Who's Scared Now?
I went home to Tucson Arizona for the first time in 2 years last week and while there I was able to catch up with friends I hadn’t had a one-to-one with in a long (too long) time. Inevitably the #MeToo Movement came up in almost every conversation.
My friend Julia told me that her 16 year old daughter was date raped and about the anxiety, depression and multiple forms self harm that made it necessary to hospitalize her after. How her daughter was accused of lying and how the hostility of her peers and the parents of the accused forced her to change schools. She told me that she knows her daughter and that she would never lie about something as serious as rape.
My friend Kate told me that her 17 year old son was accused of date raping his ex-girlfriend. How despite his denials he was seen and treated as guilty until proven innocent. How the accusation affected his mental health and led him to seek treatment. She told me that several months after the original claim the girl recanted her allegations. She told me that she knows her son and that he would never sexually assault anyone. (Needless to say Julia sympathized with Blasey-Ford and Kate empathized with Kavanaugh.)
I have outspoken feminist friends whose first (outward?) inclination is to take the accusations of sexual harassment/assault made by women seriously. White feminist friends who acknowledge the 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics’ findings that 63% of reported rapes of women between 18 and 24 are committed by white men (19% committed by black men).
I know white mothers who’ve been sexually assaulted by white men and whose accusations weren’t believed and who feel compelled to “protect” their sons by warning them to be careful of “crazy” women/girls who might make false sexual assault claims against them.
In America, African American mothers have feared for their black sons and daughters since the first slave ship reached its shores. Because their children were literally torn from their arms and sold in front of them. Because they lived, and continue to live in a society (using the term loosely) that hates and fears their black sons and has historically abused, abased, blamed, betrayed, murdered and forgotten their black daughters.
Scores of black men and boys have been lynched, murdered, and imprisoned because of accusations and/or false convictions of raping white women. That’s generations of black mothers living with the consequences and grieving for their persecuted black sons and daughters.
A black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is 3 ½ times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict.
Assaults on white women by African-American men are a small minority of all sexual assaults in the United States, but they constitute half of the sexual assault convictions that were later overturned due to eyewitness misidentifications.
Misidentifications themselves are in part the products of racial bias, and are marred by implicit biases, racially tainted official misconduct and, in some cases, explicit racism.
African-American men who were wrongfully convicted of sexual assault received much longer prison sentences than their white counterparts and they spent an average of almost 4 ½ years longer in prison before exoneration.
White mothers don’t worry their sons will be followed through a store and falsely accused of shoplifting. Or pulled over, searched, arrested and/or shot by the people paid to keep them safe.
White mothers don’t fear for themselves and/or their white children when they protest (or take a peaceful knee) for social and/or political change. White mothers don’t have to concern themselves with racism towards their sons and daughters in terms of housing, education, opportunities and employment.
But white women are worried now, and I as the white mother of 2 white daughters and no sons find that my own biases make it difficult for me to sympathize with white mothers who worry for their white sons’ loss of the believability privilege.
To the mothers of white sons I can only offer the consolation that less than 1% of all rape charges (not mere allegations) result in convictions. And if your white son is convicted the likelihood (based on above statistics) that they have been falsely accused is infinitesimal. And if your white sons are convicted they will serve an appallingly short time.
Look, I get that having a child out in the world with all it’s real and perceived dangers is the scariest thing ever and that that fear never goes away. I feel that primal urge to protect my kids (probably/possibly) at the cost of all else.
But as a white mother of white daughters I know that my kids and I have got it good. I know that they only have to battle sexism and misogyny. Black mothers must release their daughters into a society sick with sexism and racism and misogyny and misogynoir. Mothers of black daughters live with the reality that everyday and institutionalized racism keeps educational and employment opportunities out of their reach. And that the healthcare system doesn’t seem to give a shit about them. Mothers of black daughters know that their daughters are all to often seen and treated as disposable.
I believe my fears for my white daughters and the dangers that may very well await them as they navigate life in the patriarchy are valid. I believe the fears of white mothers of white sons are real.
What I don’t believe is that these fears outweigh, or have equal urgency and importance, in what is the reality of our racist and sexist world.
What I hope is that white mothers with white sons find the will and strength to overcome their instinctive protective biases and use their voices and their votes to protect black mothers with black sons and daughters who really do have much to fear.
Article by VERVE Founder & CFO (Chief Feminist Operative) Anna Quick-Palmer