>The Nation magazine has an excellent piece written by William Jelani Cobb regarding the case of more than a dozen black men and boys being arrested for the rape of an 11-year-old girl. It’s a really interesting piece and should add a new twist in the debate on the fiasco.
These few paragraphs of the opinion stood out to me:
The rape, which allegedly took place in a filthy trailer, has been mitigated by qualifiers on the child’s innocence—and necessarily, the guilt of the accused. It is, as an abstract idea, wrong to force a preteen child to have sex with a dozen and a half men. Unless she was “fast,” or dressed like a much older woman, or had slack maternal supervision. Add enough exceptions and even the unconscionable begins to look like a six-in-one-hand undertaking. It is the bitterest of ironies that African-Americans in Cleveland have been the most vocal proponents of this warped ideal. We of all people should understand how the moral exception game works. (For those who believe the fact that the girl is Hispanic has colored the responses to the crime, rest assured, “fast” 11-year-old black girls are seen as every bit as disposable within the black community.)
It is worth remembering that in the age of lynching, as now, new media technology served as a kind of antiseptic, airing rancid behavior in forums much larger than the moral echo chambers of Deep South counties. Southerners were, on some level, stunned by the national firestorm that the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till created. They were incapable of understanding why a single murder of a black man—an act that had been Southern business as usual for decades—unleashed torrents of criticism and outrage nationwide. The behavior was the same, but exposing it on television created a completely new dynamic. In the face of this new circumstance, Southerners retrenched and expanded their contempt to include media and all other such “outside agitators.”
They excavated the Confederate flag and elevated it to a place of honor as a symbol of their recalcitrance. Among the bitterest ironies in a situation filled with them is that the tradition of lynching is, on some level, connected to the victim-blaming and asterisk-brandishing afoot in Cleveland, Texas. The wrongful convictions and killings of black men for bogus charges of sexual assault remain deeply placed in the historical memory of many black communities. And anyone who knows of the Scottsboro trial, the Central Park jogger case or Tulia, Texas, where forty African-Americans were arrested on false drug charges, is necessarily skeptical of mass arrests involving African-Americans—especially those involving sex crimes. But history cannot absolve what is voiced in Cleveland now, a nightmare cliché born of those lynching galleries: the victim had it coming.
It’s likely that the feelings of some residents of Cleveland are a curious echo of what those Southern partisans of a bygone era felt. Rancid behavior in their town—and more important, the values that undergird it—has been given a national airing. Outside agitators have assailed their views—140 characters at a time. But would that these kinds of views were confined to a small outpost in East Texas. None of us who saw fans rally around R. Kelly during his pedophilia trial or heard the bullshit rationales given for Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna could feel secure in pointing a judgmental finger at Cleveland, Texas. Gender Jim Crow is a national concern.
I’m fascinated by the piece as it connects our past with the present. It also does a great job of making comparisons of how Southerners, who were complicit in the crime of lynching, defended the region’s “way of life” and shifted the blame of the crime on its victims–much like how some residents in the small town are doing in their situation.
Furthermore, I think the last two sentences in the last paragraph places a mirror on us as Americans: do we deserve to point a finger at Cleveland, Texas, considering the two examples Cobb mentioned above? Do we, as people who have been complicit in the acceptance of an American rape culture that stigmatizes and blames the victim, have a right to judge some residents of Cleveland, Texas for becoming defensive at the depiction of their town and their people?
What do you think of Cobb’s analysis? Is there a connection between what Southerns felt when lynching was placed in a national spotlight and what some residents of Cleveland, Texas are feeling with the alleged rape and subsequent arrests of more than 12 boys and men?