When I caught the point of this previous piece, I did almost a double take. It was really concerning to me that the essay ended the way it did. And it is not simply because the author was completely off course in her analysis. Quite the contrary, there were a few salient points within a lost path to an erroneous deduction. But where Seawell falls flat is the lack of rigor in which she addresses the power dynamics of the situation she attempted to analyze. In no society that has the aspirations of equality we do should an eight year old be asked or expected to consent to sex with anyone, period. We can have an elaborate discussion on the criteria through which we as individuals or as represented by political bodies choose to differentiate who can consent to sexual acts but children in the strictest definition of the word should be left out of that conversation.
Our legal system is indeed a profoundly racist, sexist, classist and homophobic institution. It is an institution that criminalized sexual relations between white women and black men for most of the history of this nation. It is one that also looked the other way when black women were the regular targets of rape by white men. It is an institution that still clumsily handles what type of resistance substantiates a charge of rape. None of this is in question. However, the framework for many of us who are concerned about how sexual violence create and reinforce venomous gender norms is simple: what are the power dynamics between the people in question? In a nation such as ours that wields its power against women – especially women of color – so maliciously, we should be particularly suspicious of how well an embodiment of such power can effectively deal with such situations.
Which brings me to the point of contextualizing Brown’s word on the matter as a way of constructing the power relations between him and the girl he had sex with. To use his words, his childhood was spent around a great gang of boy cousins, and watched porn enough that when put in the situation of having sex with someone almost twice his age, didn’t shy from the moment. And in hindsight proclaimed “it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” One can only read into his comments so far but a number of things pop out from his interview. First is the presence of this gang and the potential hand in creating the circumstances of his first sexual experience. It would be foolish to not consider the role of these assumed to be older male figures in the events that happened. The average eight year old doesn’t seek sex, nor often knows what it is.
Second and maybe more objectionable is the cadence with which all of this is said by Brown, who seems to view the experience as a net positive. It is one thing not to present an image of vulnerability in an internationally read newspaper. It is another to admit that having sex at an age when most children can’t name their genitalia, let alone use it, was a learning moment. Yet, where does the teen girl fit into this situation? Did she willingly choose to push the moment on Brown, or was she coerced? All of these are hard questions to ask and answer and while I respect the intentions of the author to be sensitive to the plight of male rape victims, her response doesn’t cut it.
But worse than that, the hermeneutics of critiquing the intersections of black men and sexual assault – whether as aggressors or as targets – in many feminist conversations fails miserably. It also fails black women far too often as well for the same reason; it fails to include the importance of race in how black bodies are perceived and judged. In a society where the slavery of African peoples forms one of its foundations at the most basic level, we must relieve ourselves of the illusion that the only worth black people have is what their bodies can do. The potency of the black penis or the void of the black vagina both encapsulate a delusion to believe that black people cannot feel pain. It is something that some of us unfortunately believe to be true and hold to their chest as an armor fortifying their self-esteem. But for others, it is a slow lull into silence within a culture that has few words for them to express their suffering. Call Chris Brown a jackass if you want, but please reassess whether you think he is a monster or deeply misunderstood.
By Michael Shaw, Contributor
Featured Image via The Guardian