By Guest Contributor R.N. Bradley
“He so fine, he could rape me so good.”
Yeah. You read that correctly. To borrow from my southern roots, I got “thowed off” when my student put this in the atmosphere while talking about black women’s sexuality in a multicultural space like hip hop.
It happened in class about a month ago, and I have yet to find the words to ease the levels of high anxiety and horror that I continue to grapple with after hearing this phrase. Part of me recoiled like the 9-year-old little girl I talked about here; part of it was me as a grown woman angry at the fact that rape is contextualized and dismissed as a spectacle. By no means is this quick commentary intended to be a polished discussion of rape and blackness in the popular imagination. Instead, is more sporadic and “off the dome.” It has no shaped trajectory but accentuates the messiness of rape discourse that currently exists in (black) American popular culture.
Aside from my immediate “WTF” moment was the jaw-dropping realization that this phrase annotates a (young) black female body. Rape as a lens of visible (hyper)sex ultimately leads to a conversation about shifting representations of rape and black women’s respectability. In order to be visible a black woman must be “rape-able?” The inversion of black women’s respectability as being considered “rape-able” creates a nasty, imploded lens of black women’s sex and identity that remains situated within historic plantation sexual politics. Black women as rape victims is stymied by the belief that black women have “moved past” victims–a status that was reserved for, you know, ‘respectable’ white women wary of predatory black men–to proponents of rape discourse because of the destabilized foundation of rape as traumatic discourse. Further complicating rape-ability is the investment by young black girls in the belief that rape equivocates good sex and, thus, removes the pain and trauma associated with rape. Due to (tweet) trends like “It Ain’t Rape If…” and shows like Family Guy and South Park categorizing rape as a joke, “rape me so good” opens up the horrifying possibility of black girls being open and prone to rape in order to be considered ‘deserving’ of warranted or unwarranted sexual attention “just for shits and giggles.”
On the flip side of this question is the implication(s) of what phrases like “rape me so good” suggest for black boys and black men? Upon asking my male students if they had been sat down and talked to about rape and rape prevention they shyly admitted they had not. When we talk about rape, it is often gendered and geared towards women without little consideration for (black) men. There is a need to tackle this issue, especially with folks like Too $hort telling little boys to sexually assault girls to get their attention. Indeed, it is MUCH bigger than Too $hort. Compound that with a young girl or woman casually claiming their willingness to be raped because “he fine?” What language is left when a girl or woman, supposedly asking for rape, “gets what she asked for?” Sex as validating men for discourse is a sharp dichotomy of sexual prowess as strength and sexual power as predatory. Real black men smash anything that moves. Real black men grind it out–all puns intended–until, as Rick Ross so eloquently puts it, “put his dick in the dirt.” Yet the limitations of this highly compressed sexual identity leaves little room to express the vulnerability and frequent trauma set as the foundation of this type of black masculinity. In what ways do we address the victim and victimizer? Taimak’s character on the rape awareness episode of A Different World immediately comes to mind because of his inability–and unwillingness–to address characterizations of sexual violence. How messy is it that “no means no” no longer suffices as a band-aid for a serious conversation about rape (prevention).
I am still working through this conversation and grappling with the haziness of rape discourse in not only the popular imagination but the imagination of our kids. How is rape a pedagogical tool of sexual identity? Is the looseness of sexuality in current trends of American popular culture reflected in a similarly loosening anxiety surrounding rape?
Where they do that at?
R.N. Bradley is a doctoral candidate in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. Bradley’s current research interests include identity politics, African-American humor, late 20th and 21st century black popular culture and literature, and Hip Hop. Her dissertation investigates negotiations of whiteness in 21st century black consciousness using popular culture and literature.