Here’s a brave and true statement from George Yancey, an African-American sociology professor, made on Facebook:
I am going to wait until after the hearing on Monday before I decide what to think about the accusations against Kavanaugh. But the Clarence Thomas hearings are coming up in conversation and I remember when they were all over the television. So I am going to say something that I could not say back then because I had no platform. To tell an African-American man that a woman will not lie about rape or sexual misconduct is a slap to our face given the history of this nation. A lot of the lynchings were done because a white woman lied about a black man raping her. Maybe she felt pressure from the larger community but that lie cost a black man his life.
I think this is one of the reasons why due process is so important to me and I do not want to deny it to anyone. I know that Kavanaugh is white and not tied to that history but I want him to get due process as well as much as it is possible. I think the best we can do is this hearing on Monday. He may be a wanna-be rapist and information may come out that indicate this. In that case I certainly want his nomination withdrawn. But too many times in our history we have used accusations against someone we do not like as legitimation for punishing that person, and that I cannot accept.
If my above statement make some of my progressive and feminist friends mad at me then I accept that anger. But as a black man I knew what Thomas meant by the statement “high-tech lynching.” I would never use such a statement myself but it does express my frustration at wanting to end sexual violence but also knowing how the accusation of sexual violence has historically be misused. So if you are angry at this statement I ask that you consider that history as you weigh this statement.
George’s remarks made me think about a case from my own hometown, from the 1940s. A white woman was caught having sex with a black man. She accused him of rape. The sheriff and two deputies tracked the black man through the woods, captured him, took him to the town jail, and lynched him on the spot. A couple of days later, the white woman confessed that they had been lovers. She denounced him as a rapist to protect her own reputation. Her guilt overwhelmed her, though.
Nobody paid for the extrajudicial murder of that innocent black man. Not the woman who falsely accused him. Not the sheriff, not his deputies. It was all swept under the rug. That’s how life was back then. If defending the ideology of white supremacy meant allowing white murderers to get away with it, then that was acceptable. The point here is that a woman lied about rape, and a man lost his life as a result, because the lie she told fit the preconceived biases of her society.
I know this is true because one of the men who participated in the lynching confessed to it on his deathbed to a friend of mine. All the people involved in it are long dead, by the way. When I moved back to my hometown in 2011, I tried to research the crime, to find out more, but there were no records, and everyone with firsthand knowledge of it was dead. Still, it happened.
Now, what happened in that 1940s case is not the same thing that happened, or is alleged to have happened, in suburban Maryland in the 1980s, with Kavanaugh. But the principle is the same. We have to do our best to give him due process.
When I first heard about this situation, my instinct was to believe that even if Kavanaugh was guilty — which we do not yet know! — it wasn’t enough to deny him the Supreme Court seat, given the fact that he was only 17, and drunk, and the attempted rape failed, and he has apparently not done anything like that since. For me, his age and possible impairment was a mitigating factor. In the past few days, I recognized for a lot of people, this is no mitigating factor, and it remains disqualifying. I’ve tried to see things from their point of view. Though I’m not where they are yet — again, for me it’s a matter of the mitigating factor of youth and drunkenness — I could be wrong about that, and in any case I’ve come to recognize that for a lot of good people, youth and drunkenness are no mitigating factors at all. Making Kavanaugh a Supreme Court justice even if he is credibly accused of attempted rape as a teenager would be a bone stuck in the collective throat. As a matter of prudence, therefore, if the Ford and Kavanaugh testimony establish that it is likely that Kavanaugh did assault Christine Ford, then I will side with those who believe that Kavanaugh should withdraw.
But: Kavanaugh absolutely deserves fairness. He should not be considered guilty until proven innocent, based only on the accusation of Christine Ford. The hearings are not a court trial, but inasmuch as the procedure can establish what happened, or did not happen, that night in Maryland so many decades ago, we need to allow the process to work. You talk about a bone in the throat? Letting a man’s name and career be destroyed on the basis of an unsupported attempted rape accusation alone will not be forgiven.
Women lie, just like men do, because human beings lie. Let’s not forget that. Either Brett Kavanaugh is lying, or Christine Ford is. We will likely never know the truth with certainty, but the Senate has to make a decision based on what emerges over the next few days. Let’s try to approach this with as much seriousness and rationality as we can manage.