Race Does Matter in Kobe Case

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The inevitable finally happened. Kobe Bryant’s lead defense attorney Pamela Mackey rammed the ugly head of race into his rape case when she strongly hinted that he’s in a court docket because his accuser is a white woman.

The moment that rape and Bryant were uttered in the same breath, and before his alleged victim was identified, the buzz among Black on websites, and in the streets, was that Bryant’s accuser had to be a white woman. Bryant, not the accuser, was the victim because he had presumably violated America’s oldest and most enduring taboo---Black males having sexual relations with white females. In two USA Today/Gallup polls in July and August 2003, far more Blacks than whites said they were sympathetic to Bryant, and believed the charges against him were false.

There is absolutely no treason to think that if Bryant’s alleged victim had been a Black woman instead of a white woman he would not be on the legal hot seat. Yet, there’s a reason many Blacks buy Bryant’s racial victim claim. For decades, the Klan used white fears of Black men raping white women to terrorize Blacks.

Older Blacks still have vivid and painful memories of the lynch murders of fourteen year old Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955 in Mississippi, and Mack Charles Parker for the alleged rape of a white woman in 1959 in Louisiana. Then there’s the case of 19-year old Marcus Dixon in Georgia. Dixon was slapped with a 10-year sentence for statutory rape for having what he claims was consensual sex with a white 16 year-old. The case has ignited a storm of national protest, and demands for his release.

There’s also the long and sorrowful history of interracial sexual relations. As late as the mid-1950s, thirty states made interracial marriage a felony offense, with heavy fines and prison terms. Six years after the Supreme Court struck down school desegregation in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of education decision twenty-nine states still outlawed Black-white marriages.

Maryland and Nevada went further and banned all sexual contacts between Blacks and whites.

The civil rights movement and the political emergence of Asian and African nations, however, made the state’s anti-miscegenation laws an outdated political liability and the Supreme Court in 1967 finally dumped them. But this didn’t sound the death knell for the taboo. Though legally unenforceable, twelve states at the close of the 1970's still had the ban on interracial marriages on their books.

As late as the early 1990’s, polls showed that that the attitudes of many Americans toward interracial sex and marriage was still frozen in time, and the interracial marriage taboo, almost always defined as marriage between black men and white women, should even be outlawed. The film and the TV industry are no more enlightened. They still avoid like the plague showing Black men and white women in intimate relations for fear of offending white audiences and sponsors.

Though, the number of Black and white marriages has leaped in recent years, they still make-up only a tiny fraction of total marriages in America. The overwhelming majority of these interracial couples live in the more liberal, multi-racial urban areas.

Some Black writers have also fed the dangerous myth that Black men would abandon wives, lovers, children, relatives and their community in a shameless and relentless carnal hunt for white female flesh. That even includes Black radical writers. The most notable was Eldridge Cleaver. In Soul on Ice, he called the white woman the "reincarnation of the Virgin Mary." He seemed proud of his sexual conquests, even rapes of white women. If Cleaver specialized in, and gloated over, raping white women, he was the rare exception. Black men don't routinely rape white women. Nor do white men rape Black women.

Rape, like most crime in America, is intra-racial. It's Black-raping-Black, white-raping-white, Latino-raping-Latino, and Asian-raping-Asian. In many cases, the rape victim knows her assailant. The Bryant case certainly proves that. The horror of Black men and white women in intimate sexual relationships has inflamed passions, stirred fears and ignited violence for much of the past century. The legal burial of anti-miscegenation laws and the seemingly more tolerant attitude of Americans toward interracial sex makes the notion that someone can be arrested and tried, especially a rich and famous sports icon such as Bryant for having consensual sex (his claim) with a white woman appear far fetched.

Yet, sex and race are volatile issues that can still prick a nerve particularly when a Black man is accused of a crime against a white woman. By rudely plopping race on the legal table, Bryant’s legal team has virtually guaranteed that his trial will be as much about old racial and sexual wounds as about legal facts. Given who he is and where he’ll be tried, that was inevitable.

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