The verdict enables more survivors of all backgrounds to share their truth, regardless of the identity of perpetrators.
In October 2017, I let out a big exhale when Harvey Weinstein became the target of accusations in the #MeToo movement and Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor immediately became part of the growing list of those who allegedly sexually harassed women and girls. As a feminist activist, I celebrated the public shaming of these men. As a black woman who has survived sexual violence, I quietly applauded the new narrative on rape and race in America that I saw unfolding.
In the first weeks of #MeToo, the celebrities accused of sexual assault were white men, not African-American men. It would take almost two months after Ashley Judd’s sexual harassment accusation against Mr. Weinstein in The New York Times before the first high-profile black man was accused, when Jenny Lumet wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that Russell Simmons had sexually assaulted her.
Finally, media representation had caught up to reality. According to the most recent data released by the Justice Department in a special report on female victims of violence, white men committed more than 57 percent of sexual assaults from 2005 to 2010 in the United States. This shift in our national consciousness also chiseled away at one of our nation’s most pernicious and enduring racial stereotypes: the black male rapist. This myth, born in the 19th century, worked to prohibit consensual sexual liaisons between white women and black men on one hand, and was used to justify the widespread lynching of black men on the other hand, by white mobs who falsely asserted their black male victims raped white women.
As that stereotype took hold, it destroyed the lives of black men and their families, and it had another chilling effect: It discouraged all women from coming forward with allegations against white men. I was giving a talk on race, rape and popular culture at a college in Illinois. A young white woman in the audience stood up and told the auditorium that she was sexually assaulted by a white man and her parent’s response was not to do anything. But they told her that if he was black, they would’ve taken action.