“Look,” I continued, “In the 1900s, how much social capital did the Negro have in the United States?”
Those in the room mostly just shook their heads, but a few vocalized, “None, really.”
“How much political capital would they have had back then?”
“And you know how much financial capital the Negro had in the early 1900s, and the answer there, too, is just about none. At that point in U.S. history, not only was lynching still an ongoing atrocity, even the federal government turned a blind eye when post cards with photographs of lynching were being sent through the U.S. postal system to cities all around the country, without consequence. Yet, over time, America’s conscience awakened, and it came to its senses. By the time I was born, the crime still existed, though rare and in steady decline. It wasn’t eradicated until after a 1981 lynching…though some would argue not until after 1998.”
“Rob,” Bridgette pointed up, “the resources and efforts it took to get America there were incalculable. How could WIAR even begin to attack the problem of rape at that level?”
“The point isn’t that WIAR could do it alone, any more than Ida B. Wells did it alone. The point is that the movement started at some point and at some place, and with somebody, and that the specific crime appears to have ended in America. Whether you call the 1998 Texas Chain Dragging an “official” lynching or not, look at what the nation did when it hit the news. The entire country came out, from the President to the news media, and all proclaimed, ’this is not who we are.’ The murder was quickly investigated, perpetrators named, arrested and jailed. No one turned a blind eye, and the nation is treating it like an historic anomaly. The American attitudes and societal norms related to lynching and Americans’ reactions to the crime reflect a complete and almost miraculous change…hopefully a permanent change.”
Maryanne, a pragmatic and thoughtful Program Director, finally opened up. “Look, Rob, “We’ve got clients to serve here. That kind of initiative would completely disrupt the organization, and almost certainly put at risk the continuum of care we provide for survivors. WIAR simply cannot take on that kind of effort, even if it is theoretically possible.”
“And yet,” I countered, “That kind of objective and effort is implicit in our mission statement as written, Maryanne. I’m hearing that the primary activity is counseling survivors, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with doing that. But our mission begs a broader objective, even though the consensus seems to be that the leadership of this organization believes that the very objective for which it calls is unattainable. That creates a challenge. The choices seem to be that we’ve either got to change the mission, or go for the mission as written.”
“How would it be possible for us to do that, Rob?”
“If only I had a quick answer. But WIAR might look at the historic model that generated a sea change on an atrocity that was once all too common in American society. Compare where the American woman is today to where the American Negro was when Ida B. Wells took up the matter. On political capital, sheer population, you’re at about 50% and growing. Women elected officials and political appointees are in virtually every political station and legislative body in America.”
“Financial capital? From Oprah to Melinda Gates, there are powerful women with virtually total control of what would have been unimaginable wealth even to white men in the early 1900s, let alone to the American Negro back then. Working women, though paid less than men, are still investors and business owners, land owners, and many more have other forms of enviable financial wherewithal.”
“And social capital? WIAR is one of thousands of organizations headed by or led by women, nonprofits, businesses, including every facet of the national news media, and non-governmental agencies at all levels. Even in the White House, there has been a long line of women in what might arguably be one of the most powerful jobs on earth. Why do you suppose there’s no highly organized concerted national political, economic and social offensive to eliminate rape and sexual assault? Why are we instead saying and believing its impossible?”
“Dammit, Rob!” Gloria protested. “You’re implying that women want to be raped?”
“No more than I’m saying blacks wanted to be lynched. There were many who felt lynching would never end, and preferred lynching-avoidance strategies as opposed to the confrontational strategy of Wells. At some point, though, a well-coordinated and system-wide effort achieved a tipping point in America’s relationship with blacks, which in turn resulted in legislative, social and policy changes that altered the dynamic – though the rare lynching still occurred for a time.
Of course women want to see the eradication of rape and sexual assault. But, current political, economic and social status of women in America as it is, maybe its not a question of wanting it to end so much as it is a question of believing it can be. The costs of this crime are incalculable, to businesses, to society, to the justice system, penal systems, medical and hospital systems, and more, not least of all to the individuals and families affected. Misdeeds against women represent a systemic loss of effectiveness, along with high economic and social cost to the military, the same way it was for blacks under similar policies.
While, no single organization has access to everything necessary for eradication of rape, lynching was eradicated using resources that were proportionately far less than is available to women today in virtually every respect. You’re not weak, and you’re not poorly positioned compared to the American Negro in the last century.”
© Robert D. Jones 2013, All Rights Reserved
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