I was going to respond to a post on the ‘book yesterday but I didn’t. Considering there was a good chance it would lead to frustration (but also not wanting to spill this opportunity in the comments section), I decided against it. Instead, I chose to write in depth about it in hopes that the reader would learn something new by examining this short discourse.
The title of the article I was reading earlier in the day and posted on my timeline was in reference to an 18-year-old white woman by the name of Breana Rachelle Harmon: “Woman Who Lied to Police About 3 Black Men Raping and Kidnapping Her Faces Zero Years in Prison.”
A fellow Marine with whom I served replied to the post saying, “She needs to go to prison for however [long a sentence] those men would have [received].” While I can fully understand his view, I can also say with a large degree of certainty that, from a historical context in America’s not-so-far-removed past, he was only thinking on the surface by solely mentioning a prison sentence. And understandably so. Conversely, when I heard of Harmon’s lie, my mind immediately recalled that in times past (and present, truth be told) the sentence for Black men being accused of raping a white woman was death by lynching.
The reaction to Harmon’s story is typical of how whites are treated in a white supremacist society. It does not matter that what she said was a lie. What mattered is that she had the audacity to claim such a thing. My fellow Teufelhunden later asked, “Why would she make up a story about being raped?” I am genuinely hoping that I interpreted his question as referencing her assumed “sick, twisted, and attention-getting” motives rather than his asking as a point of validity. Let us then dissect the why of this abhorrent predicament and attempt to educate.
This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that a Black male is falsely accused of raping a white woman. To truly discern why, however, one must recognize and be willing to accept the undercurrents of American history as it pertains to Black men. To the same extent, one also has to be conscious of the use of all-white-juries, rights to a fair trial, and lynch mobs, for they play a major role in propagating and upholding many of the white racist ideologies that we still experience.
Black men were often depicted as brutes – brute being defined as savagely violent people or animals. Not surprisingly, the transgression most commonly connected to Black men was the rape of white women. Charles H. Smith (1893) penned an article in the October 1893 issue of the Forum entitled “Have American Negroes Too Much Liberty?” He proudly answered his own question by stating, “A bad negro is the most horrible creature upon the earth, the most brutal and merciless.” Furthermore, his belief that “the rapid increase of crime among the negroes of the South and the alarming frequency of the most brutal outrages upon white women and children” justified the lynchings of Blacks. True to form, white men in the South were overtaken with fear and fury at the thought of a Black man knowing a white woman – and in the spirit of white supremacy, that fear remains to this day.
There are other elements of fear which should be acknowledged, as well, and those are the insecurities that white men faced (and continue to face) in regard to Black male sexuality intersecting with white female bodies. I will cover that point in another discussion but it deserves mentioning, simply because of its unpretentious exactitude and contribution to the subject at hand.
As a footnote, it would be remiss not to point out those very same fundamentals of hate and aforementioned white racist perspectives regarding Blacks can be directly linked to police attitudes toward Black men. Smith’s referencing “bad negro” sounds eerily similar to the Terrence Crutcher “bad dude” conjecture.
In the origins of pro-slavery imaginations, Black men were seen as having two separate and distinct natures. The first, docile and meek. This behavior occurred when they were enslaved. The second, ravenous and murderous. This presumably happened when they were free. These beliefs transitioned into the notion that Black men were oversexed and were a threat to the safety of white women. The results of this way of thinking led a white woman, Mrs. L.H. Harris, to write to the Independent in 1899 accusing a “negro brute” of attacking southern white women. She described the Black man as a “monster that had the savage nature and murderous instincts of the wild beast and the cunning and lust of a fiend.”
The only question I have is if Mrs. Harris described the Black man as wearing a black hoodie, black ski masks, and jeans. That seems to be the go-to, popular apparel of all Black rapists/criminals, according to the white women accusers. That is what Harmon said the three Black men in Denison, Texas wore when she was kidnapped and raped – ski masks and gloves. That’s also what 46-year-old Susan Smith, a white woman, told Baltimore County police back in November when she claimed to be car-jacked by two Black men – hooded sweatshirts and black ski masks. Both of these white women were found to be lying.
Let me take a moment to make myself clear without seeming insensitive to victims of rape: a rightfully convicted rapist should absolutely get whatever punishment is doled out. The pain a rape victim goes through is unimaginable. But should lying about rape be a punishable crime, also? Without question. Primarily because of the damage it does to the life of the one being accused of such a heinous act.
