Trigger warning: rape, lynching.
“by Zakiya Lasley
In truth, specific oppressions (male domination, white supremacy, class exploitation, etc.) rarely work singularly. Instead, oppressions feed off of each other, their dynamics changing according to specific contexts. The current challenge for anti-rape organizers is to develop solid analyses of rape and rape culture that recognize a multiplicity of oppressions that constantly shape and influence each other.
Throughout history Black women have taken deadly risks in confronting rape under extreme fear and terrorism. Black women who were slaves participated in concentrated and deliberate instances of retaliation of rape by their white male slave owners. Documented in many autobiographies and biographies are horrifying accounts of female rebellion manifesting itself in the poisoning of rapists, burning of property, and assassination of their white slave owners. Also in instances of desperation enslaved rape survivors who were mothers often killed their girl children as a form of resistance to slave rape.
Looking at anti-rape activism done on the part of Black slave women forces us to think about rape in a much more complex way. Rape is not only a tool for male domination over women; Rape is also a tool for economic exploitation and white supremacy. The example of rape survivors killing their babies to keep them from being raped is also resistance to the use of rape to promote the institution of chattel slavery after the banning of the Mid-Atlantic slave trade. We can see the dominating forces of capitalist and white superiority dynamics within rape not only in the case of the rape of thousands of black slaves, but also currently in global issues such as “mail-order brides” and global sex-trafficking.
Another anti-rape movement headed by Black women is the anti-lynching movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During post-Reconstruction, southern white people were determined to regain control over Black people. As a result, they instituted a system of lynching Black women, men, and children when they “got out of line.” Lynching was a sexualized form of murder. Often, the justification for lynching Black men was that they raped white women. The issue of rape was utilized as a scare tactic geared directly towards white women. As a result, many southern white women supported lynching efforts instead of recognizing that sexual violence towards white women, by anyone, is deeply connected to sexual violence towards Black people (as well as other forms of oppression). When Black men were lynched, the mobs would often torture them before hanging them, cutting off sexual parts of their anatomy in particular. When Black women were lynched, they were often raped first.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett, an activist and writer during this time, spoke openly against rape and did not defend Black men who were, in fact, guilty of rape. But after she researched and investigated 728 lynchings that had taken place during the 1890s, she found that only a third of murdered Black people were even accused of rape, much less guilty of it. Spurred by her investigation, hundreds of Black activists at the time, (including the NAACP and Black intellectuals) developed an anti-lynching movement for which activists were burned out of their homes and businesses, run out of town, and murdered.
In my assessment of the anti-lynching movement, I never stopped to look at the moment as an anti-rape movement because the goal of these activists were not specifically to end rape, but to end lynching. Nonetheless, it is so profoundly an anti-rape movement because the theory and activism work the organizers produced challenged all forms of racialized sexual violence. Deconstructing the myth that Black men are overwhelmingly “more desirous” of white women was critical in order for white women to eventually reflect on the sexual violence being done to them by white men as well as their own sexual freedom. Most importantly the anti-lynching movement forced America’s hand in recognizing that other manifestations of oppression are inseparably linked to sexual violence. There is no genuine way to discuss rape and organize against rape without being committed to deconstructing complex ways that race, ability, religion, age, economics, and sexuality are integrated into rape.
This next phase of anti-rape organizing in the 21st century must be able to hold on to the complexity of rape culture with all of its degrees of oppression. The time for thinking about rape as merely a tool of male domination is over. We must be able to mindfully articulate spaces where anti-rape organizing is inseparably linked to organizing against police brutality, for labor rights, and for immigration rights. And we must show up to these other types of organizing work as allies moving towards liberation.”
