Monday, December 15, 2014

White Male Victimology Follies: Have You Read 'The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns'?

I would like to thank the kind and generous folks who have donated to the annual fundraiser here on We Are Respectable Negroes and As promised, once my goal for the year is met my NPR/PBS-like requests for material support will end.

We are about 100 dollars away from the goal for the year. I hope that we can meet that today or tomorrow--at which point the fundraising drive will be over.

This week I will be posting 2 podcasts, a third surprise, and sharing a teachable moment in the form of a story. As a rule, I rarely post content from other sites unless 1) the material is particularly compelling or 2) it is so grossly problematic while also being indicative of some broader socio-political phenomenon that comment is demanded.

Brendan O'Neill's recent essay, The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns falls into the latter category.

When I was in college, I was an editor of the school newspaper. As a young person who was brighter than his peers--but not as smart as I actually thought myself to be--I used that platform to do some truth-telling about white racism, politics more broadly, gender issues, popular culture, and other matters as I saw fit. I was very loved by some (including quite a few white sisters who wanted to bed the campus "angry black man") and despised by many more of my fellow students.

[I was also the target of a sting operation, my own personal ABSCAM or honeypot trap where nefarious forces claimed that I looked at pornographic material while using a public campus computer, thus making me unfit to be one of the editors of the school newspaper. My defense? I am not the Marion Barry of online porn! Alas, that is a story for another time.]

My command of the facts and style of argument were quite good. However, I lacked wisdom and maturity. I do not regret anything I wrote almost twenty years ago for my school newspaper. However, there are one or two editorials, that if given the chance, I would most certainly massage or perhaps even retract.

In all, I was the young guy in the martial arts tournament who had amazing form but very little experience: a more mature fighter would have smiled in appreciation for my innocence and charm before knocking me out cold.

Consequently, I am very sensitive to examples of political writing where style and a broad and imprecise overview of the facts are used as substitutes for a rigorous engagement with proper context and solid truth claims.

Specific historiography in the context of rigorous theory and empiricism is the foundation for truth-seeking.

Unfortunately, there are some who are more interested in sensationalism than substance.

To that end, The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns is full of some real gems.

Its opening paragraph:
We are in the midst of a war on rape. From American campuses to British courthouses, from newspaper op-ed pages to the weird world of online petitions, ‘zero tolerance’ of rape has been declared. And who could possibly be against it? No one is ‘pro-rape’. So surely everyone will cheer a war on rape. Not so fast. Wars on rape have been declared before, and often for deeply reactionary reasons, having the effect of harming society rather than helping women. Consider the ‘war on rape’ declared in America’s Deep South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the KKK and other racists likewise declared zero tolerance of rape – rape committed by black men, that is – and signalled their determination to wipe out this ‘ultimate transgression’. There was little positive in that crusade. And here are five ways in which today’s non-racist feministic ‘war on rape’ echoes the lynch-mob logic of yesteryear’s racist ‘war on rape’.
O'Neill continues:
The rallying cry of today’s apparently liberal crusaders against rape is: ‘Believe.’ They always believe the accuser. To doubt the accuser is to risk being branded a rape apologist. Campaign groups with names like We Believe You and I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault speak to the readiness of campaigners to accept every accusation of rape as good coin. Even in the wake of the Rolling Stone scandal, where an allegation of gang rape at the University of Virginia has been exposed as a tissue of lies, a writer for the Washington Post insisted we must ‘automatically believe rape allegations’, because ‘incredulity hurts victims’. From Dylan Farrow’s accusations against Woody Allen to various women’s accusations against Bill Cosby, the cry ‘I believe!’ has rung out, as activists have rushed to declare, without the benefit of a court case, that these women were raped. 
Automatic belief of rape accusations was a central principle of the KKK’s war on rape, too. This was one of the things that most shocked Ida B Wells, the early twentieth-century African-American journalist and civil-rights activist. ‘The word of the accuser is held to be true’, she said, which means that ‘the rule of law [is] reversed, and instead of proving the accused to be guilty, the [accused] must prove himself innocent’.
A beautiful-ugly example of intellectual dishonesty (how many thousands of white men were/are hung from trees, burned alive, forced to eat their own penises, or undergoing vivisection because they were accused of raping a woman?):
The buzzphrase of our age is ‘rape culture’. Fearmongering feminists claim women are surrounded by the threat of rape, as evidenced in everything from the Sun’s Page 3 to the continued existence of raunchy rock music, and are drowning in what one melodramatic columnist calls ‘a sea of misogyny’
Activists make videos of themselves being catcalled in the street to demonstrate that a ‘culture of rape’ is all around. Even as the statistics suggest that actual incidents of rape are declining — the US National Crime Victimization Survey records an 85 per cent decline in the per-capita victimisation rate of rape over the past 35 years — still the panic about rape is stoked up. Magazines like Rolling Stone run graphic stories about grotesque rapes, publishing houses churn out rape memoirs, and online forums are set up for women to tell, in as much detail as possible, their stories of being raped – all contributing to a feeling, however unfounded, that women are at risk from lustful men. 
So it was in the Deep South, too. One of the main ways in which racists there maintained social divisions and social order was through the spectre of rape. They promoted the idea that white women were under constant threat from ‘lustful black men’. Even though the black rape of white women was not a major problem, still the idea that there was a menacing culture of rape was indulged. As one historian of the South put it, crimes of black-on-white rape ‘gripped the white imagination far out of proportion to their statistical significance’.
The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns is particularly noxious because it is one of the many examples of how anti-racist progressive language has been dishonestly appropriated by conservatives and the Right-wing propaganda machine.

