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Harriot writes: "I don't like groupthink, millennially correct phrases like 'safe spaces' and 'microaggressions,' and so I don't use the term 'rape culture.' But I realize we live in a society that doesn't just perpetuate sexism but promotes sexual assault with a culture of silence. And just as with racism, that willingness to turn our heads and not condemn sexual assault is an implicit signal that it is OK."

A failure to condemn sexual assault or racism is an implicit signal that it is OK. (photo: iStock)
A failure to condemn sexual assault or racism is an implicit signal that it is OK. (photo: iStock)

The Culture of Male Silence: Men Treat Sexual Assault Like America Treats White Supremacy

By Michael Harriot, The Root

02 November 17


am not a religious man by any measure, but there are universal truths to which I adhere. I believe that love is a byproduct of love. I believe that hate made love to an orange, had a petty-ass baby, and that’s how we got the grapefruit. I believe that cats were put on earth to kill things. And I believe the universe recycles.

Reincarnation is real. When we stop breathing, our bodies will all eventually turn into the fuel for flowers and trees. Those trees will, in turn, take the fuel of our decomposed former selves and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen that a newborn baby will one day inhale for the first time. We are all dying. To die is to give life.

And if my body becomes a tiny point in the circle of life, it only makes sense that my soul will also be reincarnated. I have no idea how the universe may use my factory-refurbished soul. I’m cool with becoming a yak or a large-mouthed bass in the next life. (Fair warning to the universe: I am a terrible swimmer.) There is only one thing I pray I will never be:

The white man.

Not a white man, but the white man. The perpetual oppressor of people. The kicker of teeth. He who places boot on neck. I pray to the man upstairs (I’m getting my roof fixed right now) that when my soul is washed, dried and placed in the “barely used” bin of the universal thrift shop, I am not remade into the white man.

I often fling disdain at people who unknowingly participate in white-man-ery. I believe that any white person not actively fighting to end every form of racism and oppression is an accomplice. I fault white people who sit silently while their fellow Caucasians say or do something racist when no one black is around. I consider them to be upholders of white supremacy as much as the cross burners or swastika wearers. They are “the white man,” too.

But I realize I am a living, breathing double standard. I have not held myself accountable in the same way in which I hold white people’s feet to the fire on the issue of race.

I don’t like groupthink, millennially correct phrases like “safe spaces” and “microaggressions,” and so I don’t use the term “rape culture.” But I realize we live in a society that doesn’t just perpetuate sexism but promotes sexual assault with a culture of silence. And just as with racism, that willingness to turn our heads and not condemn sexual assault is an implicit signal that it is OK.

One night while I was having a few drinks with friends, a guy recognized someone at my table and came over to say hi. At some point during his conversation, the waitress came over, and out of nowhere, he asked this teenage-looking girl: “Can you make it clap?”

Everyone knew it was kind of creepy, but I said, “Hey, man, what the fuck is wrong with you? That girl is, like, 16.” He tried to laugh it off by joking: “You know what Keith Sweat said: She may be young, but ... ”

By then the rest of the people at the table agreed that he was being a little bit rapey.

A few months later, I was with the same friends at the same watering hole (what, motherfucker? It’s not like I live in Paris. I’m in Birmingham!), and they began telling me about a high school teacher who had been arrested on charges that he slept with multiple students. Because I’m not originally from this town (and apparently only go to one place to have drinks), I assumed that I didn’t know who they were talking about.

It was the same rapey table crasher.

Here’s my point. I’m not insinuating that every guy who makes suggestive comments to a Buffalo Wild Wings waitress is a potential sexual assaulter. But I wonder how often we perpetuate the ideology of the disposability of women’s bodies by just not saying shit.

If we are honest, every single man has known a guy who was a habitual line stepper when it came to women or who was a little bit rapey. The frat brother who will grab a random woman’s booty. The boss who has tried to fuck everyone in the office. The football teammate who always talks about “running a train.” I also believe every single white person has a parent, co-worker or cousin (wait ... do white people have cousins?) who leans a “little bit racist.”

But just like there is no such thing as being a little bit racist, there is no such thing as being “a little bit rapey.”

Why are we cool with one and not the other?

If we refused to remain quiet about the dudes who do this shit, I’m not saying that it would end sexual assault, but it might curtail the actions of the men whose actions are fueled by the complicity of silence.

Everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein and didn’t say shit. Bill Cosby’s predilection for slipping Mickeys was an open secret for decades. Do you think R. Kelly’s friends are just now noticing that some of the girls surrounding him are a little short in the tooth?

I know some woke-ass dudes who would open-hand smack a Caucasian’s face off if the white person uttered the word “nigger” in their presence, even if that person wasn’t using the n-word in reference to anyone in particular. It wouldn’t matter if the recipient of the smack were singing along to a Tupac song or used the version of the word with the “a” at the end—he or she would become an unwilling participant in the catching of hands.

But those same woke-ass dudes wouldn’t say a damn word if a guy talked about “taking some pussy” or brought up booty-clapping to a teenager trying to do her job.

We ain’t shit.

And I know some dude out there will argue that not every black man is complicit in sexual assault. To those people, I will give the same reply I give when a teary-eyed Chad or Becky approaches me with the preamble to all race-related Caucasian conversations: “Not all white people ... ”

And here’s my well-thought-out, nuanced response for those brethren:

Then, nigga, I wasn’t talking about you!

I don’t think I ask white people to do something that I am not willing to do myself as a black man. That includes holding myself and the people around me accountable for the things I say I stand for. The things that are right.

It might seem self-righteous and preachy, but I’m talking about me. I’m talking about us. I want us to do better. I want to be better.

But, most of all, I don’t want to be anyone’s white man. your social media marketing partner
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