I must be honest. I am deeply disturbed and disappointed in Nate Parker.
Many of us are now aware of the traumatizing rape incident, which occurred back in 1999, while Parker was a student at Penn State. Yet, almost 20 years later, it has somehow managed to creep into the public eye, just as Parker is receiving critical acclaim and praise for the upcoming release of The Birth of a Nation.
I must admit, before coming to my clear consciousness when the news broke, I found myself making excuses for Parker (even as a survivor).
I began to say: “It’s only allegations. He said he didn’t do it. She was probably a white girl who was mad at him. Right? He didn’t rape her. Of course not. He’s a black man on scholarship at a premier university. It’s a set up. There’s no way, right? If he did do it, he’s a black man striving for success, and in light of all that has happened to black men last month, in good faith, I should still support him and this movie, right? Right?!”
How often do we allow ourselves to remain in the cycle of abuse by making excuses? How often do we contribute to rape culture by not speaking up and speaking out, but rather trying to rationalize the situation by telling ourselves that it’s not what the media is portraying it to be?
We must not make excuses for him or any other offender.
Regardless if it was consensual between the young lady and Parker, the fact that Parker decided to engage in sexual intercourse with her, while she was intoxicated, speaks to a lack of better judgment. In greater offense, to invite his friend to run a train is absolutely heartbreaking and unacceptable.
As a person who believes in redemption and forgiveness, I don’t write this to attack Parker’s character, nor am I condemning him. But I do strongly stand by my convictions in saying that he was wrong for his actions. While the revealing of this story is untimely, he must learn to live in the light of his own dark truth.
However, I would suggest that this story speaks to a larger issue that has deeply impacted our country: a lack of regard for claims made against rape and sexual assault.
We do not take the claims of sexual assault seriously. We do not take the trauma that is left with the survivors seriously either. The entire life of the survivor’s life changes in ways that no one can imagine, unless you’ve been in their shoes. There are stages of trauma that include grief, denial, anger, self blame, and isolation to name a few.
The trauma caused by Parker and his friend to this young lady was unbearable. She attempted suicide while a student, only to eventually withdraw. At 30 years old, with the trauma still impacting her, she took her own life. Believe it or not, PTSD isn’t a diagnosis just for veterans, but is also for persons who have experience racial, urban, and sexual trauma. This young lady was living with PTSD, due to sexual trauma, which manifested itself in detachment and suicide.
She is no longer here to defend herself. To say that she is looking for money or fame is not something that the media can say. She is no longer with us.
On the other hand, some would argue, why now? Why bring up these charges? Some would suggest that the film is about to pour salt in a wounded America. Good. It should. There is nothing comfortable about the slave rebellion in Southampton, VA, led by Nat Turner in 1831. The rebellion consisted of both free blacks and slaves, who unapologetically slaughtered dozens of white men, women and children. Yes, the rage was (and still is) real. And so yes, I can understand the desperate need for the media to blast this information across the headlines as a way to distract the masses from seeing the film.
The story of Nat Turner and the rebellion is not widely shared with the masses, but it is just as important of a movement as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, The Freedom Rides, or even Black Lives Matter. It is a story that shows that blacks are highly organized and that we are a people with a plan. Rarely do we move, as a collective people, on impulse.
I must admit that I genuinely wanted to support the film; however, I have the firm desire to stand with the collective as a way to show our young men that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. The actions that our young men make at 19 will have consequences and can follow them into their adulthood.
We must not be so consumed and preoccupied with our own lives that we forget to reach out to our young men, especially as they go off to college. We must do better as a community in raising our sons to know boundaries and to understand what rape is. We tend to police our young women with their bodies, but we remain silent on educating our young men. We must hold our young men accountable and teach them to be sexually responsible.
We need to educate our young men, in particular, on the following:
It is not safe, nor moral to run a train on someone.
Rape isn’t just heterosexual. It’s also homosexual. There is such thing as sexual abuse by the same gender. It’s uninvited sexual activity.
It is not acceptable to have sex with someone who is intoxicated and can not fend for themselves.
Sexual responsibility is more than wrapping it up.
Finally, an unclear consent is not still not consent. Consent is clear. Consent is always clear.
Had Nate known and practiced some of these teachings, his life probably would have turned out differently. It is unfortunate, what is happening to him, but it is even more unfortunate that a woman is dead because of the trauma that was induced by Parker.
Finally, for those of you who want to learn about Nat Turner, I have some resources here:
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Nat Turner by Kyle Baker
The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American History by Scot French
Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory by Kenneth S. Greenberg
Take a look at these books and familiarize yourself with the history that rocked our nation.