By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid
Well, this is a fine way for me to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
I survived a young Black man raping me when I was five years old, and I’ve been subjected to decades of the stereotype of the Black male rapist and the racism behind it. So, this cartoon triply triggered my reaction.
I rubbed my hands. I walked away. I wanted to cry but couldn’t because I was at work when I clicked on the link. I shook inside, back to that frightened little girl who couldn’t possibly tell my mom the truth about what happened. (I eventually did, about a decade later.) I didn’t want to reflect on my experience—not like this.
But there it all was, splayed on my screen, demanding some sort of order, some sort of reason for it all. To deal with it. Again.
As does the cartoon itself. Why this scenario? Why these stereotypes? Why all the justifications—again? (Yes, the poster said it can’t be racist because the woman is green.)
I’d love to say this cartoon was aimed at me, a Black woman who survived a rape, but I may be a side audience for this. This cartoon’s intended audience is for people intent on holding onto their unchallenged notion of all Black men—as both capable and very willing to rape, even symbolically. And their victims are always stereotyped as that embodiment of all that is ideally and virtuously feminine in the US, white women. Even symbolically, such as the paragon of US freedom and rights, the Statue of Liberty. So, this cartoon is the wet dream—and dog whistle—to those folks who need to believe that a single Black man being president is using that power to rape “their” beloved country and the rights and entitlements this country (ostensibly) offers. (And for those who want to jump on this post and argue about Obama’s blackness…I’m not going to even let you finish. He identifies as a Black man—go read his memoir Dreams of My Father. Our opinions about it are really, truly, honest-to-bloody-goodness moot. And tired, as far as I’m concerned. But, if you really insist on arguing about how which race he should identity with, I recommend not derailing this thread with that urgency and go argue directly with the man about himself. You know where he lives.)
And before you say, “Are you codedly trying to say ‘whites’?” No, I’m not. I do think the cartoon’s main goal and audience is whites and their conditioned-to-the-point-of-visceral fears of Black ravishment, but having worked at this blog and just living life for a while, I know that fear also deeply resides in some people of color. As I said at the beginning, I still struggle with it.
Oh yeah, this cartoon is ridiculously racist—and dare I say it?—felt inevitable. When suggesting FLOTUS Obama and he were Black and/or Muslim militants bent on destroying this country didn’t quite do it, when suggesting that Obama was a psychopathic “socialist” bent on destroying this country didn’t quite do it, the old-new visual thing is giving Obama the Willie Horton treatment. Everything old is new again…
But what really got my side-eye going was AlterNet’s accompanying article to the cartoon, where I originally saw the cartoon. Once again, it’s another progressive dismissal of racism and racists as “something” thought/said/done by “them” over “there.” Of course, the post’s intent (sigh) is calling out the blatantly viciously anti-Black bigotry while offering some sort of “compassion” to those “afflicted” with the “racist condition.” Well, sort of.
Racism is their illness. It comes in many forms and varieties, but racism is nonetheless a sickness of the mind and of the soul. To understand their illness we must categorize and study it. In the genealogy of white racism there are the deniers; those who just don’t see people of color as equals (we are quite literally invisible to many of them); those who are angry and resentful; those who traffic in the soft-bigotry of low expectations; and the willfully ignorant. The Right-wing populists and their enablers (with their know-nothing ethos) have members that are sick in all of these ways. In total, the idea of a Black man in the White House sickens them on an existential, psychological, and spiritual level. For Black Conservatives who defend the Tea Baggers, their sickness is a profound one that is one part racial Stockholm syndrome enabled by a deeply internalized white racism.
However, calling out racism as a “mental illness” both enables the racism and is ableist to those with differing mental and physical capabilities than the “able-bodied.” Using that language:
- States that racism and racists are utterly irrational people beyond the understanding of “sound-minded” people, thus placing “them”—and anyone dealing with mental or bodily conditions–beyond the realm of “us,” beyond the realm of fully participating humanity.
- Using the metaphor of mental illness for racism also follows the questionable current trend of justifying socially unacceptable behavior by “medicalizing” it.
- Combined with calling racists views as “dumb” and “stupid,” conflates mental illness with a lack of intelligence and, more subtly, educational levels. Again, the implication is “those low-information folks” (to borrow Chris Matthews’ words) are so beneath ‘us’ bachelor-degree-and-beyond people because ‘they’ just don’t have the minds to get an education. And how ‘crazy’ is that, yes?” People dealing with mental illnesses don’t lack critical thinking skills or formal educations–and quite a few are brilliant scholarly thinkers–and mental illness is more than just “not being able to think.” And we’ve all heard the phrase “an educated fool,” yes?
- Conflates progressivism—in this case anti-racism—with a “proper” mental state that all should strive obtain, which reinforces the “us” over “them” superior-identity complex that too many non-lefties complain about when working with left-leaning people. And it excludes the notion that those with mental and physical disabilities are capable of holding a political belief, let alone are capable of working on anti-racism.
- Elides the fact that progressive people of many bodily and mental capabilities are capable of thinking/saying/doing some deeply racist shit—and, yes, actually think/say/do some deeply racist shit. In that alone, the “us” and “them” dichotomy in the AlterNet post is rather disingenuous.
Is it great that Alternet called out the cartoon? Absolutely. However, using justifications and other forms of bigotry to do it just isn’t the best method, regardless of intention. Something about an eye for an eye….