When They Tell You Who They Are

The looming approval of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination comes barely a week after he raged and yelled and cried in front of a Senate committee, half of whom were drawing hearts with “B.K.” and their initials in it when his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford presented her case. The FBI, who has enough resources find all the lost socks in the world, presented the findings of an investigation where neither accuser nor many others interested in offering information were interviewed.  For a representative government, this seems like a good time to ask who they really represent.

Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.” That is good advice in another week when women some women people who care about sexual assault victims are pleading to be heard and have their experience recognized.  Kavanaugh supporters have spent the last weeks dragging out every reason to minimize, dismiss and silence sexual assault victims. Thousands of victims shared raw powerful stories of their own experiences to try to help senators and their supporters understand.

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Stop.  Stop sharing your feelings and your deepest pain with the people who care more about power than people.  Stop trying to help those whose spirits are set on sleeping, illiterate in their own humanity.  No carefully crafted explanation you give will make them change their beliefs. They are not seeking to understand. They do not want your help.  They want to be insulated by their hate and ignorance.  More than anything, they want to rule the world, at any cost. They demand to keep living in their nostalgic America–the America of Big Dan’s and sexual abuse in the back rooms of churches, days when a woman who wanted a voice just needed to be reminded of her place.

While it is true and important that the #MeToo movement has brought important conversations about rape culture to a wider audience, the senators who will vote to support Blackout Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination are uninterested in cultural transformation. The question raised by an enraged constituency–would you confirm a bellicose liar (31 lies and counting) who also is a potential sex offender–is answered with a simple yea.  The end game for them is power, a court that will lean conservative for years to come.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation won’t take years to pay off, though.  While lots of people are thinking the rush is on to beat the midterms, there is another, bigger fish on the line.  The Supreme Court will hear a case on double jeopardy that has potentially massive consequences for Trump and the Mueller investigation according to the Congressional Research Service:

The Gamble case may nevertheless have significant collateral legal effects … A win for Gamble could also indirectly strengthen the President’s pardon power, by precluding a state from prosecuting an already-pardoned defendant who has gone to trial on an overlapping offense.

And there it is: save the supreme court nominee, save Trump’s world. Looks like Trump and Kavanaugh have more than sexual assault allegations in common.  Their conservative leaning on this case have them in la-la-love and rushing to get to the spicy part where Trump helps tank the FBI investigation and Kavanaugh ensures Trump’s pardon powers.

In these days of change, we rightfully resist.  We demand that previously marginalized voices be heard. We work to create space for new ways of being that foreground compassion, humanity, and empathy.  We think we can appeal to the humanity in others–if we just say the right thing, show them our wounds, beg them to remember we are family they will finally see the light and usher in utopia with us.  We all want the same thing: to be safe, to be free, to have a healthy family that can thrive, and the resources we need in the pursuit of happiness.

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But we have a blind spot. We forget that there are people who are wholly willing to kill for safety, to enslave others to create their own freedom.  There are people invested in keeping the narrow definition of family in order to center their traditions. There are whole systems set up to funnel resources from the many to the few.  This is not a drill–this is really who they are and no amount of tragic personal narrative will stop them from working against everything we believe in. We can’t reason with them; we can only remove them.

The Black Lives Matter movement has gone through these growing pains. While many massive peaceful protests did focus attention and grow the movement it was only the beginning. After Trayvone Martin’s killer walked free, and video after video showed cops kill people with no subsequent consequences, after die-ins and marches and the occupation of Ferguson, there was no come to Jesus moment when America suddenly recognized the humanity of black people and called for widespread change.  You can’t win systemic transformation by appealing to people who are invested financially and ideologically in your oppression.

Working with community members to solve problems seen as the most effective tactic to help blacks achieve equality

The tactics of the BLM movement didn’t stop at protests alone. Our liberation was never going to be born the love child of white supremacy and our demands for justice. Instead of begging our oppressors, we are building ourselves. In fact, there is a solid case to make that we are in the midst of an unprecedented black renaissance.  Our activists are moving from the streets to the halls of power, becoming elected officials with the ability to make change Our artists are creating a vision of the new world in film and TV, illuminating our path. Millions of black people are doing what they can with what they have where they are: starting businesses, growing community, getting educated. Most importantly, black people are talking to each other, working to create unity and help our sleeping brothers and sisters wake up. This is how we get free.

Whatever the result of Kavanaugh’s nomination, the past few weeks have shown us who the right is.  Conservative men AND women have dismissed sexual assault as just a teenage rite of passage or a privilege of prep school boys who later rule the world. They do not care about women’s equality.  They do not care about holding men accountable.  They will not change their mind even when they find your case compelling.

It’s time to stop begging and keep building.  Lingering on your anger over Kavanaugh will not help.  Instead, take stock of what you can do and do it.  Vote, create, build and talk.  Talk to the people that matter, and work with the willing.  Work to get the fence sitters to come to the right side of history. Remind them there are many more of us than there are of them.  Numbers are on our side and the stakes are sky high. Tell them as you tell yourself: none of us is free until all of us are free.  Stay woke.

