There are probably few crimes more heinous than rape and probably few images in the American psyche that are more disturbing than the Black man as a rapist.
Defense of White womanhood from the “depraved” Black male was a major concern espoused by slave masters and a major mission for the Ku Klux Klan and night riders after the abolition of slavery and during the Reconstruction Period. Accusations of rape were enough to justify destruction of entire communities, like the thriving Black Wall St. community in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921. The lynching of males and that Black rapist image was forever enshrined in U.S. movie history in the groundbreaking and pro-KKK film “The Birth of A Nation.” Its showings were accompanied by race riots and racial attacks in some cities. The silent film, made in 1915 and recognized as a cinematic masterpiece and blockbuster of its time, was banned from some cities because of its volatility.
A legal paper written by Amy Karen Phillips, titled “The Southern Rape and Lynching Complex: The Subordination of Southern Women Through a Mechanism of White Supremacy,” notes “men and women, blacks and whites were victims of lynching, most of those killed were black men; the justification typically proffered was that the victim had raped a white woman. … Typically, only black men accused of raping white women became lynching victims,” according to Georgetown.edu.
“Women, children, and slaves were all viewed as dependent on white male patriarchs. Phillips also details how this ideal of womanhood became intertwined with concepts of the South itself. … Rumors of black rapists were so prevalent they have been described as the ‘folk pornography of the Bible Belt,’ and fear of rape was widespread.”
Nearly 140 years after the end of Reconstruction, that post-slavery period where Blacks tried to ascend to political power and equal status in society and were beaten back, the ugly image of the Black male rapist has been resurrected by the White right for use against the first Black president.
The ugly language aimed at President Obama is another example of how political discourse and the social environment are being injected with dangerous, poisonous and false words that conjure up hateful images and stir up fears of an already unsettled White populace.
With a White mother and White grandparents who helped raise him, President Obama knows both sides of America’s racial reality and has worked steadily to allay White fears and continually reiterated his commitment as the president of all the people.
But no matter what he does, it doesn’t seem to be enough: “Conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage frequently employ rape metaphors when discussing progressives or progressive policies,” noted Media Matters, in a recent bulletin detailing the white hot rhetoric employed by the right wing radio personalities.
Sometimes the hosts directly call out Mr. Obama, but other times the enemy rapist is “the government,” a government headed by a Black man, so the racist connection and negative images that go with their words should be lost on no one. Concern about rising anti-government attitudes in the country, attitudes tied to the ascension of a Black first family in the White House have already been echoed by law enforcement officials and other monitoring groups.
Glenn Beck, on his Nov 19 radio show, declared: “People in New York, you’re being raped by your government–raped.” His target was apparently government spending and taxes. That wasn’t all Mr. Beck said. “We’re the young girl saying ‘No, no, help me,’ and the government is Roman Polanski,” said Mr. Beck while talking about health care reform on the November 16 edition of his Fox News program. Despite his pre-statement apology, Mr. Beck’s statement was crass and classless, resurrecting a painful episode for a woman who was a child rape victim.
This is what Rush Limbaugh had to say Oct. 22 on the controversy about how much executives should be making given taxpayers bailed the execs out: “I guaran-damn-tee you Obama said: ‘You get up there and you rape ‘em. And you make ‘em poor. And you make ‘em pay. And you let ‘em know. Just don’t tell ‘em that I knew anything about it,’ he said.”
“It’s pretty apparent to me that Obama hates America and the history of this country. It is apparent to me that he harbors a deep grudge towards America. It seems to me that he has many leftist friends around the world, certainly more than any president in the history of our nation. It seems to me he cannot wait to cozy up to those who criticize America, whether it be in the Middle East or in South America,” said radio host Michael Savage, according to Media Matters. “Obama is raping America. Obama is raping our values. Obama is raping our democracy. And he is saying to you: “Who are you going to believe, me, with this sonorous Kenyan voice, the con man in front of your eyes? Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
Among the many voices in the country warning against the hateful words and rhetoric has been the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, who at the height of hope that America had moved beyond race warned against excessive celebration and expectations. He mentioned again Nov. 15 the dangerous climate being fostered against Mr. Obama and his family. The Secret Service and General Accounting Office admit death threats against the president have risen and by one account the threats have increased 400 percent with the president in office for less than a year.
It is time for news agencies, pundits, political and social leaders–regardless of where they are on the political spectrum–to condemn this dangerous rhetoric that appeals to the worst instincts of the American people. To disagree with the president is one thing, but to seed an environment that could lead to physical harm or his assassination must be condemned and brought to an end.