By Regina Bradley
I’ve been keeping up with the horrific gang rape that took place in Cleveland, Texas. I’m unsure which sickens me more – the excuses made for grown men about why the rape took place, who to blame, or how the victim’s childhood is overlooked and dismissed because she “looked like” she wanted or was already having sex.
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I felt a soul-stirring wail come from a dark place.
I flashbacked to hearing those awkward footsteps in my room late at night. It wasn’t a spook or the boogey man, but I had the same fear as if they were there. His hot breath on my neck, I closed my eyes tightly and waited. I remember his weight. I remember his grunting. I remember being afraid to scream because I was supposed to be asleep so I could be well rested for school the next morning. Don’t tattletale. I don’t tattletale. I don’t ask for these visits. Why won’t he leave me alone? And then he clumsily pulls my panties back up and scurries back out my bedroom door.
Was it because I was convenient? Was it my fault my room was next to his? I was nine and in fourth grade. He was a bastard with a bullshit apology.
Although I’m now an adult, that nine year old little girl still sobs when her experience is brought back to the forefront. She sobs when eleven year old girls are accused of looking too grown and setting themselves up to be raped. She screams when popular shows like The Game participate in half-assed empty threats of rape as revenge. She screams when comedians like Lil’ Duval become even more wildly popular with twitter trends like “It Ain’t Rape If…” Well, nationhood, if rape ain’t rape, what is?
I am unable to wrap my mind around how rape culture is fetishized and consumed as trendy. Rape is “okay” because so and so or such and such on TV endorses it. The Game, for example, echoes of a tragic-comedy because of their treatment of rape. Parker, played by actress Meaghan Good, threatens her ex-lover Malik with taunts of rape if he does not have sex with her. She rips her own clothes, screams, “sobs,” and trashes the room to gain attention. A maid walks by and asks if everything is okay. As quickly as Malik pays the maid off for her silence, Parker dries her tears and proceeds to have forced sex with a distraught Malik.
This scene troubled my spirit in many ways. The first is the obvious – Parker’s empty threat of rape to “break” Malik. The second is how easily the maid – also a black woman – is silenced with monetary bribes even though she sensed something was amiss. The third, and arguably most peculiar, is the treatment of Malik’s rape. While Parker did not physically threaten him, Malik was psychologically threatened. This threat forced him to engage in a sexual act. “The morning after,” Parker laughs and teases Malik, who turns his back to her with a look of anger, disgust, and shame on his face.
What becomes complicated, however, is Malik’s return home. He is greeted by his girlfriend, who seduces him at the door. He becomes teary eyed and, assumingly, has sex with his girlfriend as well. This sequence of events re-enforces the stereotypical beliefs that black bodies are hypersexual. It also symbolizes the removal of rape’s pathology for entertainment.
Black women’s’ bodies are, as Abbey Lincoln so fiercely put it, the outhouses of black and white men. Black men’s bodies are considered bestial and sexually insatiable. What we share in common is the use sex as a power move but we lack in its ownership.
Here’s where the trouble further stirs itself: When rape is commodified and consumed as nonthreatening, it has a multi-layered effect. Not only is the little discourse available for rape victims pushed to the fringes, but their ordeals are dismissed as their own doing. What producers of popular culture fail to realize is that there is no guarantee that all the people absorbing their “work” are smart enough to distinguish entertainment from reality, that “these is jokes.”
There is Forrest Gumpage out there that consumes everything for what it is at face value. Are we as a society so fixated on entertainment and scapegoating that we purposefully ignore the ticking time bomb planted in our social interactions? What will it take?
If rape ain’t rape, what the hell is?