D. L. Hughley, Black comedian and author of the new book Black Man, White House, was interviewed the week of Aug. 11, 2016 on the Tavis Smiley Show. Now, D. L. Hughley’s earlier book is called We Want You to Shut the F#ck Up, so we (a) already like him and (b) know to expect a degree of comedic audacity and brutal honesty. That said, we really appreciated his jokes during the show about how White privilege informs expectations for safety. Hughley brought up the cases from earlier this year when children tragically wandered into the zoo enclosure of the silverback gorilla and into the alligator-infested waters near Disneyworld.
“It is ridiculous the things that you see. Like when I watch what happened with the tragedy with the alligator. When a sign says ‘Don’t swim,’ don’t swim! . . . . Alligators don’t read signs! . . . But I know what, when Black people see a sign that says ‘don’t swim’ you best believe we ain’t swimming. That’s why they got a pool, right?! [Imitating a parental voice] ‘You better dip your toe in that bathtub and shut up, we’re at Disneyworld.'”
Perhaps some would criticize Hughley for “blaming the victim” of such tragedies, but a truth his comedy reaches links the expectation of safety from others in the world to White privilege. Blacks, his shtick implies, have never been able to expect institutions and authority figures to guarantee their safety. They have, instead, taught one another to watch out for dangers. Black parents should not have to have “the talk” with their children, especially their sons, but they do. They know that Black boys and men are far more likely than Whites to be targets of police brutality.
We know that women (of all races) are far more likely than men to be targets of sexual assault. Offering girls and women tools for being on the lookout for signs of danger is just as rational a response to a violent and unjust world. That’s why the many rape prevention educators who preach bystander intervention whilst refusing to talk about how women can learn to defend themselves sound like people who have had a privileged protection to the point of paralysis. How about we make it easier for women to be aware of their surroundings, and act on their awareness, assert themselves, and hit or kick if necessary to get out of an attack? Nope- that’d be victim blaming, we’re often told. Women should be able to walk across their college campuses naked, and defenseless, we are told. How about we shift our understanding of ourselves as powerful and empowered, and able to make choices that challenge rather than support the patriarchy? That’s what self-defense training can do.
We know, we know. You can’t train an alligator but you can (supposedly) train men to be different, and less dangerous. This might be true, but self-defense training will work a lot faster than your training of men. And guess what? When women watch out for themselves, take themselves seriously, and defend their own safety, that sends a powerful “training” message to the men in their midst.
Dear Rape Prevention Educators,
As rape prevention educators, you emphasize “primary prevention,” but do not include self-defense or resistance as such. Self-defense, you say, is “secondary prevention”–along with providing counseling and medical care to victims of completed rape. As we have already argued, this is not a data-driven approach because the data show that self-defense is an effective sexual assault prevention strategy, and it is ultimately fueling a disempowered status for women on campus.
Why wouldn’t you tell people that training in self-defense is possible and that research shows that active resistance to attack, with or without prior training, usually works to thwart an assault?
Some of you think it’s violent, and therefore it counters your program “against violence”. If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution. How about you clarify that you’re against sexual assault? You’ll be glad to learn that data show that women learning how to resist violence perpetrated against them results in an overall reduction in such violence. Self-defense is part of the effort to stop oppressive violence.
Some of you object to women having to do anything for their own health and safety. Well, except when it comes to the importance of preventing pregnancy and STI’s, or when it comes to smoking cessation, or when it comes to curbing one’s risk for breast and cervical cancer. In fact, most of you are all about checking your breasts, getting route health screenings, and stopping life-shortening and life-threatening habits like smoking tobacco. We’ve never heard any of you declare, “I shouldn’t even have to get a pap smear!” or “I should be able to smoke all the cigarettes I want!” or “I mean, if a woman wants to use protection against pregnancy or STIs while she is having sex with multiple partners whose sexual history is unknown to her, that’s up to her–but I’m not going to suggest that anyone do that!” So clearly, if you are in favor of women acting to promote and protect their own health and safety, you can support self-defense and self-defense training.
Some of you think talking about women’s ability to resist attack is victim-blaming. But teaching women to be proactive about their own health and safety, and to take their own bodily boundaries seriously, is not blaming anyone who becomes the victim of attack–attempted or completed. In fact, self-defense is often taken by survivors of sexual violence, and it does not make them blame themselves for what happened. It gives them new options for responding and helps them take some of their power back. It’s therapeutic. It’s therapeutic for others who take it, too, because they learn boundary setting, taking themselves seriously, and yes, the physical stuff and the yelling can be really cathartic and fun. Besides, we’d rather risk a few women feeling bad or blamed than risk lots of women becoming victims because everyone was more worried about women feeling blamed than about women getting raped.
If we’re going to teach people to stop a guy who is about to rape someone, and call that primary prevention, and also not call it violence (even though, um, let’s just remember that the heroized bystanders who intervened during the rape being committed at Stanford used physical force to intervene), then teaching those who are targeted for rape how to stop someone who’s about to rape them is no less primary, and no more violent, than what we’re already teaching.
We still don’t know the difference between the whip and the nay-nay, but we do know the difference between primary and secondary prevention. Do you?
You can make Obama say anything you want thanks to techie geeks who invent cool apps. Don’t you wish he had really said this in connection with his Task Force on campus sexual violence?
Thanks, Talk Obama to Me! You said it–er, we said it, and wish he’d said it……
I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books (many times), seen the movies (many times), been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (twice – the new and improved version is, in fact, new and improved; worth the trip), and even did the Watson Adventures Harry Potter scavenger hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (I had to hurry my son and his friends along when they tried to stop to look at the art; “We’re not here for the art!” may have crossed my lips at some point). And here at SJFB, we have no doubt that some of our favorite female characters in the series would be totally on board with self-defense against sexual assault. See for yourselves: