Sunday, April 30, 2006

Searching for Truth - Pt. 1

I have no idea what happened at that party involving the Duke Lacrosse Team and the stripper. She says things got out of control and that she was raped and sodomized; they say it was just a party and that she was angry about not getting enough money for her services. Seems like a classic cut-and-dry case of she said vs. they said, but that assumes that this is case is only about a stripper in a room full of drunken athletes. This case is of David and Goliath proportions with regard not only to race and gender, but also to class and privilege.

It could serve as an important teaching moment for our society. But I doubt it. We have already taken sides, and few of us are willing to deal with the complexities. We just want to settle old scores.

Last week a caller on a radio show complained bitterly about what she viewed as a “lack of racial solidarity with this young woman.” Apparently, several previous callers, mostly male, had suggested that because of the woman’s profession, she put herself in a position to be exploited. The caller went on to declare that this crime occurred precisely because of the victim’s race, and that fact had emboldened the lacrosse players in disrespecting her. The caller finished her tirade by suggesting that if the victim were white, none of this would ever have occurred. As the host of the program offered her amen to everything the caller said, I was completely mystified.

I understand the outrage of the black community in Durham. For decades, when a black woman was raped by a white man or mob, the community was powerless in the face of Jim Crow “justice”. Under regimes of state-sponsored terrorism, black husbands, fathers, sons and brothers could do little to protect their black wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. So when leaders of the local NAACP and clergy demanded action, they are responding to years of un-prosecuted rape and mayhem.

But that only scratches the surface as there are other implications of this incident beyond race of the victim and the perpetrators. Whenever drunken men get around half-naked women, someone is bound to take things too far. So where was her protection? Where was the black community that night? Why did this young, black, single mother have to strip for a living?

If we would dare to answer those questions, then we might see that our anger is misplaced. In overlooking certain nuances implicit in her life choices, we have again failed to address some painful truths.

Where was the father of her child? If he was paying child support, would that have led this young woman to become a stripper?

Ok, let’s assume that the answer to the second question is yes. Then, if she willingly chose this profession, then does she not also have the responsibility to accept the consequences of that choice? If that question blames the victim, then I will state here and now that I do not believe that any woman deserves to be sexually abused.

At the same time, no woman should have to engage in a profession wherein chief among the hazards is the possibility of sexual exploitation and abuse in order to support a child.

So while Jesse Jackson and others publicly form a hedge of protection around this woman now, they need to use this opportunity to publicly address the circumstances that lead this mother and other small-town black single mothers to make similar poor career choices because of absent fathers. For if she had an involved co-parent (and not another absent baby daddy), then she would never have been at that party that night. No self-respecting man would allow the mother of his child--whether he liked her or not--to work as a stripper for hire. He would care too much about the welfare of his child to allow that. And I’ve seen the darkened silhouette of her daddy in numerous TV interviews, so I’m wondering if he is hiding to protect her identity or in shame because his daughter had to pursue this lifestyle to support his grandchild.

Where was he when she needed him?

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