Why are stories of sexual assault told by women of color rarely corroborated by society?
In the chorus of women who have recently come forward about abuse in Hollywood, the voices of Black, Latino and Asian women have not been raised above whispers. A demonizing pattern of social conditioning, based on racism, has tainted the images of women of color, especially Black females.
“Well, I think it’s rooted in the oppression that we, that people of color face in this country,” Tarana Burke, a Black activist who created the #MeToo movement on Twitter in 2006 to raise awareness around sexual violence, said to PBS News Hour. “I also think it’s rooted in the way we’re socialized to think about black girls and women of color, right? We’re socialized to not believe black women. We’re socialized to believe that we are fast and sexually promiscuous and things of that nature.”
It is this damning socialization that first found roots in slavery. Black women’s bodies were used and abused without regard to any degree of humanity.
“Historically, African-American women have been perceived as promiscuous,” Rutgers University historian Deborah Gray White, author of the book, “Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South,” told the Associated Press. “Black women’s bodies, from Day One, have been available to all men.”
In this harmful pattern, doubt has been cast on Black women who dare to say they have been victims of sexual exploitation. As to avoid condemnation from detractors, a silence has grown among females.
But the condemnation can’t erase an elusive strength that comes from telling your truth. Lupita Nyong’o, who recently wrote about a disturbing encounter with Harvey Weinstein at his home in 2011, offered a message of hope for survivors despite feeling that she would be treated like a pariah for speaking up.
“There is clearly power in numbers,” Nyong’o wrote in her op-ed for The New York Times. “Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”
Social media users have expanded on Nyong’o’s words to include trans women of color, who are seldom mentioned in conversations about sexual assault and are at high risk as well.
Burke wants there to be “empowerment through empathy” for all survivors. Her #MeToo movement is working to “give resources to people in communities that don’t have resources” and “activate folks who are ready to do the work of ending sexual violence.”