"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. " – Che Guevara
Rebecca Latima Felton – possibly one the most outstanding figures in the history of US politics. Living in a staunchly patriarchal society in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, the Georgia-born woman spent most of her life as a tenacious campaigner for the rights of women in America. From the get-go she made herself a symbol of freedom from sexual domestication by participating in her husband’s 1884 election campaign to be a Senator for Georgia, later reflecting on her political participation with the remark “I did not stop to think what a change this was for a young woman considered only an ornament and household mistress.”
And as a woman she did not subordinate herself as an auxiliary to her husband by restricting her political activity to his campaign efforts. As one of the few women journalists of the South, she was very vocal about women being granted the basic human right to vote and to receive proportionate education to men. Finally, in 1922, she became America’s first ever female Senator – one of the most eminent events in the history of women in US politics.
But Felton’s palpably feminist politics suffered innately from an abstract condition I like to call ‘Ghandi syndrome’ – whereby an underprivileged class of people endeavours equal rights at – in someway or another – the expense of a separate underprivileged class. Felton, like many feminists, saw rape and sexual harassment as one of the most dominant threats to women’s safety. But when saying that the biggest dangers to women were rapists, she quite unapologetically meant Black rapists, and once remarked “If it takes lynching to protect women’s dearest possession from drunk, raven beasts, then I say lynch a thousand [Black men] a week.”
Felton’s solution was far from being a rhetorical hyperbole. Her statement was a contributing factor that lead to the lynching spree of 1889-1899, in which a lynching in the US South occurred at least once a day. 9/10 of the victims were Black men, and the majority of those in this demographic had been wrongfully accused of rape.
For the Left-wing blogger and Twitter activist who self-identifies as part of a certain liberation movement – ethnic minority rights, feminism, LGBTQ liberation, trade unionism, or whatever else – inter-sectionalism, for the sake of the rights of all underprivileged peoples, is the most important feature of an ideology. White feminism, a derogatory term for a dilettante feminism that only concerns the rights of women if they’re at the same time White, middle-class and cis heterosexual, is possibly the ideology most bashed by intersectional Leftists given it being the most prominent.
And Felton is arguably the founding mother of White feminism, because, as this blog discusses, White feminism’s antagonisation of Black men as the predominant rapists in anti-sexual harassment rhetoric has been rife since Felton’s time up to the present. Most recently – as I will later expound – this breed of Ghandi syndrome can be found in the viral NYC catcalling video.
The colonisation of Africa gave birth to a pseudo-biological profiling of Black men as hyper-sexual and innately prone to rape, by virtue of their larger penises. The Roman physician Galen argued that African men’s supposed inferior intellect to European men was also cognated to their supposed higher sexual drive, because that their lack of intelligence must have surely meant that they had an animilastic inability to restrain their promiscuity.
“The African race” writes E.D. Morel, 19th Century academic and – ironically enough – leading campaigner against King Leopold’s occupation of the Congo, “is the most developed sexually of any. These levies are recruited from tribes in a primitive state of development. Sexually they are unrestrained and unrestrainable.”
16th Century explorer Leo Africanus wrote in a similar vein about the supposed hyper-sexual morals of Mandingo men, “They have amongst them great sources of Harlots; whereupon one may easily conjecture their manner of living”.
The colonialist psyche hyper-sexualised Black man to such an extent that, as Jan Pierterse puts it, the African man was biologically objectified as a “walking phallus.” Frantz Fanon’s remark on the apparent fetishisation and fear of Black virility was, “The Negro symbolises the biological…One is no longer aware of the Negro but only of a penis; the Negro is eclipsed. He is the penis.”
The profiling of Black men as innately hyper-sexual brought along the road with it the, in the words of Ronald Takaki, “fear of Black men as sexual threats to White women” in the West. In Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, a play whose representation of Black Moors was inspired by Africanus’ writings, Desdemona, the namesake protagonist’s wife, is described by Roderigo as being in “the crude embrace of a lascivious Moor.” Racist literature in the US South, published within Felton’s lifetime, further cultivated the alleged ‘Black beast-White goddess’ binary; one such influence being Thomas Page’s 1898 novel ‘Red Rock’, in which a Black character named Moses attempts to molest a White woman: “he gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast.” Later in the novel, Moses is lynched for his crime.
Frantz Fanon paraphrased the White patriarchy’s anxiety over Black male-White female relationships with the statement, “Our women are at the mercy of Negroes…God knows how they make love.” Of course, this fear induces the overrepresentation of Black men in rape convictions, amongst other crimes, despite the preponderance of US rape cases being committed by White men. This stereotyping was the decisive factor in the murder of Emmet Till in 1955, an African-American teenager who was fatally beaten for wolf-whistling at a White woman. The stereotyping also lead to the murder of Amadou Diallo, an African-American man shot by police in 1999 under false suspicion of being the perpetrator of a recently committed rape (yeah, you guessed it, he was unarmed).