In the United States (and elsewhere), "equality of opportunity" now means that white people are victims of "discrimination". Centuries of white on black and brown racism have been supplanted by concerns about "reverse racism". The White Right's hijacking of the language used by the Black and Brown freedom struggle to bring down formal American Apartheid has created a perverse and sick worldview, one that is detached from empirical reality, in which a white American public actually believes fictions such as that "anti-white" "racism" is a bigger problem than actual racism against people of color.

The "men's rights" and misandry crowd are abusing the language and logic of anti-sexism and feminism. This parallel between the White Right and the "men's rights" movements is not a coincidence: they are likely comprised of the same people, individuals who are desperately yearning to maintain both white supremacy and male supremacy.

O'Neill's arguments also echo the concerns and anxieties that are heard in black barbershops, the mass media, and other semi-private spaces where black men--a group certainly not exempt from furthering and supporting patriarchy and sexism--feel, quite reasonably given America's history and present, that they are persecuted because they are both black and male.

For many, "blackness" and "maleness" will naturally respond to a story about the KKK, false cries of rape, and lynchings with sympathy for other men. However, black men who fall in with the "Men's Rights" crowd and the ethos expressed in The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns are making several errors in logic and conclusion.

Rich white men and their sons who are complaining that they are "victims" of a "rape panic" are not the allies of black and brown men. Those white men are invested, psychologically and materially, in maintaining a system of white male supremacy: this system may include some black and brown faces per the requirements of the multicultural neoliberal project; however, its mission is to protect and advance white male (upper class) privilege and power.

There is a dark historical irony in The War on Rape: The Logic of the Lynch Mob Returns and its defense of the frat boys at the University of Virginia who were "falsely" accused of rape by Rolling Stone magazine. The ancestors of the white victimology crowd cum White Right are the same white folks who lynched black men (and women) by the thousands in the United States. The extrajudicial murders, pogroms, and other acts of racial terrorism were often led by white elites for the purposes of land theft, personal enrichment, and expanding their political power. Moreover, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, joining terrorist groups such as the KKK was a requirement for entry into "polite" white society.

As Charles Mills and Carol Patemen detail in their excellent book Contract and Domination, white supremacy and sexism have a complex--and what is at times contradictory, as well as also complementary--relationship. But, black men and other men of color must realize that the struggle against sexism is a key element in the struggle against white supremacy.

Beyond the soaring insights of W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagra Movement, who together observed that sexism and racism should be fought as twin social evils in the service of making a more just and human society, men (especially the working, poor, and middle classes across the colorline) should proceed from the selfish realpolitik assumption that equality for women translates into opportunities for themselves via more income and resources for their wives, families, and communities.

The plutocrats have hustled "regular" white folks by appealing to the psychological wages of whiteness and subsidizing the white community through material payoffs and other unearned advantages--a possessive investment in whiteness that is paying fewer dividends in the Age of Austerity and neoliberalism.

The "men's rights" movement is involved in a similar con game where cries of male victimhood and "discrimination" are a duck blind or glamour that hides how white male elites are exclusively interested in their own enrichment through a culture of cruelty and gangster capitalism.

In reality, pleas for male unity to fight against misandry and "false persecution" by an anti-male "rape culture" is a hustle to distract how poor, working class, and middle class men are being financially and economically raped en masse by rich white men and the 1 percent.


James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Your critique of this article is spot on and there is nothing I can add that would improve of it one iota.

