Angela J.Hattery, PhD & Earl Smith, PhD (2017)
We have a theory. Serial sexual male predators like Bill Cosby (1) Bill O’Reilly (2) and Darren Sharper (3) play out their violent fantasies often going after innocent women of a race different from theirs. This predatory sexual violence is not about challenging norms of interracial relationships, it is about power.
Very few things in the United States are more heavily and strictly policed than the relationship colorline, and specifically the taboo on intimate relationships between Blacks and Whites. Fifty years after the famous Loving v. Virginia case that declared anit-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, clearing the way for Blacks and Whites to legally marry, only 9% of marriages in the United States in 2010 involved a Black and a White partner, and fewer than 1% of Whites were married to a Black spouse (Smith and Hattery 2013).
When it comes to sexual violence, less than 10% of all rapes are intraracial.
It’s interesting then, that despite the fact that the relationship color line is heavily policed and interracial sexual violence is very uncommon, a significant number of the cases of high profile cases of serial (more than one victim) interracial sexual violence have been broadcast and discussed on our television screens and through other news outlets.
How can we make sense of this?
Intersectional theory requires us to look at phenomenon critically and come to conclusions only after we have examined various iterations of that phenomenon. For example, how is the gendered wage gap also shaped by race?
When interracial sexual violence occurs, what is the context? Who is doing the perpetrating? Does it look the same if the rapist is Black or White?
Cases like those of Darren Sharper, Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly reveal to us the strength of the sexual stereotypes about interracial sex. For example, in our work (2 books on interracial relations (Smith and Hattery 2013; Smith and Hattery 2009; two papers on athlete’s violence against women (Smith 2010); (Hattery 2010) and especially in our work “Cultural Contradictions in the South” (2010) we demonstrate explicitly that predatory men–black and white–are mesmerized with “the other.” (6)
What intersectional theory allows us to do is complicate the racial and gender contours of interracial sexual violence.
White men have been sexually violating Black women’s bodies since the first slaves arrived on American soil after having been kidnapped from Africa. Historically we have to look no further than Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Third President of the United States, a known predator of his Black female slaves. Was the initial encounter between Jefferson and Sally Heming rape? (3)
How can a White man who believes that Black people are inferior, as Jefferson did, or as Bill O’Reilly might, sexually violate Black women’s bodies? The answer is simple: because sexual violence is not about relationship built on love and respect. No! It is violence perpetrated against the objectified female body. In the O’Reilly’s case, it seems any woman’s body would do. A “pussy” is a “pussy.” O’Reilly is a serial sexual harasser, with at least a dozen victims.
In contrast, as a result of the lynching’s of tens of thousands of Black men for the mere accusation, almost always false, of raping a White women, very few Black men have any sexual relationship with White women, consensual or violent (Blackmon 2009). The average Black man who rapes a White woman serves decades in prison for his crime. In fact, many Black men have served decades in prison after being wrongly convicted of raping a White women .
That being said, intersectional theory allows us to explore what appears to be an exception to the rule of gender and race hierarchy. Black men who have power—as athletes and entertainers—and who engage in sexual violence against White women are almost never held accountable.
Bill Cosby drugged and raped more than 50 women. The majority of whom are White.
Darren Sharper (4), who was finally convicted of 16 rapes, is a serial rapist whose many victims aren’t just similar in terms of their allegations—they are also similar in appearance: white women, most of whom had long blonde hair.
Where as White men sexually violate Black women’s bodies because they can, under the rules of patriarchy and racial domination, some Black men may engage in sexual violence against White women because in this inverted race and gender hierarchy they, too, have more power. And, the sexual violence may in fact be perpetrated precisely because it threatens the power of White men. In these cases, White women’s bodies are selected by the serial abuser because their bodies are the object that allows Black men to express their power.
There is no better case than that of the violent thuggery of Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver is well known. (5) He spells this all out in his book Soul On Ice (1968) telling us that his victims were White women –although he practiced his rapes on Black women first before crossing the tracks to White neighborhoods–and infamously said he was getting back at the “man” by raping his women.
Only when we examine the sexual violence perpetrated by men who at first glance seem as diverse as Bill O’Reilly, Darren Sharper and Bill Cosby through the lens of intersectional theory, with a focus on the intricacies of race and gender hierarchies, can we see that not all serial predatory sexual violence across the color line is the same. But, one thing is always the same: it is always about POWER and it is always about treating women’s bodies, regardless of their race, as sexual objects on which to demonstrate masculine power.
Postscript: On June 20, 2017 Judge Steven T. O’Neill declared a mistrial.
To see more of Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith work go to: http://www.smithandhattery.com
- com Reporter, “Shattered! Bill Cosby’s legacy on The Cosby Show questioned by controversial Ebony Magazine cover.” 17 October 2015 http://dailym.ai/2pOGvwG
- Steel, Emily and Michael Schmidt. 2017. “Bill O’Reilly Is Forced Out at Fox News”, April 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/business/media/bill-oreilly-fox-news-allegations.html
May, Charlie. 2017. “From ‘hot chocolate’ to triumphant: Woman whose account may have been final straw for Bill O’Reilly speaks out.” Salon http://bit.ly/2owm4U1
3, Wiencek, Henry. “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson.”
SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, October 2012
- Freeman, Mike. 2014. “Who Is Darren Sharper? Date-Rape Allegations Raise Serious
Questions.” Bleacher Report, http://ble.ac/2pnWZyT
- CreWisdom, “Being Anti-Black woman is NOT new. Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver admits to hating and raping Black women.” CreWisdom – December 7, 2015
- Halsell, Grace. 1999. Soul Sister. Crossroads International Publishing.
- Smith, Earl and Hattery, Angela. 2013. Interracial Relationships in the 21st Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
- Smith, Earl (ed). 2010. “Violence in Sportsworld.” Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 4(2):101-108.
- Hattery, Angela. 2010. “SportsWorld as a site of violence against women.” Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 4(2):109-122.
- Smith, Earl and Angela J. Hattery. (2010). “Cultural Contradictions in the South.” Mississippi Quarterly Vol 63 (2): 145-166. http://bit.ly/1mwQu34
- Blackmon, Douglas. 2009. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Anchor; Reprint edition.