Doctor Science Knows

Monday, April 03, 2006

The silver lining to the Duke rape case

Slightly expanded version of comments I left at Amptoon's post about the Duke rape case; more details on the case can be found at Justice4TwoSisters:

Speaking as someone who’s a bit older than most posters here, I am actually heartened and astonished by this case. People are acting as though white men raping a black woman is a crime. And white women are backing her up! In the South! I’m honestly gobsmacked.

For most of this country’s history, and certainly for most of North Carolina’s, white-on-black rape was *not* a crime. Sometimes it wasn’t a crime even on the books, and the rest of the time it was unthinkable that charges might even be filed, much less prosecuted.

I don’t know if anyone since William Faulkner has been honest about the sexual dynamics between the races in the South, but he was -- especially in Absalom, Absalom!, IMHO one of the greatest of Great American Novels. Southern white fear of “nigrahs marrying our women” was (and I assume is) largely driven by the fear that black men would exact vengence for the way white men have traditionally treated black women — as their rightful prey. And Southern white women have traditionally found that the sexual exploitation of black women protects them from rape -- I suspect that the apparent low incidence of rape in the American Civil War was due to the fact that *both* sides raped black women, who didn't count. This is why I am surprised and even cheered by the picture at Amp's, which shows white faces in the protest.

Even if the case never comes to court, the fact that there’s an uproar about it across color lines is an enormous advance over the situation in my youth, and I’m really impressed by how far North Carolina has come.