The boy, being of solidly mid-to-upper-mid placement on the Bell curve, thought nothing of smiling at her. It was what anyone of his position would do. Folk speak to each other in his south western, rural town in Virginia. She, being further up the curve and a junior at Swarthmore College, knew exactly what that smile was and so she spoke truth to power, “that was rape. You just raped me. RAPE! RAPE! RAPE! That guy just raped me!” she began screaming in the hallways of a Silicon Valley social media company. She ran toward the guard desk adjacent to the glass breezeway exit, pulling at and ripping her Delta Upsilon tank top, kicking off her Crocs and yanking on her H&M jeans which had the problem of not being easy to pull down. The VS Pink thong did not survive the effort. She tumbled before the guard desk mascara dripping, lipstick smeared, blood leaking from her mouth because she’d bit the inside of her cheek, a manic shadow of her Ivy League self. The guards bought it. One of them whispered into his wrist and soon enough the Calvary arrived.
The boy was sitting at a table quietly sipping a soy-latte perfectly made by the Peet’s barista while designing a print piece for an ad campaign that would feature Carrie Underwood. All the kerfuffle was moving away from him so after a cursory look he returned to his laptop screen and thumbnails of Carrie. He never saw the gridiron of guards form up and double-time to his table. The Periscope video shows a bewildered 20-something trying to stand as four security guards gang tackle him, sending his coffee and usual work-kit flying. He lands on his back and his head smacks against one of the parade line of posts that hold up the ceiling over the breezeway. The video ends in a tumbling blur because the phone’s owner drops it and can be heard to let out a yelp.
That night, the co-ed and her accused were headline news. The coworker had posted the Periscope video on her Facebook page and it had gone viral. The coworkers words before getting into a Tesla Model X were, “It happened so fast. All I saw was the guards tackling the guy. I mean, he must have done something for them to react like that.” The pundits propounded, the analysts theorized, the coterie of young talking heads illuminated by kleig lights reported the latest. There was a statement from the social media company offering sympathy over such a tragic story of traumatic brain injury and rape. The firm’s lawyer and public relations representative would not answer questions from reporters as to whether the boy, his accuser or the phalanx of guards would face consequences pending an investigation into the incident. Someone in the crowd caught an open microphone comment from a company executive, “this thing is stupid“, posted it to Vine and further inflamed popular anger that this thing happened at all.
Most of the reporting scolded the boy for sexually harassing the co-ed, whose attorney steadfastly insisted that his smile was an unwanted sexual advance equivalent to rape. If he hadn’t done that he wouldn’t have been gang tackled and in the hospital on an induced coma while the doctors waited for his brain to be less swollen. CNN dutifully carried a two-minute story on the Black Lives Matter protesters who claimed that the boy was black and had been brutalized by the cops and was another tragic example of how the police don’t care about young black men. There was, briefly, a small kerfuffle over the boy’s mother’s apparent hijab and her Star of David necklace. Progressive news outlets declaimed her attire as Muslim and thus the boy must be Muslim. Someone pointed out that among the boy’s belongings was a Mishnah. It could not be that an olive skinned, kinky-haired boy from Norton, VA was an Orthodox Jew. No, he had to be Black and his life had to Matter.
Conservative news outlets were excoriated for investigating the coed and turning up a troubled past. She was of Puritan heritage, from a family that counted themselves as Daughters of the Revolution. She was on the A-list track from almost the very beginning, being raised in Westfield, NJ, an honors graduate of the high school and widely recognized as a top student at Swarthmore with a bright future in analytics. What the Drudge report and other web sites found was a darker social media presence that hinted at struggles with bipolar disorder and a string of jilted lovers. The general tone of her social media presence was a strong signal of being a victim of the fashionable horror of the moment, be it addiction, abuse, racism, sexism, LBGT shaming, and more. This was, though, painted as a disgusting and slanderous attack on a hapless co-ed who was mercilessly violated by a boy.
I’ll interrupt this at 500 words or so to get to the point of that beginning. I’m still roiled that my two hours on the radio was an orgy of talking points and talking at the microphone. We have to own our shit, acknowledge the ways in which we color our life out of the hurt we’ve experienced and how that in turn, can become a weapon against those we believe are a threat. A simple smile misunderstood can be come and epic opera worthy of the 247365 news cycle. I exagerate? Maybe. We had a claim of a rather lurid rape last year that turned out to be entirely false. Even as the stories began to surface of problems with what the girl said happened she had her defenders who shot back with some familiar tropes about the evils of young men.
It’s a bit beyond to imagine that a girl could misunderstand a polite smile to be sexual harassment and carry it to the extent I have begun to portray. It’s not so much, “check your privilege” as “check your shit” and the ways in which resentment and hurt still drive you to fight or flee when the threat or actual injury isn’t what you perceive it to be. I was in a room with people who worked themselves into lather over perceived threats they nurtured with great care. It wasn’t so much the grievances they had as the shock I held while I watched them tend their garden of pain. There is a point beyond which feeling hurt becomes a choice. These women will not like my words that they are choosing to be victims of egregious acts perpetrated against long dead kin. It is a choice, though.
I’ll catch hell from some for setting up a wild premise like the above with a boy smiling at a girl and the girl freaking out. Rape isn’t a joke and we shouldn’t toss that word around idly. We cheapen the lives of those who are victims by being so quick to identify ourselves as victims of the latest fashionable oppressor. The mistake remains the same. It’s not to say that this isn’t the world and that it isn’t the devil’s playground. It is the world and the devil delights in its pleasures. We ought to remember, though, that God made this world for us to thrive even though the devil uses it as a Romper Room. Where rape is real it needs to be taken seriously. I feel for those who have been hit by some misery of this world. If you are faithful to this blog you know some of the sorrows I have. The mistake is to keep using a wound as a signal to explain why you are chained to misery and can’t let go. I challenge you to let go of your end of the chain trusting God to release the other end. Beautiful surprises await you.
We will not get beyond sexism, racism, or whatever-ism until we make that choice to be free of the hurts we carry around like precious jewels. Things about us have to die so that something new can live in us. We will have to be reborn.
In the meantime, as the urge to lift a protest sign rises within you I have a favor to ask. Go volunteer somewhere. Do something. Doesn’t matter what. There is tons of work, are tons of NGO’s and non-profits that seek volunteers and could use you. Yeah, it’s shitty work and is often more dehumanizing than the cube-rat thing you do to pay the bills. No, it isn’t as emo as being among a couple hundred other social justice warriors singing protest songs and shutting down a major thoroughfare or shouting “RAPE!” in the breezeway’s of a corporate campus. It is what is needed and will do more to change things than a few minutes of notoriety. Worse, it will mess with your head and cause you to question some of your most cherished tropes. I’m counting on that.
I’ll tell more of the co-ed and the boy in an induced coma in subsequent posts.