A friend stopped by the other day – a friend I have been slowly getting to know over a period of a couple of years. We met as moms and then began to do community work together. In a conversation we were having about life, she told me she had been raped when she was younger.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a pause as that information sunk in.
“No, I’m alright,” she said and blew it off.
“I’m truly sorry,” I said again.
I don’t know about you, but I have too many girlfriends who have been raped – date-rape, stranger rape, family rape. Rape is insidious and destructive to a woman’s psyche and personhood.
While in Spain a few summers ago, a friend loaned me A Woman in Berlin about a journalist’s, Marta Hillers, account of rape (hers and others) during the Soviet occupation of Berlin. It was a fascinating account of how women become complicit in their own rape as a means of survival.
Similarly, my research on race and parenting continues to confront the same dynamic – the ugly legacy of the rape of Black women by white men. Along with the stripping away of identity of the African people enslaved here, is the fact that women gave birth to a nation of biracial children as a result of rape and coercion by white slaveholders.
And mothers as a rule don’t hate their children no matter what color they come out.
That’s why I think as much as we as a nation have begun to talk about the plight of Black men in our country, a legacy as palpable as it is horrible (read: Zimmerman verdict), the conversation about the oppression of Black women in this country is even more complex and complicated.
When I think about what it means to stand in solidarity with my sisters, in particular, my sisters of color, I think of what Tim Wise said about how he teaches his two daughters that overcoming sexism means identifying boys/men who will stand in solidarity with their rights, with women’s rights – and two-fold he tells them that they have to stand up for the rights of others. They have to acknowledge and use their white privilege to become allies to non-whites.
Today, I walked over to the bank on Canal Street and a Black woman stopped and asked me if Capitol One was on Broad. I said she’d be better off to walk to Carrolton because it was closer. A white man walked up and said he was headed to that bank and could give her a ride. And we both looked at him, looked him up and down. He looked a little sweaty – we all were sweating – he was dressed decent enough – he had a beard, nothing too overgrown or shabby – and we (me and the women) were sizing him up.
Finally the woman said, “How can I trust you?”
And we all stood there a minute.
The man said, “With the way things are going, I hear ya. But I’m headed that way and wouldn’t mind giving you a lift.”
Both of us – the woman and me – looked him over again, judging him given all we know so far:
- Woman gets in car with strange man (rape)
- Black woman’s history with white man (rape)
- Black person trusting White person (why?)
“I don’t know,” she said, cocking her head to one side then looking off towards Carrolton Avenue. “Maybe God sent you to me; I dunno.” At that moment, I was wishing I didn’t have my dog, because I would have gotten in his car with her. It was a thought.
The woman turned him down, which gave me a sense of relief as well as dismay, and as she began walking towards Carrolton, the man pulled off in the same direction in his car, and I walked away and waved to them both saying, “Hope y’all have a great day.”