Nate Parker does not get a pass. Neither does Jean Celestin. Nor does the creation of a film of historic significance about rebellion, redemption and freedom. The success of the film, Birth of a Nation, was a testament to triumph and was a success before it was ever released. Now, it is a reminder that rape culture is real. It is a reminder that men who do not regard women as full and whole human beings are able to live out their lives and create success for themselves while destroying the lives of women.
33 years ago to this day someone attempted to take my life, my innocence, my virtue and my free spirit. I was called a homewrecker. I was called a whore. I was reduced to the sum of my parts by people I thought loved me. I was a nine-year-old girl in Baltimore.
As vivid and horrific as the memory and events of that day are, this is not about me. This is about Nate Parker parking his illustrious ass in my backyard, boasting about his freedom, his success, his love, his daughters, in the face of someone who has lived with the terror of the same act he violated another with. He is not allowed to shit on my lawn and call it love. He’s here to tell his story. He’s made his life about telling stories, but this one was kept quiet. Until now. Still, he’s here to tell his story. She is not.
Long story short: He and his then roommate (and co-writer of Birth of a Nation) gang raped a girl at Penn State. Nate got off because he had a previous relationship with the girl (something that often happens in acquaintance rape cases). Celestin got 6 months in jail, but won his appeal because the victim refused to testify again. She was harassed by them, unprotected by Penn State and became suicidal, making several attempts to end her life, succeeding in 2012. Her life was utterly destroyed. His went on. Now that he’s in the spotlight, what was never a secret is now headline news, because he is. (It didn’t help he gave a creepy interview acknowledging the rape, but pushing his exoneration).
Just last week, a report was released, a federal investigation into the Baltimore police department. Of the many findings, one of the most glaring issues, was the treatment of sexual assault and rape cases. It hit home in a way I still have a hard time finding words to describe. I’m not going to dwell on that, you can read more about it here. Once you do read about it, and I do encourage you to read it, I want you to imagine going back 33 years. If you think it’s bad now or was in 2012, imagine what it was like 33 years ago.
Back then, we had communities that were poor, but whole. One of the dynamics of community in this regard is that if one person comes forward and acknowledges a pain or hurt, it gave someone else in that same community the safety and the courage to come forward to speak of their own pain. This happened quite often in adolescence, especially when it came to girls who had hips before the age of 12 and breasts, fully rounded by middle school. Let’s talk about this thing for real. Let’s talk about the fact that in black communities and other communities of color and women are already last in everything but education. Women are last to be humanized, if at all, we are last to be paid and certainly not equally, women are last to be considered in quality of life. Women are last and that last place makes us targets. We are the safe secret.
Everyday there is a new story about a woman killed by her lover or her husband; a child killed and family destroyed to get back at a woman by her lover or her husband; a woman killed for rejecting the advances of men wanting to control her response and her. Every single day we face the reality: owning who we are could cost us our lives. Every single day we send our daughters to school to work not knowing whether or not they will come back whole and every single day we fight on the front lines of our brothers who ignore our struggle and don’t reciprocate. We fight to hold it all together in the name of love, in the name of Jesus, in the name of family, in the name of sanity, if there is such a thing. In spite of it all, every day we are reminded that violence against our minds and our bodies matters less and less.
This is the first time I’ve publicly acknowledged being raped at the age of nine. I’ve done a lot of work to heal and the truth is you never really do. Not fully. You learn to live with it. Well, some of us learn to live, others simply cannot, it is just too much to bear. It is a virtual impossibility to heal from your body being taken from you and violated in ungodly ways, when you see every day and you’re told every day and you’re taught every day that you don’t mean shit to the world you live in and contribute to. I remember the names and faces of the children I grew up with who shared the same pain. Many succumbed to lives of prostitution, drug abuse, crime and death. They survived the best way they knew how. There are a great many unnamed women, just like the victim of Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, who are no longer here to tell their stories. Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Remember, there is never only one. Remember the birth of this nation.
I wonder what the outcome would have been if someone actually believed us (enough).
Stand up. Speak up. Be willing to heal, to get help. Be here.
National Sexual Assault Hotline
RAINN – Rape Abuse and Incest National Network
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Caron J is a writer, artist, activist and the host of The CARONISMShow on 100.1 The Heat and a writer and co-host of BlackGirlNerds and BGNPodcast. In her spare time, she is a lover of all things beautiful, a hot granny and a pimp.