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Est. April 5, 2002
December 06, 2018 - Issue 767

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Black Women & #MeToo:
The Violence of Silencing

By Dr. Jennifer M. Gómez, PhD

"Following a quarter of a century - from the testimonies
of Anita Hill, J.D., to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford - the U.S.
is still struggling: with both how not to violate women,
as well as how not to silence them."

"Awareness in and of itself is not a moral virtue.

It’s what happens after the awareness that counts."

        Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and the subsequent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh has exposed a turbulent underbelly of gendered, sexual, and discursive violence against women in the U.S. In a déjŕ vu a full 27 years in the making, the testimony of Anita Hill, J.D., which exposed sexual harassment by subsequently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, hangs like a spectre of American society. Reminding many of us of all the progress we have not made.

Nevertheless, the public response to Dr. Ford’s testimony simultaneously reminds us of the differential context: in the era of #MeToo, it is becoming increasingly difficult to successfully silence women. The concept of #MeToo comes from Black activist Tarana Burke. Moreover, the movement itself has made deliberate efforts to be inclusive of various individuals’ experiences of sexual violence across genders, socio-economic classes, professions, and religions.  For more info on #MeToo see the Time Magazine Person of the year 2017 "The Silence Breakers".

These attempts at inclusion, however, cannot erase or immediately eradicate another difference between Ford and Hill: that of race and ethnicity of the women themselves and the men accused of sexual misconduct. As a Black woman, Hill and many others before her and since, face a double bind not faced by White women: experience sexual violence by Black men, while being responsible to protect all Black people from violent and systemic oppression. Oftentimes, this call for protection translates to the demand for Black women to remain silent when they are victimized by Black men. This oft-needed cultural mandate can result in the relative lack of freedom to say #MeToo without consequences from both the Black community and society at large.

My work on cultural betrayal trauma theory (CBTT) contributes to the #MeToo movement by centralizing systemic discrimination as a driving force in the harm of within-group violence in Black and other minority communities. In CBTT, a cultural betrayal occurs in within-group violence (e.g., Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill) because it violates the minority group solidarity that serves as a buffer against racism. The research shows that the harm of cultural betrayal occurs above and beyond that related to the trauma itself and having a close relationship with the perpetrator. Thus, similar kinds of sexual violence can hit Black women harder because of cultural betrayal.

In reflecting upon both my research and the many similarities and differences between Hill and Ford, I write this piece without the intent of pushing Black women to say #MeToo or erasing Black women who speak Black women’s truth to the power within and outside the Black community (e.g., Boycott R. Kelly). Rather, I hope this writing serves as a call to action for all of us in the Black community to multidimensionally counter the subjugating structure of White supremacy—which includes racism, sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, able-ism, and all forms of oppression.

Following a quarter of a century - from the testimonies of Anita Hill, J.D., to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford - the U.S. is still struggling: with both how not to violate women, as well as how not to silence them. More difficult still is attuning to the crosshairs that Black women additional face related to race, class, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, disability, nation of origin, and the intersection of these and other identities. Through centralizing various forms of oppression in addressing sexual violence against Black women, I can only hope that in 2045 - 27 years from now, we are not still haunted with these same ghosts of violence, silencing, and denial of Black women’s experiences. Guest Commentator, Dr. Jennifer M. Gómez, PhD, Ford Fellow, received her doctorate in clinical psychology in 2017 from University of Oregon. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Wayne State University Postdoctoral to Faculty Transition Fellowship Program, researching trauma in Black youth and young adults at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. Additionally, she is a co-editor of the upcoming special issue of Journal of Trauma & Dissociation—Discrimination, Violence, & Healing in Marginalized Communities (2018-2021). In proposing cultural betrayal trauma theory, Dr. Gómez incorporates interpersonal trauma in conjunction with discrimination to examine mental health outcomes in Black and other minority populations.
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