Posts tagged rape
In the history of the United States, the fraudulent rape charge stands out as one of the most formidable artifices invented by racism. The myth of the Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whenever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justifications. If Black women have been conspicuously absent from the ranks of the contemporary anti-rape movement, it may be due, in part, to that movement’s indifferent posture toward the frame-up rape charge as an incitement to racist aggression. Too many innocents have been offered sacrificially to gas chambers and lifer’s cells for Black women to join those who often seek relief from policemen and judges. Moreover, as rape victims themselves, they have found little if any sympathy from these men in uniforms and robes. And stories about police assaults on Black women - rape victims sometimes suffering a second rape - are heard too frequently to be dismissed as aberrations. “Even at the strongest time of the civil rights movement in Birmingham,” for example,
young activists often stated that nothing could protect Black women from being raped by Birmingham police. As recently as December,1974, in Chicago, a 17-year old Black woman reported that she was gang-raped by 10 policemen. Some of the men were suspended, but ultimately the whole thing was swept under the rug.3
During the early stages of the contemporary anti-rape movement, few feminist theorists seriously analyzed the special circumstances surrounding the Black woman as rape victim. The historical knot binding Black women - systematically abused and violated by white men - to Black men - maimed and murdered because of the racist manipulation of the rape charge - has just begun to be acknowledged to any significant extent. Whenever Black women have challenged rape, they usually and simultaneously expose the use of the frame-up rape charge as a deadly racist weapon against their men. As one extremely perceptive writer put it:
The myth of the black rapist of white women is the twin of the myth of the bad black woman-both designed to apologize for and facilitate the continued exploitation of black men and women. Black women perceived this connection very clearly and were early in the forefront of the fight against lynching.4
Gerda Lerner, the author of this passage, is one of the few white women writing on the subject of rape during the early 1970s who examined in depth the combined effect of racism and sexism on Black women. The case of Joann Little,5 tried during the summer of 1975, illustrated Lerner’s point. Brought to trial on murder charges, the young Black woman was accused of killing a white guard in a North Carolina jail where she was the only woman inmate. When Joann Little took the stand, she told how the guard had raped her in her cell and how she had killed him in self-defense with the ice pick he had used to threaten her. Throughout the country, her cause was passionately supported by individuals and organizations in the Black community and within the young women’s movement, and her acquittal was hailed as an important victory made possible by this mass campaign. In the immediate aftermath of her acquittal, Ms. Little issued several moving appeals on behalf of a Black man named Delbert Tibbs, who awaited execution in Florida because he had been falsely convicted of raping a white woman.
Many Black women answered Joann Little’s appeal to support the cause of Delbert Tibbs. But few white women - and certainly few organized groups within the anti-rape movement - followed her suggestion that they agitate for the freedom of this Black man who had been blatantly victimized by Southern racism. Not even when Little’s Chief Counsel Jerry Paul announced his decision to represent Delbert Tibbs did many white women dare to stand up in his defense. By 1978, however, when all charges against Tibbs were dismissed, white anti-rape activists had increasingly begun to align themselves with his cause. Their initial reluctance, however, was one of those historical episodes confirming many Black women’s suspicions that the anti-rape movement was largely oblivious to their special concerns.
That Black women have not joined the anti-rape movement en masse does not, therefore, mean that they oppose anti-rape measures in general. Before the end of the nineteenth century pioneering Black clubwomen conducted one of the very first organized public protests against sexual abuse. Their eighty-year-old tradition of organized struggle against rape reflects the extensive and exaggerated ways Black women have suffered the threat of sexual violence. One of racism’s salient historical features has always been the assumption that white men - especially those who wield economic power - possess an incontestable right of access to Black women’s bodies.
This video from Time caught my eye when it appeared on twitter earlier today. Watching it immediately put me on edge; this was partially due to the monotone voice-over which goes beyond attempting to strike a neutral tone to the point where it sounds almost dull-witted. An unnamed African woman reports that she was raped by four Arab men and speaks of how it left her distressed for weeks. Reports of rapes of African migrant women are increasing but nowhere do we see, on social media networks or in the media, the same shock which greeted allegations of Africans mercenaries raping Arab women or the horror aroused by Iman al-Obeidi’s claim that she had been raped by 15 pro-Gaddafi troops, some with close connections to Gaddafi’s inner circle. Rape became the Benghazi rebels rallying cry as the clamour for revolution grew louder. According to Al Jazeera the rape of Obedei was equivalent to the rape of Libya by Gaddafi and his troops. Human rights organisations found no evidence of black African mercenaries rapists and we will probably not hear any more from Obedei, now that she has served her purpose. The pretense of humanitarian intervention lies exposed as pro-Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid come under daily bombardment by Nato’s bombs and missiles, and while African migrants continue to be raped and lynched in Libya.
Clay Claiborne’s recent article, “Racism in Libya”, which is published on the Daily Kos website, downplays the scale of Nato bombing on Libya while also attempting to obfuscate the truth of racist lynchings of sub-Saharan African migrants and Libya’s own dark-skinned population who account for a third of the population. It is not the bombings or rebel racism that comes under attack in his article but the “anti-interventionists” who he accuses of being opportunists. Claiborne, like Juan Cole, is part of the pro-war left who act as fig leaves for imperialism. As Prof. Horace Campbell notes on the Libyan intervention, “It was a new kind of war, using third party forces in order to silence the global peace forces who were opposed to further military intervention. A robust propaganda and disinformation campaign by the corporate media covered up the real content of what was happening.”
