Last Friday, a white gay man grabbed my ass. I was so startled that I just glared at him and walked away. Later that evening, I run into him again and he whistles at me. I very clearly state that I do not want him to touch my ass and instead of respecting my desire, he laughs and grabs my ass anyway.
This triggered all sorts of memories of past sexual trauma and I felt panicky and depressed the rest of the weekend. More than that, though, I was struck by the blatant disregard for my boundaries and my body. This white gay man thought my desire to not be touched so ridiculous that he laughed. He felt so entitled to my body that he did not care what my wishes were. My right to self-autonomy meant less than nothing to him.
But it gets worse.
I posted on my Facebook about what happened and I specifically named the whiteness of my assailant. And while I had many of my friends write messages of support, I had several white “friends” interrogate me as to what “race had to do with it”. They varied from “race has nothing to do with it” to “why are you so racist?” “quit playing the race card” to “any Latina that I know would have slapped him” to “if you don’t like white people, leave America”.
This is the additional way that rape culture manifests for people of color. On top of street harassment and victim blaming, which tells people that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted and puts the onus of proving their assailant’s guilt on the victim. On top of rape jokes and the sexualization of rape in the media, women of color are silenced when they name the whiteness of their attackers. They are interrogated as to why they were victimized by a white man. They are accused of being racist for exposing the way white supremacy attempts to own brown bodies. And even at the same time that it denies that race exists, it thrusts racial caricatures on to the victim.
If I had written gay man, instead of white gay man, everyone who read that status would have assumed that he was white. This is because white is the “natural setting” for any human and anything different is automatically other. In order for one to know that someone is talking about a Black man, one needs to say Black man.
But when I name my assailants whiteness, when I interrupt the assumption that people are naturally white, it is suddenly I, the victim of sexual violence, who is in the wrong. The conversation, which should be focused on what kind of support I need, instead focuses on their demands for me to educate them on the role of whiteness in sexual harassment.
And this is rape culture at its finest because it compels me to give more of myself, of my experience, to my oppressors. Under the guise of debate, it claims a right to my victimization as theirs. The racialized nature of rape culture also allowed them to completely ignore my pain/needs as a survivor of harassment and place priority on their hurt feelings; despite the fact that this was never about them. It also allows them to ignore the systemic and historical factors that play into the sexual assault of brown women by white men.
The reason for this is because rape culture is really all about ownership. It is about arbitrating who owns whom and who has power of whom. In this case, rape culture lays claim not only onto women and gender non-conforming bodies but also any bodies that are not white. Further, rape cultures seeks to erase itself and does this by masking itself behind the Purity Myth.
In class, we saw the movie the Purity Myth that, among other things, talked about how Western society’s obsession with “virginity”. What was particularly interesting to me was how this myth of virginity promulgates rape culture. This is because the standard that Purity demands is impossible to attain or attainable by very, very few women. For one to be Pure, one must at the same time be sexy but not sexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied and neurotypical. Purity demands that you divorce yourself from many things that make you a living creature. And at the root of this is patriarchal control of desire.
This reinforces rape culture because when women inevitably fall, and it is inevitable, it creates a feedback loop that proves that women “deserve” to be sexually assaulted because they are not Pure which than reinforces the myth.
But a person of color can never be Pure, because Purity is predicated on whiteness, so that means that women of color always deserve to be raped. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Lorena Garcia’s article, “Now Why Do You Want To Know About That?”. In it, she details the experiences of several young Latina women when they received sex education in public school. More often than not, the sex educators assumed that young Latinas were already experienced in sexual matters. They assumed that their partners weren’t going to use protection and thus didn’t need to learn about it. They were also not encouraged to ask questions because that was perceived as being “too interested” in sex.
The underlying assumption here is that Latinas are hypersexual and thus always sexually available. Their bodies are public property and consent need not be given for any sort of sexual interaction. Young brown bodies are further commodified by their representation in the mainstream media, which is controlled by white men.
And it is this, which forms the foundation that justifies the rape of Latinas (and other women of color), which is in turn supported by rape culture.
All systems of power and oppression are interdependent and nowhere is this clearer than in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. These two bedfellows must be challenged simultaneously if any lasting change is going to be effected. I will continue to name whiteness when it must be named. I will continue to expose the ways in which white supremacy tries to disguise itself. I will continue to challenge whiteness, especially if it makes white people uncomfortable, because my survival and the survival of my people is bound up in the eradication of white supremacy. I will continue to interrogate whiteness even if it scares me.