Sisterhood Solidarity

DIG Magazine published the following essay in its online opinion section on Feb. 10, 2015. The essay’s author, Leslie D. Rose, is a Baton Rouge journalist, poet, photographer and artist. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanielleGlamour. We at STAR thank Leslie D. Rose for authoring this piece and DIG Magazine for publishing it.

shutterstock_107556377Nearly every day I find myself with swollen, red eyes angrily pegging away at my phone’s keyboard responding to yet another rape apologist defending famed TV dad Bill Cosby.

Since the sexual assault allegations against him resurfaced, it seems my biggest battles have been with women-of-color – women who look like me. For all intents and purposes, my sisters. Women who don’t seem to understand that they are pushing victims back behind closed doors with their finger wagging wonder of why the victims “waited so long,” so trained by systemic racism to protect the black man at all costs that they forget when the sisterhood must take precedence.

And instead of strengthening the sisterhood when black women spoke up, the victim blaming went mainstream, full steam ahead when Beverly Johnson, the first black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue, came forward with her allegations against Cosby. She was considered a backstabber, someone who turned away from her brother in his time of need, rather than a victim, someone who was hurt by that very man she is told to accept as brethren. And already, our conversations have moved on from the allegations and victims’ stories in favor of the next hot topic.

In our history we watched Anita Hill take the downfall for Clarence Thomas; kept supporting R. Kelly even with video evidence (Baton Rouge don’t get me started on that key to the city thing); pretended Mike Tyson was still in his prime and turned a closed eye to Chris Brown’s aggression.

Black women, we let our sisters down – not just those who look like us, but all women – when we choose to support a man who has allegedly attacked her, and further call her names and say she deserved it.

In my personal experience, I have been Beverly – afraid to admit someone hurt me for fear of being called names. I have been the supportive black woman – afraid to contribute to the downfall of a black man. I have been the lesser of two “populars” in that situation. I have been violated.

The following story is true, but I have changed the names.

It was more than 10 years ago, and I am only thankful that my friends believed me, though I can’t say they supported me further. I wasn’t raped, but to this day I’m sure it was an attempt.

I attended a Super Bowl party with my friends Susan and Lily at the apartment of their upperclassman friend Robert and his roommate Jim. While the Super Bowl ended well before 2 a.m., we decided it was best for us to stay over on their futon until our Catholic dorm opened a few hours later. Robert left for work around 4 a.m., and it wasn’t more than five minutes later that Jim crept down the stairs.

I felt Jim climb into the futon on the side Susan was asleep, then a jab as if she pushed him, though she was still asleep. I opened my eyes slightly and saw him rub Lily’s face, then breast, then down her leg. She didn’t move, and he didn’t stop touching her. I shut my eyes tightly. I wasn’t sure if they had something going on. It just never crossed my mind that there was anything wrong happening.

He then crawled in between Lily and I, unbuttoned my pants and began reaching inside. It was a moment in which I could tell you all day what I “would have done,” but I was too frozen to implement anything.

I remember my mind racing: What do I do? Should I hit him? I’m in his house. Should I allow this? Do I scream? My friends are sleeping so hard! There’s no one here to protect me. I didn’t drive so I can’t escape. It’s 4 a.m., if I run out of here someone may hurt me worse.

Finally I just started fake-coughing uncontrollably. I needed to wake my friends. They awoke wondering out loud why Jim was in the futon with us, but he laughed it off and ran up the stairs. I sat up and said something like, “We have to leave now!” I didn’t want to explain, but I had to. I told them what I felt and saw, and they believed me, said they also felt they were being touched inappropriately.

They left the apartment only for me, however. They didn’t feel unsafe. They told their friend Robert what happened, but that’s the extent of its reporting, it’s also the extent of the conversation. They remained friends with Jim and simply cut me out whenever he was involved.

He went on to marry a beautiful woman and start his career as a doctor, which changes nothing for me.

But why now? Why am I unfolding this old story now?

Because someone needs it. We can’t forget about victims when it’s no longer the most buzz-worthy news piece. Someone needs me, a voice in our community, to tell them, you are not alone. It’s not okay what happened to you. You can tell someone. I believe you.

If you are in any way triggered by this story, please contact STAR (225) 383-7273. We must keep this dialogue going to let people know that it’s not okay to hurt anyone — or blame and shame the victim.

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