But those false allegations against Blacks don’t happen nowadays, do they? That was then, this is now. Right?
To Black males, it has always been this is now.
For centuries, it has always been a lily-white girl or woman’s word against that of a Black, soul-less brute. What would make one think those same presumptions would not cross the passage of time? Look around you. Just as one cannot forget that death by lynching was the common sentence for raping a white woman, one cannot disregard the impact of modern-day lynching called the criminal justice system. Even when there is evidence to the contrary, a Black man will get unjustly prosecuted by members of a jury that look nothing like him. Make no mistake about it, that is by design. The probability of a Black man getting fair and equal justice was none. Need I remind you of the character Tom Robinson in the classic To Kill A Mockingbird?
Though Harper Lee’s novel was fiction, these specific types of erroneous indictments have factually and historically taken place toward Black men. I know of many more cases regarding this subject and I challenge you to research them, likewise, particularly the very interesting yet disturbing account of the Scottsboro Boys. In fact, Ms. Lee used elements of their trial in her book.
I also urge you to read about George Stinney. The obvious racism surrounding this young, Black child’s death is revolting.
For the sake of comparison and for those who may argue that we are living in the past, let’s take a look at how contemporary wrongful convictions within the past few years correlate to this discussion. We can easily research the seemingly countless instances of Black men being locked up for crimes they did not commit, only to be exonerated after DNA evidence found them not guilty. In many of these cases, the men accused spent decades in prison – damned by the testimony of witnesses who swore that they were the culprits; racist police tactics; prosecutors rogue and irresponsible; seven-minute deliberations by juries. Even when white lies are not present, the underlying principle is deep-rooted. This is no coincidence. A quick search will reveal headlines such as:
Louisiana Man is Freed From Prison After DNA Results Prove His Innocence in Attempted Rape Conviction
The Wrongful Conviction of Thomas Webb III
10 Black Men Recently Freed After Decades of False Imprisonment
Two Chicago men freed from prison after DNA tests prompt retrials
After decades in prison, DNA evidence frees 2 New York men
Man, 63, who served 25 Years in jail for 1989 rape is released after new DNA technology proves he wasn’t even at the scene
Wrongfully convicted: Milwaukee man released after serving 24 years in prison for sexual assault
The list goes on and on.
Each and every one of the Black men involved in these cases has always maintained their innocence. All lost decades off of their lives. Some lost their parents while they were incarcerated. Others lost their wife, children, family. All lost a part of their soul. And for what? No monetary settlement can give back one’s life. In one instance, even that was taken away. Alan Newton, released after serving 22 years of a 40 year sentence after DNA testing proved he wasn’t the perpetrator of an accused rape, was awarded $18.5 million in compensation, but Judge Shira Scheindlin took it away arguing that Newton didn’t deserve the money because the city had not intentionally violated his civil rights.
My cohort further added to his commentary by astonishingly declaring, “The sick and twisted mind of some people…in this case, a female. Shows how bad the addiction for attention is in this female.”
It’s not that she was sick and twisted or wanted attention. That was a shallow assessment of a much deeper problem. Admittedly, it may apply to a degree; however, that narrative has become commonplace for any white person who commits an act of violence. For example, take a glimpse at the 19-year-old, white terrorist who killed 17 people in a Florida high school recently. He was painted as a mental case; an orphaned boy; a broken child. Sick and twisted. A grown ass orphan, I might add. I am curious to know if that anecdote applies to whites’ crimes against humanity throughout the course of history.
Carolyn Bryant (right) celebrates her husband’s acquittal in the torture-murder of Emmett Till, 1955.
And, finally, there’s Emmett Till’s accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham. Till and the significance of his tragedy to America’s racist history as it relates to this topic is unparalleled, in my opinion. In adding to one of the most infamous cases of white-woman-lies that led to the death of a Black child, Donham finally admitted to lying about Till touching her in 1955 – that old, familiar lie that cost a Black child his life and his parents a son. Even though she has admitted that she lied, the statute of limitations has run out in regard to prosecuting her. Every breath the 83-year-old Donham takes should be considered unlawful.
Why would she make up a story about being touched, my friend might ask? The same reason all the others do:
Because they know they can.