “the perfect witness,” can’t receive justice, sometimes that’s a clue for other survivors to keep quiet, don’t make it a big deal, don’t inconvenience anyone, because at the end of the day, what do we really gain from telling stories the world doesn’t want to listen to?
This article is part of #DishonorRoll, a collaborative media project dedicated to covering responses to sexual assault on college and university campuses in partnership with The Media Consortium and Bitch Media.