Cosby and Kavanaugh: Mapping race, sex, and power in 2018

Clarence Thomas: Black man accused by black woman of sexual assault is exonerated and appointed to the Supreme Court.

Bill Cosby: Black man accused by white woman of sexual assault is sent to prison.

Brett Kavanaugh: White man accused by white woman of sexual assault is exonerated and appointed to the Supreme Court.

The experiences of the three women referenced here are not the same. The specifics of the accusations leveled against these three men also vary. Yet, I still have to look at these three cases together. Bill Cosby sentenced to prison and Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, accused of sexually assault, in the same week. And it’s impossible to talk about Brett Kavanaugh without referencing Clarence Thomas, who, 27 years ago, was appointed to the Supreme Court despite being accused of committing sexual assault. The Kavanaugh/Ford hearing mirrors the political theater of the Thomas/Hill hearing in many disturbing ways.

Yet what stands out to me in comparing these three cases is the element of race. Of these three cases, the only time the man was held responsible for his actions was in the case of a black man accused by a white woman of sexual assault (Bill Cosby). Historically, this is the narrative of rape in the United States; this has been the go-to excuse for the murder of Emmett Till and the lynchings of so many other black men. I am in no way defending Cosby for his acts, which were despicable and for which he should be held responsible. But I can’t help but notice that among all the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, many of whom were women of color, the only woman whose accusation led to his conviction was a white woman.

Meanwhile, Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas did not prevent him from receiving a seat on the highest court in this nation. Despite Thomas’ claims that he underwent a “high-tech lynching,” he was nonetheless appointed the the Supreme Court, where he sits to this day. Given the historical politics of race and gender in this country, it seems unlikely that Clarence Thomas would have received a Supreme Court appointment had his accuser been a white woman.

Like the testimony of Anita Hill, a black woman, was not enough to overpower Clarence Thomas, it appears the testimony of a white woman, Christine Blasey Ford, is also still not enough to topple the power of white masculinity. Brett Kavanaugh was still appointed to the Court.

It is my belief that it must be possible to locate individuals–men, women, or non-binary-identifying–in this country who are highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court and who are not sexual predators. Apparently, it is not in the interest of those who hold power in this country to appoint these individuals to the Court.

But let’s not start bemoaning that we are living in a broken system. This system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Let us recall that the founding fathers, like Brett Kavanaugh, were wealthy, privileged white men. Let us recall that they designed a system of checks and balances in order to uphold the rights of wealthy, white men to control the entire workings of this nation. Let us further recall that some of these men were themselves sexual predators and slaveholders. A government designed to place wealthy, white men in positions of lifelong power in this nation and giving them the power to continue to uphold their own interests and the expense of women and people of color, and especially women of color, is doing exactly what it was designed to do, some two centuries later.

I would like to live in a nation where women who experience sexual assault and violence can find justice, no matter their race or the race of the perpetrator. It seems unlikely that a Kavanaugh appointment will be a forward step on this path.