If a White man rapes a White woman, feminists often run into difficulty in trying to have justice conferred, evidenced by the fact that only 2 out 100 rape cases end in a conviction. The victim may be purported to be making a false allegation for fame, or, to regurgitate the most frequently cited phenomenon by the Left, the victim may be blamed. But if a Black man is reported, suddenly alarm bells are struck.
Judging from how police often shoot unarmed Black males whilst at the same time allowing armed White serial killers to surrender their weapons, society is clearly still plagued by this implicit fear of Black masculinity (a glance at the racial stereotypes in Darren Wilson’s testimony evinces the ever-present fear factor behind the motives of White police officers’ murders of unarmed Blacks). Therefore, if a White feminist were to sell their soul to the Devil by eliciting the Black rapist caricature in a sexual harassment narrative, the case would get far more positive attention – but this attention is indifferent to whether or not the story is true.
False stories about Black male-committed rapes have been used by White women numerous times before, both in Jim Crow America and the present. American criminologist Katheryn Russell-Brown, in her 1998 ‘The Color of Crime’, remarks that in light of the post-colonial Black male rapist stereotype “it is not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals.” The most famous incident in the US is that of Maryam Kashani, a college student whose report of her being raped by two Black men garnered national press attention. Kashani later admitted that she had fabricated the story to bring more attention to sexual harassment on campus.
Now let’s draw our attention the most recent instance of White feminism: the viral NYC catcalling video. Upon watching it, we are reminded of Rebecca Felton propagating the image of the innocent White woman being hounded by the barbarous Black molester, and of the disproportionate representation of Black males in rape conviction statistics. The producer of this video is Rob Bliss, who released a statement admitting that (conveniently) White men accidentally were edited out of the film – albeit he supposedly has a history of representing crime as predominantly dark-skinned in his filmography.
Whether the removal of White men from the footage is accidental or otherwise, the video is a cinematic reproduction of European imperialist caricatures – of the virtuous White woman raised and encultured by the civilised Occident, who is under perpetual threat from sexually intemperate African men and awaits salvation by the White man. It also echoes a colonial pictographic representation of Europe and Africa, shown below, published in ‘Le Rire’ in April 1896, in which Europe is symbolised as an inert White woman being preyed upon by a Black gargoyle, the symbol of Africa.
Considering its likeness to this representation of the West as being victimised by Africa and its ‘backwards culture’ during old colonialism, the video could even be used as a symbol of the ‘civilised West vs. barbaric Islamic Orient’ pretext for modern Middle Eastern imperialism, whereby Europe is represented as an innocent White woman threatened by the infiltration of ‘barbaric’ Islamic culture into the West, represented as a dark-skinned man – a culture that can only be civilised through the White man’s invasion of Muslim countries. In light of the modern stereotype of the Pakistani rapist preying on White girls, the video’s symbolic pertinence to the colonialist ‘clash of cultures’ matrix between the secular West and Islamic Orient does not seem far-fetched.
But let me clear up some judgements you may have on the term ‘White feminists’. I’m not insinuating that feminists with white skin somehow think monolithically. Far from it – there are plenty of White feminists out there who are…in the figurative sense of the word…not ‘White feminists’. It’s also worth noting that all liberation movements have members with Ghandi syndrome. One such example is the #BlackLivesMatter trend, wherein Black women victims of police brutality are ousted into the peripherals of social media attention in favour of their Black male counterparts, despite the hashtag being created by a queer Black woman.
Don’t get me wrong here – as a man I can say that sexual harassment is an austere issue that men, myself included, can never really grasp the depth of, having never experienced it. But White feminism’s ‘any means possible’ method that capitalises on the primitive caricature of Black men also restricts the sexual choice of women. How will a White woman be looked upon by her friends if she chooses a relationship with a Black man, if said-Black man is stereotyped as a biologically-liable sexual aggressor? Ultimately, the Black rapist myth is as much a tool used to suppress a woman’s free choice to forge a relationship that doesn’t involve a White man, as much as it is a tool to suppress the choice of a Black man to make a relationship with a White woman. This use of the steroetype is why inter-sectionalism is so important, because it is used to preserve both White and male privilege.
“It was the black men and white women who were restricted in their sexual choice.” Pierterse comments on the interracial restrictions imposed in America during slavery, “certain myths were propagated that justified this, such as the hyper-sexed black man and the white woman on the pedestal.”
The ‘Black rapist’ caricature might be used by White feminists, but it’s by no means a woman’s invention – it is a patriarchal myth propagated by White men out of their implicit insecurities that a Black man’s stereotypical hyper-sexuality and virility will be more appealing to White women, per Frantz Fanon’s subconscious ‘penis envy’ explanation as to why alleged Black rapists were always castrated after being hanged (after all…why do police hate niggers?).