I would say this, when a woman claims she has been raped or sexually assaulted or just drugged, she should be believed at the level of probable cause. At that point, an accusation has been made and an investigation should ensue to collect evidence from her and other evidence to substantiate it at the level of probable cause within the legal system. At a jury trial, the level of evidence has to rise to beyond a reasonable doubt that she has been raped by whom she accused of the rape. Up until the jury convicts, the accused is/are innocent. And, from the Innocence Project and other cases we know that even jury convictions can be suspect, e.g. the Central Park Five of five men of color accused of "wilding" against a white woman.

The court of public opinion is quite different. The alleged victim may not actually be named or she may not have named her assailant(s) or rapist(s). In the court of public opinion, there are no easy answers and no easy solutions. There are too many variables and level of the credibility of the evidence is difficult to determine since it is not subject to expert analysis and rebuttal by lawyers.

All that said, you are certainly correct that right-wing protestations of casting males as the victims of lynching-like circumstances is nonsensical. I am going to write a chapter which includes numerous right-wingers now claiming they would have supported Rosa Parks; many of these very same right-wingers also claim that Obama and Holder, by standing up for Michael Brown and/or Eric Garner, are trying to spark a white-black racial civil war. And, they use any number of issues to make the same point about a racial civil war in America--like Obama's non-existent gun control measures sparking a racial civil war.

But, this is all of one piece whereby white conservative men // white conservative Christian men try to portray themselves as the victims now or in the future of persecution, of having their religious rights violated because of same-sex marriage or (pick your favorite issue), or of some kind of reverse racism.

It is all, as the British would say, shiite, and you are correct in pointing that out.

chauncey devega said...

Absolutely. Rule of law, fairness, and innocence until proven guilty should apply to all people. The Christian victimology narrative is so dangerous--as you know it combines some sense of divine validation in the service of cruelty, violence, and injustice. How can folks sit in those pews and listen to that poison?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I enjoy your candid sharing of moments in your life. Thank you.

Great take down of the "War on Rape." The appeals to Jim Crow Era lynchings and rape paranoia are pretty ridiculous. How many of those white men back then got away with rape by pointing to a black man, committing it against a black woman, or by threatening the reputation of a white woman?

chauncey devega said...

Be quiet with your facts! There is a rape panic epidemic against (white) men in the United States! No man has ever gotten away with raping a woman ever! I am going to call the local men's rights office and get your membership card revoked.

kokanee said...

Good stuff Chauncey. It's funny though, America keeps reliving the same fights over and over again as if it were Groundhog Day. Martin Luther King Jr:
I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It is still deeply rooted in theNorth, and it's still deeply rooted in the South.

And this leads me to say something about another discussion that we hear a great deal, and that is the so-called "white backlash." I would like to honestly say to you that the white backlash is merely a new name for an old phenomenon. It's not something that just came into being because shouts of Black Power, or because Negroes engaged in riots in Watts, for instance. The fact is that the state of California voted a Fair Housing bill out of existence before anybody shouted Black Power, or before anybody rioted in Watts.

It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences of the white backlash rather than the cause of them. What it is necessary to see is that there has never beena single solid monistic determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of
white Americans on the whole question of Civil Rights and on the whole question of racial equality. This is something that truth impels all men of good will to admit.— &

As denying the culture of rape, I think that's wrong too. It's part of the rise of the authoritarians sweeping up everyone who is not old, rich, white and male.

Rape culture isn’t a myth. It’s real, and it’s dangerous.

Justin M. White said...

Sorry to drop in on this post late, I just got back from a job interview out of state so I've been a bit distracted. You mentioned that investments in white supremacy are paying fewer dividends in the Age of Austerity, could you expand on that?

It seems to me that austerity continues the tradition of privileging whiteness in such a way that it also allows certain whites to consider themselves above the "masses" of whites. So, despite the toll austerity takes on the working and middle class white population, many can take the benefit of seeing themselves as "makers" rather than "takers", and as such see austerity working consistently in their favor (via mythical "lower taxes"). So I would think this is dividends in terms of loyalty to the plutocrats and desire for dismantling the welfare state, coming from past investment in whiteness continuing to pay out even as actual material benefits have slowed (though of course most of the benefits of recovery are going to white men).

wes said...

Be careful, your privilege is showing...

wes said...

"Actual racism" sounds a lot like..."legitimate rape", but I doubt you are intelligent enough to understand the correlation.

You are just another stupid bigot trying to destroy the lives of people who are different than you, but black privilege allows your views to become mainstream, while those who attempt to defend themselves from your malicious and ignorant rants are attacked by hate groups like the ADL.