While it is true that the initial demonstrations against the Gaddafi regime were largely peaceful, what cannot be denied is that there were violent elements among the demonstrators who were quick to pick up arms and hijack the fledgling movement. A campaign of arson attacks was carried out in the city of Benghazi. Corporate media drew a veil over this and instead packaged the rebels as a revolutionary force fighting for liberal democracy after 42 years of labouring under Gaddafi’s autocratic rule. A propaganda blitz followed with the corporate media repeating rebel lies about Gaddafi planning a genocide which could kill half a million people, the lies about African mercenaries being flown into Libya, the fake stories about Libyan jets firing on Benghazi, creating an atmosphere of hysteria.
This is the Nato spin that Claiborne’s adheres to as he attempts to squash claims that Nato is carpet-bombing Libya by alleging “NATO hit a grand total of 3 targets in Tripoli on the day Abu Salim fell in some of the hardest fighting of the whole Tripoli campaign.” This is a complete distortion of eye-witness accounts and reports that can be found outside of the corporate media complex. Without Nato clearing a path for the rebels into Tripoli, and without the sustained and indiscriminate bombing of Tripoli, the rebels would not have been able to seize control of the streets. Today in Tripoli there is an air of fear. Residents are afraid to leave their homes, when speaking to the press they do not give their names after hearing of the rebels taking away a Libyan who had dared to speak out against them and in favour of Gaddafi. If the rebels enjoy popular support why the fear?
Reports by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who recently returned from Tripoli, further contradict Claiborne’s blunt dismissal that saturation bombing took place and is merely a figment of the imagination. Nazemroaya says the bombing has been intense. On average about 40 strike sorties take place in Libya. Furthermore, medical staff at Abu Salim hospital said injured civilians were being brought in with wounds described as consistent with the use of “specialised weapons.” Cynthia McKinney also confirms the doctors’ claims that new weapons were in use. McKinney was in Tripoli on a truth-finding mission during the month of June and reports that, on one day alone, there were 89 bomb explosions around the capital.
Furthermore, Alex Thomson, a reporter with Channel 4 News, was on the scene some time after the rebels had rampaged through one of the neighbourhood hospitals, what greeted him at the hospital left him in a state of utter shock.
Fifty yards further on a pile of human bodies, bloated in the hot sun. I count 22 here, including three women, and one child. Some of the male bodies are in military clothing but not all.
Inside, it is not a hospital but a mortuary – or something for which there is no word.
Bodies were everywhere, volunteers were filmed bagging bodies that were left decomposing on trolleys after the rebels rampaged through the hospital killing the injured; apparently in their efforts to find Gaddafi who they claimed was hiding in the area, it became necessary to slaughter the injured and helpless patients.
Many of them were black, a fact the BBC pretended not to notice in its reportage but which anti-Gaddafi fighters were not shy of sharing with the Independent’s journalist Kim Sengupta, “‘Come and see. These are blacks, Africans, hired by Gaddafi, mercenaries,’shouted Ahmed Bin Sabri, lifting the tent flap to show the body of one dead patient, his grey T-shirt stained dark red with blood, the saline pipe running into his arm black with flies. Why had an injured man receiving treatment been executed?” Sengupta wondered.
Panning one of the streets in Abu Salim, an amateur cameraman captured the scenes of devastation, building after building destroyed by aerial attacks. A fire-station was also hit and destroyed. Why would Nato target emergency services, hospitals and universities? Bear in mind that Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently made the staggering assertion that not a single civilian had been killed during their bombing missions, contradicting earlier admissions that Nato did sometimes target civilians after a Libyan TV station had been destroyed. These are civilian facilities manned by civilians, inevitably civilians will be killed. The no-fly-zone implemented to protect Libyans from what Gaddafi was accused of doing, namely killing his own people, is now being carried out by the rebels with Nato providing assistance. Where are the Responsibility to Protect crowd? The media obscure all of this. Responsibility to Protect has been used very selectively by the humanitarian intervention brigade. It did not extend to those who have been described as Gaddafi loyalists nor was it meant to protect Libya’s dark skinned population.
