By Tiara King, Letter To The Editor
We often hear the phrase, ‘This country was built on the backs of slaves’. In fact, Michelle Obama mentions “waking up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” in her speech at the Democratic National Convention. While this speech was meant to encourage and inspire by highlighting the progress of our nation, the reality of this statement is that men and women were stripped of all rights and liberties, and forcibly introduced to the institution of slavery. These men and women are undeniably responsible for the construction and subsequent power of the United States of America. But what we often neglect to acknowledge is the daily humiliation and sexual abuse endured by our founding ancestors, intended to dehumanize an entire race, birthed in a climate of hate and fear mongering.
Before the enslaved Africans reached the Americas, the institutional pattern of rape was well established and occurring on the transatlantic voyage. Crew members routinely raped and impregnated the African women. To further the humiliation, in preparation for sale, enslaved women were stripped naked and placed on auction blocks. While the Klu Klux Klan and other White supremacy groups gang raped Black women, black men suffered lynching, castration, incarceration, and death as penalties for accusations of raping white women. It wasn’t until 1945, nearly a decade before the Montgomery bus boycott, when Rosa Parks would lead the NAACP campaign to protest an all-white jury’s refusal to indict six white men who raped Recy Taylor in Abbeville, Alabama. Black women’s resistance to racialized sexual exploitation assisted in the activism that fueled the civil rights movement.
Sexual violence has historically been used as a tool of oppression. Black women have experienced an institutional pattern of rape rooted in slavery. Additionally, beginning in the late 1800s until around the end of the 1980s, indigenous children were forced to attend boarding schools and endure rampant sexual abuse by school officials to acclimate them to the ‘American’ culture. The effects of institutionalized power imbalances continue to propagate prejudice and racism against communities of color.
Communities of color continue to experience systemic prejudice and racism in response to sexual violence. Committing to racial justice propels sexual violence prevention work forward and helps to dismantle systematic imbalances. System responses to these crimes remain woefully inadequate as experienced by communities of color. Barriers to seeking help remain significant for communities of color and are influenced by racism and other forms of oppression. It’s important to consider racial justice critical to the movement in addressing and ending sexual violence.
Tiara King is an expert in the field of sexual violence and sexually offensive behavior. She is the Vice President and Co-Owner of Retrain The Night, a non-profit organization established with the intent to reduce the demand for sex trafficking and eradicate other sexually offensive behavior by educating and informing others about the negative consequences of their actions. Contact Tiara King at TiaraK@retrainthenight.com.