As a Black woman, it is difficult to ignore the insidious ways in which white privilege pervades every aspect of our society. One of the most devastating manifestations of this form of systemic racism is how white women have historically weaponized their tears and their words against Black men and boys, accusing them of “heinous”crimes that they did not commit. This phenomenon is all too familiar to me and to many other Black people who have watched helplessly as innocent men are vilified and criminalized based solely on the word of a white woman. Ironically, when Black women claim they are victims of violence at the hands of Black men, this same segment of society is silent. Mum. Don’t be saying sh*t. OR, they vilify the Black woman (I’ll never forget how some of y’all did Megan Thee Stallion).
So, let’s talk about it. One of the most notable examples of how damaging false allegations against Black men can be is the case of Emmett Till. I know y’all know, but just in case you didn’t hear, in 1955, a 14-year-old Black boy named Emmett Till was brutally murdered by a group of white men after being accused of whistling at a white woman. Despite the fact that there was no evidence to support this claim, the white woman’s testimony was enough to condemn Till in the eyes of the white community. Decades later, the truth of what happened that night came to light, and the woman in question admitted that she had lied about the incident.
In more recent news, actor Jonathan Majors was arrested in New York City last week on charges of assault, strangulation, and harassment. While the identity of the alleged victim has not been disclosed, some have inferred that the person is a white woman due to Majors’ dating history. Just from that alone, they have determined Majors to be guilty–in less than 48 hours after his arrest. Let’s be real though. It is way too early to determine Majors’ guilt or innocence based on current evidence. So, my focus on this incident is centered on how society is reacting to the allegations, particularly in regards to the rush to judgment on social media without any concrete evidence. Sadly, society has been conditioned to believe white women over Black men, thereby prioritizing white tears over Black lives– and that’s a shame.
So let’s get to some facts. Research has shown that Black men are often perceived as guilty in the court of public opinion, even before any evidence has been presented. For example, a 2018 study published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that participants were more likely to perceive a Black male defendant as guilty of a crime compared to a White male defendant, even when both defendants had identical evidence presented against them.
Additionally, a 2014 study published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law found that when participants were given a hypothetical scenario of a violent crime committed by either a Black or White suspect, they were more likely to recommend harsher punishments for the Black suspect, even when the crime and criminal history were the same for both suspects.
These biases are not just limited to individual perceptions; they can also have a significant impact on the outcome of legal cases. For instance, a 2017 report from the National Registry of Exonerations found that Black people are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit, and that their wrongful convictions are often more likely to involve official misconduct, false confessions, and mistaken eyewitness identifications. (Noticing a trend?)
Overall, these studies suggest that systemic racism and biases lead to Black men being perceived as guilty criminals in the court of public opinion, even when there is no evidence to support these perceptions.
But none of this is new. It is a manifestation of the systemic racism that remains embedded in our society. The historical legacy of false accusations of sexual assault against Black men can be traced back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow, when Black men were routinely accused of raping white women as a means of justifying violence and oppression against them.
But, the effects of these false allegations extend beyond the individual cases themselves. They contribute to a culture of fear and mistrust between Black men and white women, and they perpetuate harmful stereotypes that are used to justify violence and discrimination against Black people. The fact that these false allegations are often believed without question speaks to the deeply ingrained biases that exist in our society, and it highlights the systemic change that is drastically overdue.
Let’s be clear, this is not a case of a “few bad apples”; these sort of false allegations are symptomatic of a larger problem of white supremacy and the ways in which it operates to silence and marginalize Black voices. Because when it’s all said done–it’s NEVER quite done. The effects of these false allegations have long-lasting consequences for the Black men who are wrongly accused. Even after being exonerated, they struggle to rebuild their lives and reputations, face difficulties finding employment or housing, and may continue to face discrimination and suspicion from others.
For celebrities like Jonathan Majors, even if concrete evidence is presented proving without a doubt that he is innocent, his career is likely to never be the same. This is the same Jonathan Majors who as of early last week was arguably the most prominent rising Black actor on the scene.
For me, what is most concerning is how Black folk are often complicit in the immediate tearing down of Black men in these situations. Never mind the history of white women being notorious for lying on Black men when it suits them. Never mind women like Courtney Clenney (2022), a white woman who murdered Christian Obumseli, her boyfriend at the time, then claimed “self-defense”, and despite video evidence that suggests otherwise, remained free for four months before she was arrested. Nevermind cases like the Central Park Five (1989), a group of Black teenagers who were falsely accused, convicted, and eventually exonnerated for the rape of a white woman thanks to DNA evidence proving their innocence. Nevermind the case of Brian Banks (2002), a promising high school football player, who was falsely accused of rape by a white classmate, plead no contest to avoid a potential life sentence, and was later exonerated when the accuser was caught on tape admitting to lying about the assault. Never mind them… right?
The truth is, false allegations made against Black men by white women HURT US ALL! It directly contributes to the larger issue of over-policing and mass incarceration of Black men. And before the feminists come for me, I know first hand how shitty and violent some Black men can be, but if you were looking for someone to join in on the bashing of all Black men because of my experiences, y’all gonna have to get someone else to do it.
The truth is, I love Black men, despite their shortcomings. I love them just like I love the Black women who raise them, despite their shortcomings, too. Another truth– when white women’s allegations are believed without question, it reinforces the idea that Black men are inherently violent and dangerous, leading to increased surveillance, harassment, and arrests of Black men and subsequently the Black community at large. We don’t need any more of this.
The truth is, at the end of the day, this cycle of criminalization and marginalization perpetuates systemic inequalities and reinforces the harmful stereotypes and biases that underlie them– so I’ma always speak against it when it happens. Because some Black women won’t, but I’m one of the ones who will.
Finally, let me reiterate, this ain’t about Jonathan Majors’ guilt or innocence. This is about how society vilifies men who look like Jonathan Majors when they’re accused of crimes against white women. Because let’s be real… he shouldn’t have been messing with that white woman anyway… right?