In the tsunami of accusations about sexual assault that broke with the fall of notorious pervert Harvey Weinstein, we are urged to “believe the women.” But should we always automatically believe the women? The story of Emmett Till is a reason to say “no.”
Emmett, of course, was a boy who was accused of sexually harassing a white woman. He was kidnapped, beaten, mutilated, tortured and murdered in an act of racially-fueled vigilantism. It was a shameful chapter in American history. Even if Emmett was guilty of what he was accused of doing, it was a ridiculously disproportionate reaction to his alleged “crime.”
The fact of the matter is that race and racism has always played a big role in sexual politics, especially surrounding sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Charges of black men mistreating white women have been the basis for lynching black men for 200 years. Racism is deeply woven into the issue of sexual assault and rape.
Even when a crime actually has been committed, racism and racial panic leads to injustice – as in the Central Park Five. The guilty man got away with his demonic crime for decades, while the innocent languished in prison. One of the black teens says he still showers with his boxers on. What do YOU think happened to him in prison? Obviously it was an injustice to the innocent young men who were framed for a crime they did not commit, but it was an injustice to the victim, too.
Obviously, we must have compassion on women who make an accusation of rape or sexual assault. But we must never waver in our commitment to truth and justice. We must never waver in our commitment to withholding judgment – even in the court of public opinion – until we know the facts. We have been whipped up to the point of hysteria, and when society becomes hysterical our worst impulses come out. At a time when white supremacists are more prominent than they have been in generations, we need to be careful to fight against the blood libel of the animalistic black male predator.