12 Sep Medium | Labeling in Absolutes and Disallowing Duality.
The Rape of Recy Taylor is not only the story of one woman’s heartbreaking truth but also a reflection of the decades of injustice African American Women in the United States still face today. The film plays an important role in continuing a narrative around how we share stories like Recy’s and the impacts they can have on breaking down barriers.
This film is not intended to offer answers to today’s tough questions about race and rape, nor is it meant to be a voice for every victim and advocate. Instead, it’s delivering on a promise to tell Recy’s story with dignity and truthfulness. It’s continuing a dialogue to wage war on the silence that African American women historically have suffered in. It seeks to shed light on these atrocities and evoke a response from people who sit on the cusp of indifference and action.
We’re just starting to see more of an awareness of these issues reflected in the media, but is this film strong enough to move white audiences to empathize? Will it help them become true allies that demand we stop ignoring the ugly history of our country and join African American’s in their fight to make the world better? That might be a tall order for one film, but I believe this sparks hope that more films are released and viewed not just by African American’s but by all Americans, regardless of race. After watching the film, I think it’s important to understand how it can contribute to the conversation.
This is Recy’s Story.
This is not a story to speak in depth about the misconception of consent or all the nuances of how a rape victim can be unfairly portrayed. It should be used as a starting point for people to engage in further discussion. In the film, Recy is described as a God-fearing wife and mother. It’s important to note that although she is characterized as this, she is not a character. As a Christian woman myself, I was able to see myself in her story and relate with greater empathy. However, audiences will relate to her story based on their own personal experiences — I related differently than the person sitting next to me. This provides a great opportunity to further the impact of this film by sharing more stories and depictions of sexual assault survivors. The more faces and stories we share, the more intersections can be made as we continue this dialogue.
We as society have to stop labeling in absolutes.
Having grown up as a mixed-race woman, people have tried to label me as black or white for all of my life but rarely saw me as both. I remember in elementary school asking my teacher for help with which dot to pencil in on the demographics portion of a standardized test. I explained that I am both white AND black. Her response was that I should choose what I more closely identified with. I selected “white” because I was raised by my white mother and step-father. My teacher didn’t like that answer but that experience taught me a great lesson. Too often, people unfairly judge you to fit what they believe you should be, but that only discredits the value you bring to the table. People hesitate to accept the truths someone holds or even the way those truths are expressed based on whether or not they believe you have a right to speak from that perspective. We love to label in absolutes but most things in life are not mutually exclusive and we have to be open to what others can add to the conversation, regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic status.
For example, you can’t ask for better restraint and training for Police Officers without being called anti-police. Identifying as a Christian also means being viewed as an adversary to LGBTQ and their rights. If you support Black Lives Matter, you are accused of hating whites and wanting to kill cops. We are in times of extreme opposing opinions and if we can agree on one thing, this all or nothing approach gets us nowhere. The further we drift apart, the more easily it is to feel hostility of the opposing side. The pain and outrage we have seen in response to President Trump’s comments after the violent events in Charlottesville, VA, paint a clear picture of this divide. It should be easy to disavow his leadership and show disapproval after his hateful reaction. But his supporters struggle with accepting that he has done something wrong because that means accepting blame themselves. Consequently, if we seek out to understand injustices in the world, then we might have to admit that we have benefited directly from someone else’s hardship.
Ignorance is not bliss — It’s just apathy.
I recently organized a TEDx talk, where we invited a talented storyteller by the name of Stephanie Summerville to speak. She shared a story of when she was a young black woman from Indiana who was hired by a woman to take care of her husband for a few hours a day while he was in his final week of life. She quickly learned that she was in a Klansman home, cloak and cross hanging on the wall, manifesto on his bedside table. She wanted to run but something internally kept her from that response. She stayed and cared for this man. Day by day the wife stopped watching her every move from down the hall with so much vehement. She eventually slept. Stephanie tells us that she quickly realized the only time the wife had rest was when she was there caring for him. Stephanie says something at the end of the TEDx Talk that has become my mantra. Without proximity there can be no empathy. You see, we can stay as far left or right as we want. We don’t have to agree on everything but we can find that one thing. It’s there — and it can lead to empathy. If we don’t have these discussions in our homes, schools, churches and with our elected officials, then we will continue to see the destruction hate brings.
Recognizing the systemic brutalities of African American’s throughout our country’s history does not make you unpatriotic. This isn’t about white guilt, this isn’t about a progressive agenda, this is about fixing something deeply broken. We have to make a decision. Do we turn off the TV, unfollow friends and ignore their rants, avoid the conversation when brought up in our inner circles of friends? Let’s not be afraid of the uncomfortable. By engaging with films like The Rape of Recy Taylor, I hope people stand face to face with systemic racism and join the fight for a better tomorrow.