Rape and Racism: The Political Value of the Vanderbilt Four

Rape. A four letter word in which I, as a black woman, am placed at the intersectionality of my gender and race.

While most would consider red as the color of crime, it is as black and white as the society it haunts. Rape has always been a figment of racism, using men and women as pawns in its projection of victims and oppressors.

Despite the centuries that separate traditional and contemporary culture, the stigma of rape is unwavering. The four letter word encases the constructs of race and gender, portraying the victims as solely white women and the aggressors as black males. This consistent portrayal has substantiated the sexually pure and pious white woman, sullied by the animalistic lust of black men. This pattern is persistent in the influx of campus rape stories, noticeably the recent Vanderbuilt case. The Vanderbilt case, in which I will interchangeably refer to as “The Vanderbilt Four,” is a grisly case involving four men, three black and one white. The victim, a faceless blonde college junior was dating the recently convicted Brandon Vandenburg at the time of the assault.

The series of events…

The couple had been out drinking, when the victim become too intoxicated to properly transport herself home. To resolve the problem, Vanderberg calls upon his football teammates to assist in transporting his date to his room. Once in the room, under the encouragement of Vadenburg, the three teammates sexually violate the inebriated woman. The sexual attacks, some of which were captured in footage recovered following the attacks, include sodomy with a glass bottle,  vaginal and anal penetration, as well as oral penetration. Despite being the orchestrator, Vandenberg is eliminated as an offender, as his participation was hindered by impotence brought on by cocaine use.

Phallic Fascination

So,according to the story Vandenberg brings his girlfriend to his dorm room in which he watches as she is sexually violated by his teammates. The details, while disturbing, ties into the hyper-sexual stigma of the black male. So while Vandeberg’s actions can be tied to contempt he has for women, it also be links to feelings of homo-erotica towards black males, satisfied through voyeurism.

Vandenberg’s actions mirror the sexual undertones of the lynching period. During this time, black men were  stripped and castrated before being burned alive and hung from a tree. The men were killed for insubordination, and interactions with white women.Thus on the surface, castration was reflective of destroying the instrument of danger, but in actuality reflected the homo erotica and sexual curiosity of white men to the black sexual organ.

Thus, what appears to be a violent attack on women, is actually an exploitative act on black males, on behalf of the white male. The three black men are allegedly, solicited to aid Vandenberg in transporting his inebriated girlfriend, but in actuality were solicited to aid Vandenberg in fulfilling his fantasy.

So while it may interpreted as belittling the violation of victim, I am asserting that racism is veiled through what appears to be a gender- based attack. It is also worth mentioning that women are frequent pawns in male conflict and desire. My perspective correlates to scholar Eve Sedgewick’s ideas on homo sociality, which cites accessibility of male/male relationships as granted through female presence.

Thus, the horror of Vanderberg’s orchestration is projected onto a white woman, but she is merely a conduit for his homosocial and homo erotica desires.

A Black Man’s Anger

Batey’s actions are  construed to reflect the black male’s anger towards to the white race. In addition to his role in the sexual assault of the victim, Corey Batey, Vandenberg’s teammate and the young man videotaped violating the victim with his fingers and sexual organ, has been noted as also rendering a verbal assault. Batey was quoted as saying “ Here’s for 300 years of slavery b*tch” before urinating on the victim as the concluding act.

Whether this statement did in fact come from Batey’s mouth or not, the surfacing of said comment parallels patterns in traditional and popular black culture. The slavery remark, suggests that Batey is a black man soured by his history, thus his sexual assault on white women is a way to f*ck “the man.” This paints the black male as possessing an anger filled lust that is a danger to society, especially white women. The statement also cast a shadow of suspicion, silently suggesting that all interracial relations between black men and white women consist of such resentment.

The golden shower finish is reminiscent of award- winning singer and producer R. Kelly’s infamous videotaped sexual encounter with an under-aged girl. Batey’s “finishing act” alludes to Kelly’s video, depicting black men as without sexual integrity and at the mercy of popular culture influence.

Kelly, like Batey was captured in action, however, Kelly’s victim was of a vastly different than hue than Batey’s. Despite Kelly’s victim being fifteen, the charges were dropped as a cavalier disregard for the black female body. Had Kelly’s victim been white, he would not have been afforded the ability to revive his career with whispers of his sexual assault among the seats of sold out arenas.

Portrayed as sexually aggressive, the black man is depicted as a danger to the collegiate integrity of white women. The Vanderbilt case works to foster this portrayal, suggesting that the black man operates on sexual impulse and is not worthy of a collegiate atmosphere.

This recurring image, silently begs schools to reconsider “the black jock” as college material. On a larger scale, this case surfaces as yet another means to suggest that the black male is better off dead. Amidst countless stories of slain black men, emerge the Vanderbilt Four, a case where three black men are accused of sexually violating a white female. Thus, if black men are not being brutally murdered by white men, they are brutally raping white women.The claim works silently to condemn black men to a lifetime of cowardice, incarceration or death.

As a woman, I am tempted to side with my oppressors. I am tempted to place myself in the victim’s shoes. I am seduced by the image of blowing the rape whistle to no avail; however, it is then that I am cast back into the reality of my blackness. Blackness being my initial signifier, I have come to see that the labeling of “woman” is one of privilege. This privilege allows this rape whistle to summon an immediate response. Black women are seemingly issued a dog whistle, that goes unheard in a society that selective sees her.

So while the Vanderbilt case seemingly emerges as a topic for feminists, it is yet another case of black male accountability and black female invisibility, implemented as a means to maintain the elitism of higher education.

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