Privilege: Kavanaugh’s Cloak of Invisibility

America is gripped this week by the Supreme Court hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, a salacious episode of reality TV involving sex, power, and privilege. Tomorrow, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will testify that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when the pair were in high school in 1982.  Even as more accusers come forward–two three five as of this writing–tomorrow’s testimony is set up to be a battle of the he-said-she-said–but there is a third element to this story we can’t ignore: the power of privilege.

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Watch any crime show and you will see the weight we put on the world of the perpetrator to mold their criminal ways.  Shoot up a school? Let’s see what video games you played.  Black criminal? a product of the streets.   It’s not unusual–and in fact is too often standard to replace evidence with character and culture when adjudicating criminals. That is until it comes to those prep school boys and their boys-will-be-boys antics. The prep school of Kavanaugh’s narrative is a virginal version of academic heaven; surely no harm can happen there? The violence of power and control that is shaped by a competitive environment where privilege protects bad behavior could not possibly have any bearing on a man 30 years after, right?

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The world of frat boys gone bad is a familiar trope in American culture. Movies like Skull and Bones, Animal House, and Private School (released in 1983 during Kavanaugh’s school days) and TV shows feature a world where boyish behavior crimes are common but consequences and parents are absent.  Hidden behind the Ivies, violence becomes tradition and assault becomes kidding around.  This rapey frat boy thing is not mere fiction: a long litany of actual news events feature young men who used their power and privilege to get out of the consequences of sexual assault, their lives deemed more important to not disrupt than that of victims, forever disrupted by a justice system that refuses to let their wounds heal.  We are surrounded with a long tradition of tales that stage whisper to us that sexual assault is a normal, if not a traditional part of private school that frat boys believe are part of their rites of passage into toxic masculinity–also know as the old boy’s network.

Neither the overreliance on environmental factors–like the Marilyn Manson theory of school shooters–nor the erasure of anything from the past as some would like to see in Kavanaugh’s hearing provides for the complex factors that make any person who they are. When we examine someone’s integrity, the past is a part of who they are.  When we are validating accusations, circumstances matter. Brett Kavanaugh’s environment in addition to Ford’s testimony should factor into verifying–or denying–her claim. We should hear from others who were there and who say they are familiar with the incident.  Hmm, we need some way to gather all this information.  Wish we had an FBI–oh we do!  A full investigation will make sure that all voices are heard and we have a tapestry of voices, not just two.

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One trait of this trope that you may notice is that this is a long list of white men.  While the GOP is bending over backward to avoid investigating old accusations about Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby is sentenced to 3-10 years in prison and is labeled a sexual predator.  As powerful as Bill Cosby once was, it was not impossible for the court and the court of public opinion to see past years of Cosby’s family-friendly work and find him guilty:  he was after all a black man, and America has a long legal tradition of finding black men guilty of being sexual predators.  Cosby lacked a prep school to blame his behavior on.  Black fame without white privilege gave his accusers a chance to be heard, and, after enormous effort, justice will finally be done as Cosby enters jail.

There is no such legal legacy when it comes to white men.  Too often white men win in the court of public opinion long before they are held to legal account. Before a word of testimony regarding the Kavanaugh’s situation is heard under oath Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising to “get through this.” Kavanaugh’s accusers are denied an FBI investigation that would examine evidence related to their claims.  The best they can hope for is that the man that perpetrated their alleged assaults doesn’t also decide their healthcare rights. The cloak of whiteness protects the old boy’s network from scrutiny; crime is redefined as horseplay, jokes, hazing. It’s easy to bend the rules in favor of the old boys’ network because the old boys are by and large the ones who get to make and interpret the laws.

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Neither the age of the allegations nor Cosby’s massive fame and fortune stopped the accusations from negatively affecting his life–as justice would require.  To be clear, this is not a defense of Cosby. He is now a convicted sex offender, while Kavanaugh will not have any judgment rendered regarding the allegations themselves.  Instead, this is a chance to point out the often invisible way that privilege works to advantage those in power.  Even as Cosby was being labeled a sexual predator for drugging women and sexually assaulting them, Trump told the media that Ramirez’s accusations of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault are not to be believed because she was inebriated. The difference between the narratives surrounding one case and another highlights the privilege protecting wealthy white men accused of sexual assault that prevents them from the scrutiny–and just process–of a trial.

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Look carefully not at the sordid details themselves, but the falling action, where boys lives are deemed relics of a past to be forgotten, where their behavior becomes an inconsequential drop in an ocean of what-boys-do.  Not only are these acts normalized by their sheer frequency, but they are excused with weak slaps, or condoned, simply a nod to tradition that remains unquestioned and un-consequenced.  We can and must do better.

America is designed to be a nation of laws, not (white) men. What’s good for the comedian is good for the supreme court judge who will make decisions that will affect women for years to come. Let Cosby’s conviction be tomorrow’s lesson: ignore the privileges that come with power. Believe the women.