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Est. April 5, 2002
 
           
June 23, 2016 - Issue 659



Black, Raped, Shamed,
and Supported:
Our Responses to Rape Can Build
or
Destroy Our Community

By Jennifer M. Gómez, M.S.


"Black people are often placed in an impossible
position of having to choose whom to protect;
this protection can be so necessary against a
society that alternates between denigrating us
and erasing our very existence. That truth does
not mean we should turn on each other through
violence or, perhaps even more dangerous,
in our reactions to such violence."


We have to become accustomed to criticizing the things we love.”—Angela Davis

The issue of campus sexual violence has received national attention, with many universities grappling with how to better their campuses. In May 2016, this issue hit HBCUs and the African American community in a way it hadn’t before, with @RapedAtSpelman recounting the story of gang rapes she says she experienced while being a student at Spelman. The alleged perpetrators? Four Black men from Morehouse.

When I read the tweets, I was flooded with pain for all the Black women who are raped. What I did not expect to feel was intense, debilitating fear. What if They get a hold of this story? What if They paint all Black men as rapists? Maybe we, as Black women, should just stay silent when these things happen to us. For the good of the Black community. To save ourselves from Them.

When the weight of these emotions subsided, I was jolted into remembering that I, as a graduate student in psychology at University of Oregon, am a trauma researcher. I have published scientific articles, scholarly pieces, and newspaper op-ed’s on various forms of abuse, including rape. I have developed a psychological framework called cultural betrayal trauma theory around how oppression—the They—make within-group violence for minorities particularly harmful.

Much of what I felt in reading this anonymous woman’s tweets were pieces of the theory. As a Black woman, I felt a connection, also known as (intra)cultural trust, with this student. I felt a weight of ethno-cultural betrayal on her behalf: how could Black men do this to her? I felt (intra)cultural pressure: this intense need to protect us from Them, even if it meant silencing one of our own who said she had been harmed. I felt concerned for her mental health because the results from my dissertation demonstrated the links between within-group violence for ethnic minorities, called ethno-cultural betrayal trauma, and outcomes, like PTSD and internalized prejudice. I was concerned that Spelman’s response to the disclosure, as detailed by @RapedAtSpelman, was indicative of institutional betrayals institutional betrayal/index.html). I feared that the institutional betrayals reported by the student could harmfully intertwine with the ethno-cultural betrayal, as Spelman is an HBCU.

This public portrayal of events has prompted our attention, perhaps in a way that is not dissimilar from Anita Hill testifying to the Supreme Court about sexual harassment from Clarence Thomas in 1991. The question of what to do now needn’t rise or fall on any particular case. This high profile incident provides us a reason to examine our reactions, our community, our strengths, our weaknesses, and ourselves more fully. This particular moment is not a given. We have been brought to a precipice in our collective consciousness, to show our love for each other—not by silencing our women—but through honest engagement in how we can move forward from here.

I want to be clear: societal inequality is not a natural state of affairs. Neither is rape. Furthermore, violence does not exist within an abstract, de-contextualized system. It is re-enacted within relationships of all kinds. Those relationships are situated within the context of the larger discriminatory systems of American society.


State-sanctioned terrorism, such as racialized police brutality, and mass incarceration of Black men and women influences how we as a community react to rape. Black people are often placed in an impossible position of having to choose whom to protect; this protection can be so necessary against a society that alternates between denigrating us and erasing our very existence. That truth does not mean we should turn on each other through violence or, perhaps even more dangerous, in our reactions to such violence.

The way forward isn’t about adjusting our perceptions of rape, Black women, and Black men’s sexuality. It must be about dismantling what we think we know about these constructs entirely and replacing distortions with genuine equality. Protection of each other as Black people need not be synonymous with accepting injustice, violence, or degradation in any form. Never should we demand silence from the dissenters, the whistle blowers, and the combatants of injustice because solutions never arise from silence. Only with problematizing the current situation can we radically alter our priorities, understanding that all of us need protection, solace, understanding, and acceptance. We all need to live lives free of violence.

We have always been a community. Let’s continue to build something greater, stronger, more powerful, more empathetic, and more unified through hearing the voices of those who have been victimized and responding with love. I challenge us to move forward with grace amidst the complexity of oppression, discrimination, violence, (intra)cultural trust, and cultural betrayal. Let’s actually live the world we envision in our dreams for ourselves.


BC Guest Commentator Jennifer M. Gómez, M.S., Ford Fellow, is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon, researching the effects of trauma on diverse populations. In this domain, she has published over 20 peer reviewed articles, book chapters, scholarly newsletter pieces, and newspaper op-ed pieces. She is the co-editor of the special issue of Journal of Trauma & Dissociation—Self Injury & Suicidality: The Impact of Trauma & Dissociation (2015). She has developed cultural betrayal trauma theory as a way to understand interpersonal trauma outcomes for minorities, with a specific focus on African Americans in the U.S. She is dedicated to using her work to contribute to national discourse on violence and healing in the African American community.
 


 
 

 

 

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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
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Publisher:
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