Doesn’t it strike you as incredible that while all of this is going on our bold and now not-so-embedded journalists have not documented the damage inflicted on civilians and the city of Tripoli, never mind Sirte, Bani Walid and Sebha? The scenes on our tv screens are being beamed from the rooftops of skyscraper hotels with Tripoli’s buildings gleaming in bright sunshine behind the reporter, nothing but space and the serenity of blue skies while down below on the streets, the rebels terrorise the population. Their violence is simply excised from view. In a country that has been liberated? These journalists have taken to the rooftops of Libya to transmit lies and distortions. The corporate media has become embedded in the western war machine. In the world of the Nato spin, this kind of intervention is providing, ominously, a blue print for further actions according to Rasmussen. That should send a chill through the world because if there is one thing we have learnt from Libya, it is that whatever relationships you have struck up with the West, these can so easily be dismembered. Tony Blair can one day be clutching you in a gristly embrace and the next, there’s a $2 million bounty on your head.
Doesn’t it strike you as incredible that a rogue state uses what happened on one day, 911, to terrorise the rest of the world? Three thousand people died on that day but since then, we know that at least a million died in Iraq, there are no figures for Afghanistan and I suspect the death toll in Libya will also sink from view.
Since March 31st, Nato have carried out, by some estimates 30,000 sorties, 8000 of which were strike sorties. The objective of carrying out sustained bombing on the neighbourhood is to instill terror in the people and allow the rebels to seize control of the streets.
Claiborne also says, speaking of the anti-war left that:
They lack a similar sense of proportion when it comes to their charges of racism among the revolutionary forces. The purpose of these exaggerations is to warn off anyone who might be inclined to rethink their opposition to intervention and support the revolution…
This is perverse. Firstly, many people were supportive of the humanitarian intervention convinced by rebel disinformation that Gaddafi was preparing a genocide in Benghazi and further, that the Libyan airforce was dropping bombs on the city but there was never support for Nato intervention was never. To point out the racism of the rebels is not to denounce “the revolution” but to attack racism. While he sees a revolution, the majority of Africans and some on the left recognised that the humanitarian intervention was merely cover for an imperial war to bring about regime change and to secure Libya’s oil and territory for NATO states in what is unmistakably a neo-colonial war of re-conquest of the African continent. Claiborne’s article is a simply an attempt to police the anti-imperialist left. Yes, there are still some of us left standing.
Claiborne is blinded by his rigid belief that the rebels are a revolutionary force, an idea he tries to protect by adopting a view so one-sided it prevents him from recognising that Nato rebels are engaged in war-crimes. Once more he quotes from HRW:
Human Rights Watch has not found evidence of killings of Africans in Tripoli or systematic abuse of detainees, but the widespread arbitrary arrests and frequent abuse have created a grave sense of fear among the city’s African population…
…no “lynchings,” no “pogroms,” although there is some evidence for lynchings six months ago in Benghazi the first time protesters seized a fort and captured some snipers.
A lynching was carried out in the rebel’s very own Benghazi media centre (see this report and the videos therein) sometime in March this year. It was from here that the African mercenary propaganda flowed.
The horrific episode was recorded and uploaded to the internet and while I have not watched it, reading the description is enough to make your blood run cold. It is one of a number of videos circulating on the internet that I know of. Another shows the beheading of a black African in front of a burnt out court house which has been identified as the main square in Benghazi by the Dutch broadcaster NOS. And here is yet another youtube which was shot in Abu Salim and records atrocities against dark skinned Africans in Abu Salim. You can find out more about these youtubes that have made it onto the internet here. As John Rosenthal of Pajamas media notes, it might seem odd that these beheadings are filmed but, as we saw in Iraq, it is standard jihadist practice to film beheadings and other atrocities carried out against captured enemy soldiers and hostages.
He attempts to portray the dark-skinned Africans who are being lynched as mercernaries and sets out to prove they are by once more quoting from a HRW
In Tripoli Human Rights Watch has found evidence that the Gaddafi government recruited and used African mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and other countries. Human Rights Watch researchers located a large base used by hundreds of mercenaries from other African countries since February 2011, who were recruited and commanded by the 32nd Brigade of Khamis Gaddafi.
This is what the Independent reported in June, following a report by Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising
Rebels have repeatedly charged that mercenary troops from Central and West Africa have been used against them. The Amnesty investigation found there was no evidence for this. “Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released,” says Ms Rovera. “Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.”
Others were not so lucky and were lynched or executed. Ms Rovera found two bodies of migrants in the Benghazi morgue and others were dumped on the outskirts of the city. She says: “The politicians kept talking about mercenaries, which inflamed public opinion and the myth has continued because they were released without publicity.”
