ENGENDERING BLACK RACIAL VICTIMHOOD
Beginning with Harlon Dalton, the authors in Part II explore the antiracist construction of Black racial victimhood. Dalton suggests that the Black community’s prioritization of race over gender or sexual identity is disturbing because it asks individuals to forsake important parts of their identity and suffer injustices in silence in order to remain authentically Black. He criticizes the view that, because Black men are an "endangered species," their experiences should be privileged over other Black experiences, and he urges antiracist proponents to think about Black community membership inclusively. Dalton argues that Black women and Black gay men have as much of a claim to "the race" as straight Black men; thus, their concerns and experiences should be represented in antiracist agendas.
Michael Awkward invokes the Tyson rape trial to provide a very concrete example of the antiracist prioritization problem Dalton identifies. Employing the antiracist discourse about the Tyson trial, Awkward illustrates the extent to which many African Americans view male abusive behavior, including rape, as inconsequential in comparison to the need for Black male role models and the need to keep Black men out of jail.
Kevin Brown’s anecdotal evidence supports Awkward’s thesis. Brown employs Black men’s responses to the Mike Tyson rape trial to illustrate how victimhood was reconfigured so that Mike Tyson, the alleged perpetrator, became a racial victim and Desiree Washington, the rape victim, became a racial villain, a woman—a Black woman— who was attempting to "bring down another brother." According to Brown, because of the gendered construction of Black racial victim – hood within antiracist discourse, the possibility that Mike Tyson was being victimized by a "white judicial system" became more important than the fact that Desiree Washington might have been raped. That Tyson was ultimately convicted of rape did not in any way undermine his racial victim status. His time in jail indicated to many Black Americans that white America had succeeded in "bringing down" another Black male role model.
My essay advances a thesis similar to Kevin Brown’s, but I employ the antiracist discourse about the O. J. Simpson trial to substantiate it. Much of the discussion about the Simpson trial focused on the extent to which the white community’s response to the trial differed from the Black community’s response. The common argument made was that the construction of O. J. Simpson as a racial victim in the Black community and a racialized villain in the white community is attributable to the fact that white people and Black people see the world differently and have different experiences with the police. I argue that this thesis provides only a partial explanation for why so many Black people "supported" O. J. Simpson or refused to believe that he committed the murders. I suggest that O. J. Simpson’s racial victim status relates to the gendered construction of Black racial vic – timhood.
Walter Allen’s essay raises the question of how antiracist proponents should address the relationship between race and gender in advancing educational reform. His general argument is one with which few people would quarrel—that Black student access to educational opportunities needs to be improved. In advancing this thesis, Allen carefully shows the ways in which the educational obstacles that face Black women are not always the same as the obstacles that confront Black men; sometimes they are more severe, and sometimes less.
Allen suggests that, in thinking about race, gender, and Black students’ educational opportunities, antiracist proponents need to recognize and come to terms with the gendered and context-specific nature of students’ obstacles.
Charles Lawrence III situates the antiracist construction of Black racial victimhood in the context of a broader discussion about the ways in which white supremacy regulates Black sexuality. Lawrence argues that in the American psyche, Black women are imagined as unchaste and Black men are imagined as sexual predators. He argues that many Black Americans understood that the Mike Tyson trial and the Clarence Thomas hearings were not solely about rape and sexual harassment, respectively; they were about Black male sexual propensities. To many Black Americans, both of these very public legal proceedings represented white America’s attempt to legitimize the image of Black men as sexual brutes. Desiree Washington and Anita Hill were accused of facilitating that legitimation by telling their stories of Black male abuse—by "airing the dirty laundry" about individual acts of Black male sexual misconduct.
As I mention in the introduction to this book, the criticism that antiracist discourse privileges the victim status of Black men is, for the most part, advanced by Black women. Black men either have been silent on this issue, or they have rejected the criticism. Black women have responded to Black men’s rejection of the criticism and Black men have responded to these responses. The dialogue between Black men and Black women about the role of gender in antiracist politics is sometimes referred to as the "Black Man/Black Woman debate." In the last essay in this section, Derrick Bell analyzes this debate in the context of a broader discussion about racism and Black male sexism. He argues that discussions about sexism in the Black community should take account of the extent to which it derives from Black men deflecting the emasculating racism they suffer away from their oppressors on to Black women. According to Bell, this occurs in part due to the very nature of a racist economy—the oppressor retains his power by encouraging this deflection of rage, and the oppressed follow the leader by oppressing those less powerful than themselves (in the case of Black men, Black women are the most likely target). Bell concludes that it is crucial that antiracist proponents avoid the temptation of diversion and stay focused on unifying Black men and women.