9/28: Hill, Blasey Ford: sexual assault in Black and white

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the sexual assault accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, started her testimonial hearings on Thursday after what seemed like a rushed execution on the behalf of republicans. Her allegations have been met with controversy because a lifetime appointment is at stake and, apparently, the timing is “opportunistic” for Kavanaugh to be held accountable for a nearly forty-year old crime. More importantly however, it will be hard for Kavanaugh to successfully refute Blasey Ford’s testimony because she is believable. And it’s not her airtight story that’s up for debate here (although I believe that she is telling the truth).

She is believable. She projects a demeanor of someone who is credible and worth listening to while wearing the power color of navy that represents trust and responsibility. Without even trying, Dr. Blasey Ford employs her race and her gender, the very thing that made her a target for assault, to induce sympathy from the country. Her likability is increased simply because she looks the part of someone who the country wants to protect and care for, historically and contemporary. Even with all of the naysayers, there is still an entire country rooting for her and rallying behind her. So much so that 1600 males are standing with her and showing support by taking out a full page ad in the New York Times titled “We Believe Anita Hill. We also believe Christine Blasey Ford.”

And of course, unforgettably, Anita Hill accused sitting Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment 27 years ago when there was no #MeToo movement and there wasn’t an environment saturated with supporting survivors. Hill’s allegations were leaked, (in a very similar fashion to Dr. Blasey Ford’s) only to be met with support from one group of people: Black women.




In 1991, 1600 Black women from across the country funded “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves”, a full-page ad in the New York Times. And as Malcolm X famously said in 1962, “The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” So it comes as no surprise that Hill was tormented and interrogated while under oath as if she was the culprit. And now, with the onslaught of support for Blasey Ford going through a similarly aggressive style of questioning, it would’ve been a sigh of relief for Hill to receive half of the support Blasey Ford has received from different genders and races. This discrepancy highlights how there is a connection between women of different races that is not to be confused with an assumed sameness of treatment and life experiences just because we’re all women.




A Hill, Blasey Ford comparison is the height of scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s  coined term intersectionality, which basically situates how power has been historically associated with gender and race to the point that specifically Black women are left… well, in defense of ourselves. (Notably, Crenshaw was also on Hill’s team of lawyers during her hearings). With this in mind, the varying degrees of how Hill and Blasey Ford have been received by the country demonstrate a larger narrative of how Black women can be in analogous situations as white women, but still face the ever looming barriers of white privilege. For example, Blasey Ford projecting vulnerability has nothing to do with her (forced) openness to recount her story but rather, the historical ways in which white women are seen as innocent and the essence of class. On the contrary, during Hill’s hearings, there was an aura of strength and poise that somehow solicited backhanded compliments that there’s no way someone so collected could have endured the unthinkable— that her vindictive, direct statements were just too formidable.




It is this inescapability of Black womanhood that disqualified Hill from having a Blasey Ford effect, which translates to Black women being unable to access or enjoy white women’s luxuries. It is the remnants of slavery, where Black women were raped habitually (by white and Black men) without it being seen as a transgression, that dismissed Hill’s validity before she even had the chance to speak. It is 2018, yet, the suffocating systems that once pinned Black women inside *insert matrix of oppression* still maintain the same dominance. To be privy to this is to recall Malcolm X’s words while seeing it come full circle during Blasey Ford’s day in front of the judiciary committee.




So while Kavanaugh’s confirmation continues to unfold, Blasey Ford symbolizes how far sexual assault allegations have come for white women. And how much further there is to go. But where does that leave Black women, and more broadly, women of color?

 

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