By Sexual Correspondent Andrea Plaid
I give mad kudos to Cara for her smartly written analysis about Lil’ Wayne having his rape exploited as talk-show fodder on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. She said a lot of what I was thinking when I saw the clip. She felt her thoughts were “long and wandering”, but she sorted through several pieces of baggage packed in that 2 ½ minute clip and, sometimes, the usual short-n-snappy post writing style just doesn’t cut it. But we can further unpack this conversation around race, men, and sexual violation.
The final consideration in analyzing the reaction to this story is the question of race. Again, Sociological Images asserts that the reason people do not see this as rape is because Lil’ is not only male, but a black male.
It’s certainly true that black men are hyper-sexualized, and that anyone who is hyper-sexualized is instantly construed as unrapeable, all other considerations becoming irrelevant. But at the same time, while Lil’ Wayne’s race surely plays a part not only in the failure to interpret his “virginity loss” as rape but also the prodding by the while males for him to brag about the assault he endured, I’m unsure that this would necessarily be interpreted as rape if a white male was the victim. For an example of why, you can again see above.
Then again, Anthony Kiedis is also interpreted as hyper-sexual both due to the image that he has created for himself and by virtue of being a rock star. Take that away and leave his situation with clearly older predators in tact, and you may have a situation where a white male would be seen as a victim, but a black male (or perhaps other male of color) would not be. It’s not easy to say. While we can say with certainty that racism plays a role in the reactions we see to the story that Lil’ Wayne recounts, we can’t say how exactly the reactions would be different when racism is taken out of the picture.
Unpacking the Kiedis/Wayne Comparison
Though both are famous male musicians whom were raped by older women in their lives (Kiedis’ father’s girlfriend; Wayne’s babysitter), the analysis can’t just rest on “these guys survived sexual violation.” It’s the same mushed notion that all female victims suffer rape and other sexual violence without consideration of other factors, like race. Rock stars, especially white ones, are given more latitude to discuss and display a gamut of emotions and experiences, including physical, emotional and sexual violations, from classic rock to emo and beyond. Lil’ Wayne, being a Black male–and a hip-hop artist at that, in an industry that says Black male voices are profitable and, therefore, listenable only in R&B and hip-hop–simply isn’t allowed that same space to talk about such issues.
Unpacking the Statistical Silence
The National Center for Victims of Crime runs down some of the latest numbers :
- About 3% of American men – a total of 2.78 million men – have experienced a rape at some point in their lifetime.
- In 2003, one in every ten rape victims was male. While there are no reliable annual surveys of sexual assaults on children, the Justice Department has estimated that one of six victims are under age 12.
- 71% of male victims were first raped before their 18th birthday; 16.6% were 18-24 years old, and 12.3% were 25 or older.
- Males are the least likely to report a sexual assault, though it is estimated that they make up 10% of all victims.
- 22% of male inmates have been raped at least once during their incarceration; roughly 420,000 prisoners each year.
When I did a cursory Google search for specific statistics on Black men and sexual violation, I came up with white supremacists’ fantasies. Not helpful.
Sexologist Bianca Laureano led me to Dr. Darrell Wheeler, who’s an associate professor and Assistant Dean of Research at Hunter College School of Social Work. When I told him about the dearth of numerical information, he kindly offered me one: in his study of sexually risky behavior of Black men who have sex with men (MSM) and Black men who have sex with men and women (MSMW), about 30% have been forced to have sex.
Then he stated, “Black male sexual violence is a very sensitive–often taboo–subject in Black communities.”
Unpacking the Intra- and Interracial Narratives
Part of the taboo is it seems that the only violation folks, both inside and outside some Black communities, want to give an ear to from and about Black men is how they are “racially violated,” how racism denies them their humanity, which is closely tied to their sense of “rightful” manhood: getting a job, providing for themselves and their families, protecting their women and children–and more negatively, their male privileges, like feeling entitled to participate in this society’s sexism and misogyny. Several books written by Black men riff this theme, from Richard Wright’s Native Son, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name and Notes of a Native Son, and Nathan McCall’s Make Me Wanna Holler. Then, of course, such riffs exist where there are, well, riffs: before folks start hollering about Teh Evils of Hip-Hop, also consider James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” Marvin Gaye’s “Make Me Wanna Holla,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.”
When the media does address or show male sexual violence, it shows it in prisons (Shawshank Redemption, American History X—and note the survivor is the white male protagonist) The only account of a Black man experiencing sexual attacks in recent memory still fits into the narrative of Violence in the Legal Complex–namely the heinous physical and sexual assault on Haitian-American Abner Louima by mostly white NYPD officers. And even at that—Louima’s violation is rarely referred to as “rape.” Newspapers wrote he was “tortured” or “brutally assaulted.” If they refer to the sexual violence at all, the press said Louima was “sodomized” (with all of the homophobia stinking up that word) or describe in graphic detail what happened. Even when I hear Black pundits and other folks talk about the white police brutality suffered by Black men, the names roll off the tongue: Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Louima. The fact that cops shot Bell, Grant, and Diallo is emphasized. Louima surviving cops raping him is rarely—if ever–articulated as such.
As Cara mentioned, part of this may stem from the fact that Black men, like Black women, are viewed as “unrapeable” due to society viewing us as “hypersexual.” Another thought-strain, coming from within some Black communities, is that we cannot talk about sexual violence least we are doing our part of maintaining the Hypersexual (and Violent) Negro stereotype. So, we are to keep quiet in order to uplift The Race. However, some Black women are opening up the conversations around our own sexual violations by Black men and women.
And publicly—and even reluctantly and perhaps unwittingly–Lil Wayne has done the same for Black men and, hopefully, for other men of color. And if we’re calling ourselves feminists and womanists, we should be the first to offer this empowering language to—and give and hold that space for—Black men, so they can name what actually happened to them and not have it become the fodder of stereotypes and fantasies that misogynist late-night talk show hosts and guests can exploit.