From The Grio — Last week, the nation was stunned by news of a disturbing case in which an 11-year-old Latina girl was allegedly gang raped by 18 black males ages 14 to 27 in an abandoned trailer in Cleveland, Texas.
According to Cleveland police and the Houston Chronicle, last November the girl was taken to a neighbor’s home and later a trailer, told that she would be beaten unless she disrobed, and then raped by men and boys of various ages over the course of several hours, while others looked on and even recorded the incident on their cell phones.
As if this all weren’t terrible enough, racial tensions in Cleveland and across the nation have risen drastically in this week’s aftermath, adding another layer of painful detail to an already difficult case.
The Houston Chronicle reports, for example, that a group of white men with shaved heads drove along a Cleveland street in the back of a pickup truck last Thursday shouting, “Kill all the ‘n-words’.” White supremacist web sites are using the occasion of the assault to reinvigorate painfully vicious stereotypes about black men as hyper-sexual, violent, and morally deficient. They go so far as to make comparisons to the Jena 6 story, which they interpreted as similarly involving “a bunch of young black guys in a southern small town” who “do something bad to somebody non-black,” causing the national press to display their tendency towards “black privilege” by running a story about how the boys are the real victims.
And various local news outlets aren’t helping either, seeming to actively race-bait by circulating a collage of the mugshots of several of the alleged perpetrators.
And it’s not only those who are anti-black that are using the occasion of this horrific assault to lend credence to their racial views. For his part, Houston New Black Panther leader Quannell X has been participating in some racialized rabble-rousing of his own, raising questions about the integrity of the police investigation because it has thus far only resulted in the arrest of African-American males.
“I do not believe black males are the only ones that had contact with this young child,” he said. “It appears to me there’s only been the selective prosecution of one community, which is African-American.” After declaring that the investigation was being “run by the KKK,” at a well-attended town hall meeting, Quannell X went on to say “I know Cleveland, Texas, to be the headquarters of the local chapter of the KKK. I believe the KKK is active, has a strong chapter. Many in law enforcement have that mindset…they have some biases in going after color.”
Painful as they are, it’s not the first time that vicious racial stereotypes have reared their ugly head in response to accusations of sexual assault. In fact, our country has a long history of evoking racialized sexual stereotypes to both explain and rationalize violent crime, as well as to prescribe punishment.
That being said, rather than an excuse to perpetuate these evil and age-old racial stereotypes, the Texas gang rape incident should serve as an urgent and tragic reminder of the importance of strong community, positive surroundings, and comprehensive sexuality and life skills education for youth that includes gender sensitivity training and anti-violence components.