This week has been a jarring and unsettling week for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. As the world watched Christine Blasey Ford testify on her accounts of the sexual assault she said she experienced at the hands of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the early 1980s, our hearts broke.
What the world witnessed as they watched Ford was an act of sheer bravery and patriotism that we don’t often see. As the saying goes “not all heroes wear capes,” and I would add not all soldiers will stand on a battlefield. Ford is indeed a soldier, as are all people who after facing unimaginable levels of abuse and trauma find the strength to keep pushing forward day in and day out.
Brett Kavanaugh, however, showed us exactly who he was at this hearing, and it was anything but brave. It was the primal scream of patriarchy.
The convergence of white male privilege and entitlement made for an angry, self-righteous, and despicable display. While both Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas decried their accusers with similar words at their respective hearings, one couldn’t help but look at the display of rage from Kavanaugh that is so tightly wrapped in whiteness it’s almost jarring. But then you are reminded of where you are—Trump’s America—when white rage has moved from the margins back to center stage and white people are emboldened to make their entitlements known.
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While on air on my SiriusXM radio show, #WokeAF, I’ve played the CNN clip where a focus group of women, a majority of them white—defended the actions of a 17-year-old Brett. Some of the women even going so far as to say, “What teenage boys don’t act like this?” My answer: a lot.
But what has struck me about his loyal flock has been their “white boys will be white boys” mentality, meaning that white boys can do no wrong. Meanwhile, Black and brown children are perceived as adults before they hit double digits in age.
Tamir Rice was 12 years old and innocent of any crime when gunned down by police, and yet white America said nothing of his tender age. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old boy who loved flying and snowboarding when he was gunned down by George Zimmerman, and yet white America treated him like an adult thug. Jordan Davis was 17 years old when he was killed by a white vigilante at a gas station for playing loud music, and yet somehow this catastrophic event was his fault.
The tragic list of the stolen innocence of Black children at the hands of white rage is endless. Black children are never allowed to just “be kids,” and yet somehow white men are treated as perpetual adolescents even into their 70s, like the current occupant of the White House.
White bad behavior is even given names like “affluenza,” and white kids like Brock Turner, who was literally caught with his pants down sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford in 2015, are praised for their achievements by white male judges, who worry how the tragedy they caused is going to ruin their lives instead of caring about the life of their victims.
As the Twitter user @Emrazz so eloquently tweeted: Brock Turners grow up to be Brett Kavanaughs who make the rules for Brock Turners.
Brock Turners grow up to be Brett Kavanaughs who make the rules for Brock Turners.
— feminist next door (@emrazz) September 27, 2018
What makes this entire process so tragic for many of the people bearing witness is how common sexual assault is, and how normal it is not to report the crime to authorities. Many people have found Ford’s story triggering. I never really understood the word “triggered” until this story began to unfold. I’ve used it, sure, and heard it, but never felt it until recently.
While on air talking about Brett Kavanaugh and Ford, several survivors—both men and women—called in one Sunday to share their stories. Their bravery and willingness to open up such deep wounds was overwhelming. And then suddenly I was startled and fighting back tears while I spoke with each caller. At first I thought it was my deep sense of empathy for them and their trauma that shook me, and then it grew into something else—a memory I had long buried about an incident that so mirrored Ford’s I thought for a moment it wasn’t true. But then the vividness of that evening came crashing down like the blizzard that took place the night I was sexually assaulted in Arlington, Virginia.
I had just finished my shift as a waitress at a popular bar and grill and couldn’t drive the 30 minutes home because my car was under about a foot of snow. So instead, a queer male friend offered to let me crash at his place, which was walking distance away from the restaurant. While there we drank, hung out, and talked like we always did. Then I got up and went to his bedroom to sleep because he offered to sleep on the couch. A few minutes after I laid down to sleep he was on top of me. I felt stunned for a moment, like a deer in headlights. Then after several minutes of fighting back, I forced him off of me, ran out of the room into another one, and shut the door behind me. This was my friend, my gay male friend. I would realize much later that sexual orientation has nothing to do with sexual assault; it’s about power and dominance, plain and simple.
All I remember thinking was: How? Why? Why would he do this to me? Why would he think this was OK? And I remember being thankful that I was able to fight him off. As soon as daybreak came, I left. He called to apologize, and I told him I never wanted to speak to or see him again. Sixteen years later that has been the case.
As Christine Blasey Ford discussed during her testimony the need for a second front door, that memory came back to me, as I’m sure many other memories did for millions of survivors around the globe that listened in horror to her story. That night was the first time in my life I truly felt trapped, and just like Ford, I never told anyone about it. Since he wasn’t able to rape me, I figured it wasn’t a real assault. I was wrong.
Yesterday’s hearing was every survivor’s worst nightmare—being interrogated publicly about the most traumatic event in your life—sharing your truth and being called a liar. At the end of this nightmare, another justice sitting on the nation’s highest court will have faced sexual predator accusations.
While advocates’ marching, protesting, and collective outrage has brought attention to how dominant rape culture and patriarchy are in this country, we will only begin to truly change our society when we elect more women to balance the scales of power. The election of Donald Trump, a man accused by at least 20 women of harassment and assault, spurred record amounts of women to run for office in 2018—we can only hope that the inevitable confirmation of Kavanaugh will do the same.
Sometimes it’s necessary to have a breakdown in order to have a breakthrough—let’s just hope this is America’s last breakdown.