Thursday, September 13, 2007

Black Snake Moan vs Megan Williams

Okay... So by now everyone has heard of the ordeal of Megan Williams, the young black woman who police say was kidnapped, tortured and repeatedly sexually abused for a week long ordeal in Charleston, West Virginia. Williams mother says she was chained, sexually assaulted, doused with hot water, stabbed, forced to eat animal feces, and taunted with racial slurs (n*gger). Six whites, two of them women, were arrested and now face a multitude of charges. Wonder if Craig Brewer, the white guy who showed us a black pimp can cry in Hustle & Flow, and that the long-time southern fantasy of 'white woman slavery' does exist after all in the not-so-subtle symbolisms of Black Snake Moan, will tackle this in his next film?

While news of this bizarre case has been noteworthy, it has interestingly enough not reached the heights of accused dog torturer Michael Vick, or any number of reports featuring missing white girls or young women. The reality is of course that statistics show the sexual abuse of girls and women in American society is a common occurrence. Megan Williams' case compounds the issue by its sheer extremities and the intersections of race and gender in the South. If any serious discussions were to be had, a Pandora's box of American issues of violence, race and women of color could be opened up--but not likely. Instead, the most we'll get are inverted stories like Brewer's Black Snake Moan, that seek to bury harsh realities under complicated symbolic fantasies. Go figure.

At any rate, of all the op eds I have seen on this topic, the best thus far has been from James Peterson at Black, who places the issue in a larger perspective.

His piece is reposted in full below:

Why Megan Matters

by James Peterson

First, my heart goes out to Megan Williams, her parents: Carmen and Matthew Williams, as well as her family and the community of Charleston, West Virginia; who, like most of us, must be shocked, outraged and utterly disturbed by the heinous hate crimes that took place in that trailer home located in Logan County.

The agonizing situational irony of this story “breaking” on the sixth anniversary of 9-11 puts into bold relief the sentiments of several or our leading public intellectuals and the abiding sense amongst some African Americans that the so-called War on Terror is misplaced and misdirected if one considers for one moment the consistent acts of terror committed against women and people of color in this country.

After their appearances on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, both Cornel West and Hip Hop artist/activist/actor Mos Def were lambasted by mainstream media for their “extreme” views on Osama Bin Laden, the attack on the twin towers, and American efforts to combat terrorists over seas. Dr. West and others like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson have clearly attempted to re-center any discussion on terror around the experiences of Black Folk in this country in order to provide a reasonable context for why some people simply cannot stomach an American policy that is inherently hypocritical if it does not root out terror in its own back yard.

The fact that these acts of racist terror are executed by American citizens (and I use this term very loosely here) should provide proof positive for Dyson’s and West’s reasonable suggestions that some people of color simply can not genuinely connect themselves to the patriotic machinery that invites us to hate “Islamic Fascists” or to accept a permanent war allegedly committed to eradicating evil overseas when so much evil still lurks right here, in West Virginia, in Louisiana, in New York, Texas, Wyoming or (insert heinous hate-crime locale here) AMERICA.

Six white West Virginians (Frankie Lee Brewster, age 49, Bobby Brewster, 24, Danny Combs, 20, George Messer, 27, Karen Burton, 45, and Alisha Burton, 23) have been charged with the kidnapping, malicious wounding, battery, and sexual assault of 20 year-old Megan Williams. Over the course of a week-long, unimaginable and I am sure for her, unending torture-spree, these six devilish people raped her, scolded her with boiling water, pulled out her hair, beat her, choked her, stabbed her, forced her to drink from a toilet, eat feces and otherwise utterly de-humanized her. They would call her “nigger’ when they stabbed her. And one of the ‘alleged’ assailants exclaimed: “that’s what we do to niggers around here.” Around here being Logan County West Virginia, but for women and people of color who have endured and persevered in the face of all forms of gendered and/or racialized terror, ‘around here’ can mean around the corner.

And so yes, (and I know this will surely bring out all of the haters) 9-11 cannot mean the same thing to me anymore. Not because of our current administration’s flawed foreign policy; not because of the popular youtube movie – Loose Change, but because we live in a country where Megan’s humanity can be erased. And that it can be erased so horrifically with such awfully racist motivation and cruel intentions, means that some of us are not safe from a homegrown (and historically cultivated) strain of terrorism.

Megan matters more to me now because I know that if she were white and her alleged assailants were black than this would be a top news story. It would be front page on all of the major websites and internet platforms. If she were a dog and her alleged assailants were black athletes, every news outlet in the world would converge on these assailants. But alas, she is a human being. She is a woman. She is an African American woman. And since there is no PETH with the power of PETA, (i.e. since some people care more about dogs than they do about people; even people who are treated worse than dogs); and since we live in a world where terror coming from over there is more important than the terror that comes from right here, I just want to make it clear that I stand against the racial terror that operates RIGHT HERE.

Megan matters because her horror story is not the first of its kind and unless we unveil and eradicate the racist elements of our own society it unfortunately will not be the last.


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