Clairborne suggests that the attacks on the Tawerghis who resided in a village 25 miles south of Mistrata were reprisal acts for rape and plunder which the rebels had accused them off, which were also discovered to be untrue. The Independent reports Rovero of Amnesty internationall who investigated atrocity claims in Eastern Libya, Mistrata and in refugee camps along the Tunisian border as saying:
“we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”.
She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: “We have not been able to find evidence” [my emphasis].
In one instance two captured pro-Gaddafi soldiers presented to the international media by the rebels claimed their officers, and later themselves, had raped a family with four daughters. Ms Rovera says that when she and a colleague, both fluent in Arabic, interviewed the two detainees, one 17 years old and one 21, alone and in separate rooms, they changed their stories and gave differing accounts of what had happened. “They both said they had not participated in the rape and just heard about it,” she said. “They told different stories about whether or not the girls’ hands were tied, whether their parents were present and about how they were dressed.”
In a further desperate effort to excuse Arab racism Claiborne wonders whether “That sign,” the one that reads The brigade for purging slaves, “the one that has followed NTC rebels presumably in Arabic… has been so widely quoted to prove “the rebels” aren’t “progressive in any way” that I wish I could find a picture or at least the orginal Arabic for a second opinion because translation can be a tricky thing.” I wonder if a cartoon might be easier to decipher?
This piece of graffiti depicting Gaddafi mocks the title “King of Kings of Africa” bestowed on Gaddafi by a group of traditional African leaders at a meeting hosted in Benghazi in 2008 and transforms it into the racist insult, “Monkey of Monkeys of Africa.” This was captured by AP in the city of Benghazi towards the end of February.
Here is one in which Gaddafi has been transformed into a monkey. John Rosenthal points out how much of the earliest examples of racist graffiti appeared around the rebel’s media centre in Benghazi and appears to have been encouraged by them. Notice how in both pieces of graffiti Gaddafi’s nose is broadened and his lips are thickened, he is given thick afro hair, all of this is meant to caricature African features. Gaddafi is no longer an Arab, like the rebels, but an African with the body of a monkey; a banana put in his hand completes the picture. The rebels claimed Gaddafi had no support among the Libyan people and that he was paying African mercenaries to fight for him, their only motive being money. Here lies the propaganda, Gaddafi the African, with his African mercernaries are destroying the Libyans. The crudest of ideas which undermines Claiborne’s belief that the rebels are a progressive force.
Hopefully by now it should be clear that none of the most repeated claims made by Claiborne, the rebels, NATO, European leaders are NOT able to withstand scrutiny, thus it is for this reason the war machine resorts to psy-ops, employing firms like Harbour Group, to win popular support. In times of war truthful information is hard to come by. Disinformation becomes a powerful tool iin the hands of both sides used to mislead the enemy, incite fear and confusion thus it becomes difficult to obtain any objective understanding of what is really going on. This has especially been the case in Libya. Cynthia McKinney notes, psyops relies on what CIA agent Frank Cisney called “The Mighty Wurlitzer” which described the networks of smaller organisations and media outlets the CIA relied on to manipulate public opinion during the cold war. As McKinney wrote in June:
The world is being subjected to a massive “perception management” campaign, especially on Libya right now. Soon, the Wurlitzer will be focused and playing a tune for you to believe on Iran, Venezuela, and more. At the 1999 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. murder trial, Mr. William Schaap, attorney, military and intelligence specialization, co-publisher “Covert Action Quarterly” testified that approximately 30% of the CIA budget at that time was devoted to this “Wurlitzer.” Imagine what it is today! And finally, please remember, it was Wisner’s son whom President Obama sent in recently to manage events in Egypt! If you believe anything at all from these guys, then you are truly being played!
Finally, might I suggest Claiborne offer his services, pro bono, to the rebels as the Harbour Group public relations company has done recently. One of HG’s tasks is to get public opinion to recognise the NTC as the “legitimate” government of Libya. “To achieve those goals, the firm will help prepare speeches, press releases and op-eds, contact reporters and think tanks and develop a website and social media for the council.” This used to be called psy-ops. Claiborne’s latest diatribe ties in so neatly with Harbour Group’s aims, it is difficult to believe he does not already work for them.
This was shot on June 6th, 2011 outside Manhattan’s Criminal Court in Centre Street. New York Hotel Workers’ Union rallied to demonstrate in support of a Sofitel co-worker who bravely reported she had been raped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Demonstrations were also held in Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio and other cities.
Seventy-five percent of New York’s hotel workers are unionised.