#BlackLivesMatter Means We Must Talk About Sexual Violence Too

by Inda Lauryn

The recent news that neither Darren Wilson nor Daniel Pantaleo would be indicted for their killings Michael Brown and Eric Garner respectively, is heartbreaking. The weeks following the grand jury decisions have been marked with action: more protests, civil unrest, and conversations in an attempt to explain how this happened in our “post-racial” times.

Not surprisingly, the news from Ferguson and New York has eclipsed discussion of many other issues, including the rape allegations against Bill Cosby that had been dominating the news cycles before the non-indictment announcements. Of course, there were jokes that we had not forgotten Cosby and we would get back to him, which did happen after decades old allegations that he raped a 15-year-old minor surfaced. However, discussions about Cosby and the rape culture that allowed these allegations to go unanswered for decades may again drift to the background while Black America works through its feelings regarding a new blow to our humanity.
Still, Black women already know that we cannot stop talking about Bill Cosby and other issues around sexual assault within our own communities even, as we face the institutional racism that uniquely touches the lives of Black women and men. Often, when Black women are victims of rape and sexual assault, we are blamed for our own victimization and encouraged not to speak, especially when the aggressor is a Black man. We are asked to protect Black men from long-standing stereotypes about their aggressive and deviant sexual behavior because we know the costs.

This puts Black women in an unenviable position of having to choose to protect Black men when it comes to sexual assault or risk perpetuating a stereotype we know not to be true. In Cosby’s case, the fact that the women speaking out about their encounters with him are more than one race makes this even more difficult for Black women caught in the crossfire of the allegations. Yet given our histories with sexual assault and rape in this country, Black women are not afforded the luxury of being silent. Rape culture affects Black women in ways that do not affect others in that we have rarely been protected by the law in these cases or believed when speaking out. Furthermore, we often have to stand by Black men from racist attacks whether or not we believe them to be guilty of sexual assault.

Black women have always been at the forefront of social movements and shown loyalty to Black men throughout all our struggles—risking arrest, physical assault, and the emotional and psychological stress that often accompanies being engaged in social movements. However, we may be building movements to prevent further state-sanctioned murders of Black men, but we are not discussing the factors that led to Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw allegedly assaulting several Black women while on duty. We have not marched through the streets for Rekia Boyd, Aisha Stanley-Jones, Renisha McBride, and Islan Nettles the way we have for Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and other Black men and boys who have met the same fate.

So Black women are left with the task of defending ourselves while also standing by Black men. This means that many have decided that we need to put Cosby and rape culture on the back burner while we frame state-sanctioned murder as only a crime against Black men.

Ignoring rape allegations against Bill Cosby for all these decades simply served to tell Black girls and women that our experiences as victims of violence do not matter.
Rape culture and sexual assault are issues that must be addressed in all Black liberation struggles, no matter who perpetuates it. We simply cannot afford to push for progress while asking Black women to push issues that directly affect us in specific ways to the sidelines. Sexual assault is not just a Black woman’s issue, in the same way that state-sanctioned violence and police brutality is not just a Black man’s issue. We must acknowledge that we live in a culture of violence—and rape culture is part of this violence in that it keeps us silent for fear of further victimization when we speak out. Addressing the issues that Black women face does not divide our attention or detract from other struggles that the Black community faces as a whole.

It’s time we stop asking Black women to fight everyone else’s battles, when no one is willing to stand up for ours.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Inda Lauryn has previously been published in Blackberry, A Magazine, Interfictions, The Toast, and Callaloo, as well as had her work featured on blogs such as Black Girl Nerds, Bitch Flicks, and AfroPunk. She is currently working on a novel and countless other unfinished writing projects and occasionally blogs at Corner Store Press.

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